Words by: Alisa Priddle, Photos:By Manufacturer
Mercedes-Benz is using the Paris Motor Show to unveil Generation EQ, a close-to-production concept EV with a range of 300 miles and a vehicle which ushers in a new electric brand for the German automaker.
The SUV coupé concept is the forerunner to a new product brand for electric vehicles. It has two electric motors and scalable battery components to increase output up to 300 kilowatts. The SUV also has permanent all-wheel drive and a range up to 300 miles—slaying the Tesla Model X.
EQ stands for Electric Intelligence. “The emission-free automobile is the future,” said Dieter Zetsche, CEO of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars. He said the new EQ brand goes beyond electric vehicles and stands for a comprehensive electric ecosystem of services, technologies, and innovations.
The new generation of electric vehicles will be based on an architecture developed specifically for battery-electric models, and it is scalable in every respect and usable across all models. It is also suitable for every body style. Future vehicles will use a mix of steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber to keep their weight down for added efficiency.
Gorden Wagener, the new Daimler design chief, said the new brand will reinterpret design to create an avant-garde, contemporary, and distinctive electro-look, and the cars have a new distinct interior with touch-based controls and no knobs. The instrument panel has a large 24-inch floating wide-screen—think Tesla—and shows the direction of user interaction at Mercedes-Benz with an opportunity to individualize content and colors of the display.
The center console appears to float in space and has touch-sensitive elements. Climate controls and infotainment are also activated with the touch of a finger on the steering wheel. Side mirrors are replaced by cameras to view traffic behind the car and project the information onto displays in the doors which are themselves opened with a single touch.
It is a four-passenger vehicle with the stereo speakers integrated into the head restraints and three screens in the back of the seats for rear-seat entertainment. The navigation map shows all the destinations that can be reached on the current battery charge. Generation EQ has Car-to-X technology, meaning it can exchange information with its surroundings as part of its suite of drive assist technologies and to let drivers know of nearby charging stations.
Beyond the vehicle itself, EQ attempts to be an electric mobility ecosystem with products, services, technologies, and innovations including charging services and home energy storage units.
Zetsche said this marks an “electric product offensive that will cover all vehicle segments, from the compact to the luxury class.”
Plug-in hybrid with 31 miles of electric range.
Barely two months have passed since Volkswagen last showed a concept SUV, so by the company’s internal timeline we’re long overdue for another. Ahead of the Beijing auto show, Volkswagen is teasing a premium SUV concept with a lounge-like interior, a digital infotainment display, and a plug-in hybrid powertrain.
More so than the earlier CrossBlue concept that previewed the three-row SUV expected to debut this year in the U.S., this new Volkswagen SUV concept is focused primarily on advanced technology. Advanced lighting design is one of the first ways we see this, with a new boomerang-shaped headlight signature that extends straight across the grille and through the VW emblem. The shape is echoed in the foglight housings below with thick C-shaped LED daytime running lights and horizontal bars on the side mirrors. At the rear are distinctive LED taillights with digital horizontal bars built in.
Although we won’t have a look at the interior until the Beijing show or close to it, VW’s newest concept promises to have a highly advanced, interactive digital display system. The new design is apparently part of a lounge-like interior, clearly appealing to the chauffeur-driven passengers who will make up much of the audience at the Beijing show. Expect advancements like gesture control and touchscreens to play a big role.
Another clear nod to the Chinese market is the concept’s plug-in hybrid powertrain. Full details still aren’t being released, but we know that the SUV concept boasts an all-electric range of 31 miles. Total system output is 376 hp and an impressive 516 lb-ft of torque, undoubtedly offered with all-wheel drive. The concept is said to sprint from 0-62 mph in 6.0 seconds on its way to a top speed of 139 mph.
The earlier Cross Coupe GTE concept from the 2015 Detroit auto show also used a plug-in hybrid powertrain, so something similar could be employed this time around. The Cross Coupe GTE used a 3.6-liter gas-powered V-6 engine with two electric motors (one at each axle) for a total of 355 hp.
Check back soon for more details on the latest Volkswagen SUV concept as the Beijing auto show approaches.
Track time is precious, and most of us don’t get enough of it. But there are ways to stay sharp on the street.
The best and worst thing about track driving is how little it resembles what we normally do in cars. Without adrenaline flowing and a lap timer running, even the fastest ‘shoe can become a mindless commuter. “It’s definitely easier to get distracted on the road than in a race car,” admits IndyCar driver Graham Rahal. But all that seat time to and from work needn’t go to waste. Here are skills to focus on between checkered flags.
Braking: “Really, the most important driving skill is brake application,” says Skip Barber instructor Divina Galica, a former sports-car and F1 driver. Most drivers brake backward, easing onto the pedal and gradually adding pressure. Instead, get onto the brakes quickly and firmly, reducing force as you slow. But do so with sensitivity. “It’s not stomping on the brake and sending up big clouds of tire smoke,” Galica says. If you’re approaching a turn where you don’t need to stop completely, trail off the brakes smoothly to maintain the car’s balance.
Shifting: “One thing I do when I street drive is heel-and-toe shift,” notes Rahal. It’s a level of coordination that’s becoming less necessary as more vehicles (including his paddle-shifted Indy car) automatically match revs on downshifts, but there’s something uniquely satisfying about blipping the throttle yourself and popping perfectly into gear. And it’s a skill you can practice without even starting the car. With the ball of your foot on the brake, rotate your heel to jab the throttle. It’ll feel like a yoga stretch at first but becomes natural over time. (Depending on your car and anatomy, it may be easier to use the outer edge of your shoe to hit the gas.)
Vision: The first thing you’re likely to hear from a track instructor is also the most important advice to heed on the street: “Look well ahead, not over the front of the car,” advises Galica, who learned a good deal about hand-eye coordination in her previous career as an Olympic skier. Keep your eyes where you want to go and your hands will follow. A street corner has an apex, just like a track. Identify it and aim for it—unless there’s a pedestrian standing there. Speaking of which, learn to mind those mirrors and side windows. The cyclist cutting into your lane in a city will be a guy attempting to pass you on track.
Smoothness: It’s all too easy to get into the habit of man-handling a car on the street—squealing the tires, slamming through gears, and sawing at the steering wheel. Aside from making passengers carsick, such roughness will slow you down on track. Practice predictable steering inputs, throttle and brake applications that don’t upset the car, and deliberate shifts.
Speeding: “To be honest with you, I wouldn’t,” cautions Galica. “Drive as if there’s a flock of sheep around every corner.” You may not be that saintly, but the reality is an empty two-lane isn’t the place to learn your limits. Racetracks have runoff, corner workers, and ambulance crews in the expectation that bad stuff happens when cars go fast. Public roads do not. “Save your heroics for a track day,” Galica says.
The future of the car is electric, and BMW knows it.
It’s no secret BMW’s 3-Series sedan has grown over the years. Despite its ongoing reputation as a capable, engaging sedan, the latest generation 3er has transformed into more of a mature German luxury machine, pushing the driver experience to the wayside.
The 330e iPerformance is perhaps a prime example of what BMW currently stands for. It’s a plug-in hybrid packed full of new technology, meant to draw in buyers that don’t necessarily care about the car’s driving attributes, but rather want the latest gadget to spice up their commutes. Like the i3 and i8, the 330e is more future tech test-bed than classic BMW sports sedan.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In addition to the 180-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-four engine taken from the 320i, the 330e houses 7.6 kWh worth of lithium-ion batteries under the trunk floor. Thanks to the attached 87-horsepower eDrive motor, it’s able to travel up to 14 miles purely on electric thrust. To most, these numbers might sound a bit gimmicky, but in the real world, you’d be surprised just how far that range can get you.
Surprisingly, the 330e still acts like the luxurious sedan we all know and love when driving around town in EV mode. It’s quiet, refined, and rides over bumps without so much as a shutter. And if you really need to go for that gap, inputting more than half throttle seamlessly fires up the gas engine and gives you full acceleration at a moment’s notice.
The $16,545 worth of options on our $60,245 tester gave us a lot to play with. Park distance control, blind spot detection, side and top view cameras, active cruise control, and a neat head-up display are just some of the toys available to make your A-to-B more than just a mindless drive.
But where the 330e excels at selling its tech, it ultimately falls short of living up to what made the 3 Series great. That hybrid system, while improving range and efficiency, adds 350 pounds over a standard 3er, resulting in a rather sizable 3900-pound curb weight. It’s when you start to throw it around some corners do you notice the extra heft, and the wafty suspension isn’t very happy with quick changes in direction.
Because this is a hybrid, BMW uses a regenerative braking system to help collect electric energy when the 330e isn’t accelerating. While certainly functional, the feel from the brake pedal can be strangely artificial and inconsistent. The stopping power is adequate, but having the feeling that the pedal isn’t physically connected to anything can be disconcerting.
These faults certainly don’t make it a bad car, though. BMW still knows how to develop a delightfully balanced chassis, and the throttle response is ultra sharp in Sport+ mode thanks to that instant electric twist. The 248 horsepower and 310 lb.-ft. of torque from the combined engine and eDrive unit are enough to get the 330e from 0-60 in an impressive 5.9 seconds, just a few tenths off the comparable 330i. The electrically assisted steering, while still slightly numb, provides a lot more feedback than it did in previous iterations of the F30 chassis. The proven 8-speed ZF automatic transmission delivers quick shifts both up and down the gear range, though strangely, upshifts 250 rpms before the indicated 7000 rpm redline, no matter what mode you’re in.
The current F30 3 Series just isn’t on the same level of driver engagement as the last generation E90 model, but BMW made some definite improvements with the refreshed 340i. The 330e is different, though, because its design focus isn’t about the sporty driving experience. It’s all about the tech.
This kind of rolling demonstration is something we’re going to see more and more as BMW pushes its i electric sub-brand further into the market. Cars that can perform adequately well compared to their gasoline-only equivalents, but provide that all-important EV functionality so many young buyers are hankering for. It’s the future of the market, and BMW knows it.
Two hypercars in the wild, far from their normal environs of Monaco or Miami Beach. And anything but lost.
THEY SAY THE FUTURE AIN’T WHAT IT USED to be. Maybe that explains why the oldest traffic light in America looks like something out of The Jetsons. It’s the size of a 55-gallon drum, with four apertures, each shaped like an alien eye. A phonograph motor turns an internal mechanism that cycles lenses in each eye, red to green. From 1932 to 1982, that light directed traffic in Ashville, Ohio, population 4149.
We asked the people of Ashville to bring their light back for a one-night stand. Beneath it, we parked a 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder and a 2015 Ferrari LaFerrari—two hybrid hypercars that presage the future without ignoring the past.
This was all part of an experiment—two of the nuttiest speed devices in history, used like actual transportation. We’ve covered these cars before, of course. We’ve driven them on manufacturer launch programs and independently, for test numbers. We’ve taken these cars to road courses and drag strips, everywhere but real life.
As it happens, we know a guy who uses both a 918 and a LaFerrari as daily drivers. Stan Ross is a retired attorney from Columbus, Ohio. He’s graced these pages in the past—editor-at-large Sam Smith drove his Le Mans–winning Porsche 962 for a story in 2015—and he allowed us to use his cars as he and his adult son, Malcolm, do. Just one caveat: A tight schedule kept us from leaving Ohio.
Like Walt Whitman, the Buckeye State contains multitudes. Winding two-lanes, sandy beaches, and a racetrack so recherché that few people know it exists. Smith and R&T’s resident Ohioan, Jack Baruth, have plenty of real-world supercar time, so we sent them for a couple of days with the 918 and LaFerrari.
One thousand, eight hundred thirty-six horsepower and three electric motors. But also two garrulous guys with lead feet. We recorded their off-the-cuff chats at each stop because we figured they’d be interesting. Turns out we were right.
The first morning was spent in Columbus, no hoopla. Baruth and Smith went to a county fair, slogged through traffic, and just generally tried to share the cars with anyone who asked. At the fair’s midway, just before lunch, watching the photographer set up a shot:
Jack Baruth: [Looks at 918] The first thing I noticed was the size of it. Somehow I’d been thinking of the car as a Boxster-plus, but a Boxster feels like a toy next to this. You don’t get that in pictures.
Sam Smith: They’re both huge, right? But it’s that strange bigness of the modern supercar—not just width, like a Miura. The thick, high flanks of a modern, crashable car. In the Ferrari, the door tops come up to your chin. Stand by the 918, the fenders hit your hips.
JB: The 918’s styling—generic supercar, not Porsche DNA. Kinda-sorta Carrera GT from the B-pillar to the tops of the rear wheel arches. The LaFerrari isn’t handsome, but…
SS: Oh, come on.
JB: Uglier than the Enzo. Which is saying something. None of the modern ne plus ultra Ferraris have been handsome. Unless you see the 288 GTO as a legitimate forerunner to this car.
SS: I always kind of liked the Enzo, in a carbon-futurebug sort of way.
“The best part is just how relentlessly the 918 murders landscape. It feels more violent than the Ferrari, this never-ending wallop.”
JB: Still, the LaFerrari looks like a Ferrari. People know what it is. Remember the gas station this morning? Some grizzly old guy in a rusty F-100 rolled up to me and said, “What’s that car parked next to the Ferrari?”
SS: The 918 has a bit of H. R. Giger in it. Organic but consciously assembled. The Ferrari just looks like it was birthed. And then you put the doors up, and it’s trying to dismantle itself.
JB: You see the tub, the back of a front tire, what makes it up.
SS: Special cars seem more special when you get an obvious sense of the engineering from the curb.
JB: The 918 always looks indivisible.
SS: Those seatbacks are indivisible. No recline, full military. After the first hour, my spine was screaming. The passenger seat reminds me of an F40: Here, this is what prototype drivers get at Le Mans. Leave the purse at home and keep your hair short.
JB: I’m six-two. I’m surprised at how well I fit. Stan said his wife won’t ride in the Porsche, and I don’t think she’s nuts. Hate to put it this way, but the car never shrinks around you. You’re always aware of its complexity. That touchscreen console is a nod to the Carrera GT, right?
SS: Yeah. It washes out in direct sunlight. Like when the car’s top is off. And if you have a 918 and it’s sunny, who leaves the roof on? I mean, the menus aren’t bad—they remind you of an iPhone, if an iPhone were impossible to read outdoors and bolted to a 3800-pound, $845,000 battery.
JB: It’s a take on the little raised center console in a Prius, right down to the miniature shifter. It’s almost like Porsche is embarrassed at the suggestion that the car has any transmission at all, so you get a little thumb-nub ColecoVision controller. That feels like it could break at any moment.
SS: In a car that cost almost seven figures.
After Columbus, they headed to the Hocking Hills, in southeast Ohio. Traditional car-magazine stomping grounds: mountains, fast corners, nutty pavement. At the entry to a state park, they traded cars—Baruth climbed out of the Ferrari, and Smith exited the 918:
SS: God. The best part is just how relentlessly the 918 murders landscape. It feels more violent than the Ferrari, this never-ending wallop. The torque handoff between motors and engine is just seamless. Even on the part of the tach where your gut says the thing shouldn’t be awake.
JB: You control the behavior via this little rotary drive-mode selector. Have to say, it’s not terribly expensive-looking.
SS: Right, but be fair. [Points to the Ferrari] Those door tops have bubbles in the laminate. One airbag cover fits a little wonky. The 918’s gaps, trim, carbon, it’s all flawless. Every LaFerrari I’ve seen has had rough edges.
JB: At this price, do you want hand finish, unique and flawed and human? Or something perfect?
SS: Dunno. I like hand-varnished furniture.
JB: Malcolm told me he usually leaves the 918 in “H”— Hybrid mode. Where it behaves kind of like a Prius. The engine switches on without warning. But this, you know, it’s not a Prius four-cylinder, so when it lights off…
SS: The whole county knows it.
JB: Freaks you out, the first 20 times.
SS: Those pipes are soup cans. Straight up out of the rear deck. You could fill them with water and drown a cow. Just electric-motor whine, then YELLING LIKE A CAN-AM CAR. I went on the 918 media launch, in Europe. An engineer told me that they actually produce measurable downforce at full honk. Just blowing air into air.
JB: Route 374, halfway up the road, I twisted the knob to “S.” Sport Hybrid mode, direct correlation between acceleration and revs—they rise like the engine has a flywheel made of air. “You have to convince yourself to keep it floored,” Malcolm said, laconically. I had to give the man credit for not throwing himself out of the passenger door.
SS: He tell you that he used to test 1980s Indy cars? He told me, “I really like getting good fuel economy in this car. I’ll drive it to maximize economy.” I’d have to leave it on full yell, all the time.
JB: You can do 70 mph on a back road with the engine off. It’s hugely impressive, but the cynic in me says that it’s the most expensive way in the world to pretend you’re driving a Tesla Roadster.
SS: You can’t knock a plug-in hybrid for having an electric mode.
JB: Compare it with the LaFerrari’s drivetrain, though. Transparency. Stan likes that car better. He also pointed out that the swing-up doors make it remarkably easy to get in and out of. My only issue is the high sill. Roomy cockpit, like a 488, though the trunk is useless and the 918’s isn’t.
S: The line he gave me was basically, “When we take a trip in the Ferrari, we leave the owner’s manual at home. Doubles the trunk space.” Which really only holds the manual and that huge wheel-nut socket. What happens on the road—stuff just rattles around on those carbon floors?
JB: Exposed carbon is a big part of both cars. Right now it’s great, but I have to think that, in the long run, it’ll look horribly dated. Like making a whole interior of ivory Bakelite in 1938.
SS: It’s always so weird, the fashion aspect of a supercar. Look at the 1980s tech prove-outs: Ferrari F40 and Porsche 959. The F40 now seems a period piece—bloodthirsty and awesome but compromised. The cockpit doesn’t fit anybody; it’s noisy and hot and a pain at anything less than full blitz.
“The Ferrari didn’t have to be as good as it is. Every LaF was sold when it was built. It could have easily been this lash-up, an Enzo with battery-powered front wheels.”
JB: The 959 was certainly more prescient.
SS: Quiet, comfy, looked halfway normal. Not better, but less fashionable and smarter. Turbos and a digital all-wheel-drive chassis; you can buy a new Focus with that. The 959 was more usable and important; the F40 was just itself.
JB: Maybe the shoe’s on the other foot. Next to a 918, the LaFerrari is much more of a regular car. “Regular” in the sense that you could go directly from a 488 or F12 into this car, and you’d feel immediately at home. The 918 never stops beating you over the head with its uniquity.
SS: The noise, the zillion drive modes, those seats. That red “full attack” boost button on the wheel.
JB: The hybrid stuff happens behind the scenes. You could drive and enjoy the Ferrari for a lifetime and never know it was a hybrid. You’d just think it was some kind of eight-liter, quad-turbo V-12 with magical anti-lag technology or something. But it revs and sounds and behaves like a traditional Ferrari.
SS: It’s a nice cross between the big cars and the little ones, the F12s and the 488s. Next to a 488, it doesn’t seem as caffeinated, less of a hummingbird. I’m sure the LaFerrari dances when you get it up on plane, but that’s got nothing to do with public roads—the “cheaper” Ferraris are better for that. It’s built for different work.
JB: You can’t reach the limits of this kind of car on any back road.
SS: It’d be criminal.
It’s easy to get lost in the Hockings; the boys spent a long afternoon in the hills before heading back to Columbus, in traffic. That evening, over drinks, the conversation kept landing on the Ferrari:
JB: The power there—it’s just instant. Omnipresent. You see rich kids turning the manettino to Race in YouTube videos. Heaven help the guy who does that on the street. Even running along in sixth gear at 60, there’s supercar power, no downshifting.
SS: More traditional delivery than the 918, too. Peakier. The engine is baritone—not as animal as most Ferrari V-12s, just gruff and barky. I remember the F12 being more operatic. The steering is the same butter, though—creamy, hydraulic, somehow both removed and pin-sharp. A dying art.
JB: The Porsche is electrically assisted. Like almost every modern car.
SS: One of the few science projects they didn’t solve for. It’s fine, but a GT3 tells you more about the front tires.
JB: The problem for me is that I think both cars would be better without the hybrid components. My first miles in the LaF, the car would lurch and buck for what seemed like no reason.
SS: Same here. Stan reached out and switched off the auto start/stop for me. That button on the roof console. Brake feel went from yuck to decent. The 918 has Porsche-perfect brakes—microscopic travel, great bite, you can modulate just by breathing. The Ferrari feels unfinished there—wooden, like it doesn’t want your help.
JB: You drove early 918s, right? On the launch?
SS: Preproduction. Those cars weren’t like this—the brakes were more on-off, and the regen was odd, like the LaFerrari. The sold car is way different. The Germans, iterating a problem into vapor.
JB: And yet Porsche couldn’t iterate passion into the 918. The LaF has it in spades.
SS: Right? But you drive the LaF enough, it slips into being normal. That weird thing where a car just kind of disappears underneath you.
JB: Again, the transparency.
SS: Which is funny, because that doesn’t happen a lot with supercars. You know the Porsche is shuttling torque and working electric motors and brakes and steering boost because it shoves that stuff in your face—nutty front grip, silly traction, flattering balance when you’re in the throttle. And a sense that it’s constantly out-thinking you. You’re always aware of the math beneath the surface.
The next morning, over coffee, before heading into local farmland for photography:
JB: [Turns to Smith] Just occurred to me: You know what’s impressive? The Ferrari didn’t have to be as good as it is. Every LaF was sold when it was built. It could have easily been this junky lash-up, an Enzo with battery-powered front wheels. Instead, it really works: as a daily driver, a performance car, a superbike killer for freeway rolls. People don’t give Porsche the same slack, and they shouldn’t. The 918 had to be sorted.
SS: The Ferrari is an orchestra. You focus on the whole, not parts. These cars are both technology suites, but the face presented to the driver is different.
JB: The message you get from the 918 is, “Hey, look at this hypercar with all the tech.” The LaFerrari is, “You’re in a Ferrari.” Maybe that’s because the Ferrari brand is inherently more special, stronger. At least in 2016.
SS: Well, there’s nothing to dilute it—no SUVs, sedans. They sell, what, under 10,000 cars a year? But it’s an interesting dichotomy. In a few decades, one of these cars will seem like an exercise—function stack-up to push a boundary. The other’s going to be seen as existing for the sake of itself. Ferrari has only ever built special cars. Porsche has spent decades making practical cars. We probably shouldn’t be surprised when one builds more emotional million-dollar art and the other spits out tech genius with a little less charisma.
JB: What do you think the person buying one wants?
SS: Both? A lot of 918 owners have LaFerraris.
JB: Here’s something that tells you a little about the customer base: Malcolm is trying to get a set of Hoosier track tires for the 918. He wanted something more focused than the Michelins it ships with.
It’s a rare car, so obviously there was nothing for it immediately, off the shelf. But what fascinates me is that nobody else seems to be asking the question. There are a thousand or whatever 918s out there, and nobody’s looking for nonfactory track rubber. Is anybody actually driving them on track? More to the point, is anybody driving them at all? Or are they all sitting in garages with an expectation that they’ll appreciate? Like an F40, like the Carrera GT?
SS: Easy to guess an answer.
JB: But it’s an interesting problem to have, right? I love the fact that Stan and Malcolm use these cars. Stan drives the LaF to his office a few days a week. He takes it on road trips. Malcolm takes the 918 to Whole Foods and Mid-Ohio. They both accept that driving a million-dollar car in public makes you a public figure, better or worse.
SS: I checked yesterday: The 918 has 7600 miles on it. The LaFerrari has 5300. Relatively massive, but we’re at a weird place in history—these cars have a short shelf life at the top of the pyramid, even for supercars. Gas-electric hybrids in general are a stopgap. Not zero-emission, not even the step before that. They exist for a reason, but they’re only going to become less relevant.
JB: These two cars are like the Concorde—they answer a question no one is asking, in this incredibly expensive fashion.
The second afternoon was spent in and around Ashville, home of the world’s oldest stoplight. We had a cherry picker as a photo platform, and a crowd assembled. Smith and Baruth stood nearby:
SS: It was your idea to come and see this stoplight. I didn’t get it at first, but it just hit me: That light was designed by a guy looking forward. Imagining a future that never quite happened.
SS: I love how our image of the future is always different from what comes to pass. It’s so wonderfully optimistic—attempting to mold the new without knowing how we’ll use or need it.
JB: And yet, with cars like these, keeping the classic appeal of the form. Look at this: That crew carefully putting the light up, the cops kind of casually blocking the road, 30 or 40 people standing around watching… utterly timeless. You’d have had the same kind of people, saying the same things, on this street when the first horseless carriage hit town.
SS: Or the first Corvette.
JB: It’s obvious that the community here—they all know each other well. The cars are just pretext to assemble and chat and swap stories. And it reminds you that cars like this are really only valuable for the human interest. In this context, does it matter if the Ferrari has a V-12 or a hydrogen power cell? It’s like the circus. Everybody goes to see the elephant, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s African or Asian.
SS: They’re both based on this kind of bogus idea that there’s going to be room in the future for 900-hp, two-ton, two-seat cars because… what? Because they have electric motors? That traffic light was designed to look futuristic. A modern stoplight is completely unromantic. It just works.
JB: Whatever design there is, it’s totally based on function.
When this story was being planned, a track visit seemed obvious. Unfortunately, Ohio’s storied road courses— Nelson Ledges and Mid-Ohio—were unavailable, so we wrapped up at a kart track in Circleville, near Columbus. Half for a funny photo, half because Baruth knew the owner, and… why not?
SS: When you said you wanted to come here, I thought you were kidding.
JB: Seven-tenths of a mile, 10 turns. Could only exist in Ohio. There’s a locked gate, but you can just drive around. It’s on the honor system. My seven-year-old son practices here with his Top Kart, which is why I know it exists. And now, somehow, I’ve driven a 918 at this place. [Laughs.]
SS: Lap record or we are no longer friends.
JB: Too big, too rapid. Didn’t matter. It was a chance to break the tires loose and see that the fundamental balance is pretty solid. I don’t know if it could beat a Cayman in an SCCA autocross. It’s just so wide, and it takes a bit of sawing in tight transitions. If there are flaws in the handling, they’re probably hidden another hundred miles per hour away.
SS: On the media launch, they stuck us on a MotoGP test track in Spain. Camber change and fast corners. I have this vivid memory of sliding the car over a blind fourth-gear hill, thinking, “Who knew?” Like three laps into the day, just amazed at how quickly the 918 got friendly.
JB: Stan told you how he bought the cars, right?
SS: Ferrari asked him to write a multipage autobiography! Just to apply for purchase. Said he bought the 918—walked into a dealer, boom—because he thought they wouldn’t let him have the Ferrari.
JB: Worse problems to have. He told me he’s been buying Ferraris for 40 years. The first one was used, a decade old. But he’s probably one of the company’s more seasoned customers. He’s got a lot of racetrack experience, has owned a lot of race cars. His perspective on Ferrari is so different from that of, say, an oil-rich sheikh or the new-wealth oligarchy in the former Eastern Bloc. The prestige doesn’t seem to matter much.
SS: You have to wonder how many LaFerraris that crowd turned into one-off special wishes. Giraffe-pelt floor mats, paint-to-sample ashtrays, whatever. That never see daylight.
JB: I love that we did this here. In Los Angeles, you see these cars run by people who tint the windows and scowl if you look at them. That whole aristocratic attitude where it’s death to touch the duke’s horse. That wouldn’t fly in Ohio. Everybody thinks they’re just as good as you are, and they’ll come right up and talk to you.
In the end, I think Porsche and Ferrari need a percentage of buyers who actually use the cars. It keeps them honest. There will always be a market for half-finished, high-priced junk that some prince can keep in his living room. But the prestige attached to those marques is dependent on keeping the respect of the old-school customers.
SS: If you can’t keep doing business with those guys, then you’re basically Louis Vuitton selling wheeled luggage.
JB: Which is why supercars might be designed in Modena, tested in Stuttgart, and sold in Riyadh, but they still need to cut the mustard in Ohio.
SS: Mighty bold talk from a man who lives in Columbus.
JB: Technically, the town of Powell.
SS: Didn’t we drive past it at one point?
JB: Close. Couple miles away. But I bet the local sheriff heard the 918.
Riding sideways in the most powerful Camaro in history, we learn the value of big power, big noise, and total control.
From the December 2016 issue
Bursting airborne and sideways, wheels stretching for the ground, the raw, stunningly rapid, and now very aloft Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 should be a barbaric, deadly thing. Yet, in the crucial milliseconds following its oblique touchdown, it defines itself differently. Aaron Link, the ZL1’s lead development engineer, adds a breath of countersteer, stays in the gas, and carries the slide, fully committed, to the track’s edge. Crimson leaves explode behind its rear diffuser, then waft to the ground in what remains of the ZL1’s throat-punch exhaust note. The most powerful Camaro ever made fires a round of upshifts into the autumn air and hurls itself at the next corner, unfazed.
It’s a hell of a way to start the day.
“That’s the eLSD,” says Link, referring to the ZL1’s electronically controlled limited-slip differential, which it shares with the SS 1LE trim for 2017. “It’s scenarios like that that really sold us on the eLSD, despite its weight penalty.” The ZL1’s active diff weighs 44 pounds more than the clutch-type limited-slip differential in the Camaro SS, but it’s lighter than the massive 9.9-inch diff in the fifth-generation ZL1. And neither of those offered as much authority over these sorts of automotive gymnastics.
GM calls this ability “yaw damping” and offers no shortage of data to prove it works—all of which are less convincing than 1 minute and 53 seconds on its Milford road course. That’s about the time the ZL1 is capable of posting around the famed development track. Chevy won’t reveal the exact time but says it’s about three seconds quicker than the last ZL1, which ran a 1:56.
The ZL1, available as a coupe and a convertible, shares with the Corvette Z06 its herculean powerplant, the supercharged 6.2-liter LT4 V-8. Internally, both mills are identical—right down to the titanium intake valves and forged rods and pistons. In this latest King of Camaros, however, a conventional oil pan replaces the Z06’s dry-sump lubrication. Surprisingly, a lack of packaging space demanded the change. But what matters is this: 650 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 650 pound-feet of torque at 3600 rpm. It’s all managed, aurally, by a dual-mode exhaust, which is now electronically controlled rather than vacuum actuated as it was on the last ZL1. Chevy offers two transmissions here, including a high-torque version of the six-speed Tremec TR6060 that’s available in the Camaro SS. A tailored gearset allows the manual-transmission–equipped ZL1 to hit 60 mph in first gear, while both fifth and sixth are overdrive gears. At 0.54:1, sixth gear is a true fuel-economy cog, though the 3.73 final-drive is still low enough to serve up shovel-to-the-spleen holeshots.
But the 10-speed automatic, co-developed with Ford, is the one that’s so hotly anticipated and the one we experienced from the passenger’s seat. Even from that chair, it’s clear that it will be the go-to gearbox if minimizing lap times is a priority. Chevy engineers compared the 10-speed’s shift times with those of the dual-clutch units in the 991 Porsche 911 Carrera S and the McLaren MP4-12C, which admittedly are not the newest iterations of those cars. The differences, though small, fall convincingly in favor of the Chevy. Here the 10-speed uses a ZL1-specific torque converter, clutch components, bearings, software, and controllers. Its 0.64:1 10th gear is numerically lower than what the transmission will offer in other applications. Ten-speed–equipped ZL1 coupes will have a 2.85:1 final-drive ratio. Convertibles will be 2.77:1 and won’t get the eLSD. Most striking is the gearbox’s ability to keep the LT4 engine almost indefinitely in the most potent portion of its rev range. When it’s working hard, the 10-speed is all nervous energy, ripping through tightly spaced gears with unrelenting pace. The resultant thrust and sound are gleefully rewarding. Enough so that Link says the automatic is the component of the car that makes him most proud. “It just never falls off,” he says. “Even at the higher speeds we see on the ’Ring [the Nürburgring Nordschleife, where GM partially developed the ZL1], there’s always a building sensation to this car’s acceleration.”
|The “flow tie” hollow Chevy grille badge, borrowed from the old Z/28, graces a front end that is constructed almost entirely of air intakes.|
Four drive modes influencing all the car’s manners remain: snow/ice, tour, sport, and track. It’s likely, though, that the 10-speed has crossed the don’t-bother threshold when it comes to do-it-yourself paddle shifting. Even Link admits that it’s hard to know whether to go down three gears or four in certain scenarios. But, let’s face it, the days of shifting automatics yourself stopped being rewarding back when they reached seven gears. Using drive, as Link did on our ride-along, frees up brainpower for steering and braking. If you want to shift yourself, get the six-speed.
Back at Milford, a few corners later, Link shortens a bend and squares up the curb’s leading edge with the ZL1’s right-front tire. It’s a move that should deliver a full-wind-up nut shot to the spring and damper, further ventilating the already thoroughly ventilated hood. But the ZL1 shrugs off the blow and sticks unflinchingly through the remaining esses, launching us to 160 mph on the front straight, which isn’t really straight at all. Magnetorheological dampers, standard on the ZL1, play no small role in the car’s preternatural control and are perhaps the greatest ally to the car’s Performance Traction Management system, which applies the exact torque the rear wheels are able to put down in virtually any scenario. How effective is the ZL1’s PTM system? So much so that Drew Cattell, the ride-and-handling engineer who drove the ZL1 for its Nürburgring hot lap, relied on its reassurance through the Green Hell’s 12.9 miles. Link, during our laps, drove fully unrestricted.
Chevy hadn’t released the ZL1’s official ’Ring lap time as of our deadline. But it did say that the new car is more than 11 seconds quicker than the previous ZL1’s 7:41.27, which makes it a 7:30 or better. We’ve seen data logs confirming that it’s 10 mph faster than the old ZL1 (call it about 182 mph) going into Tiergarten, the fastest section of the track. A mid to low 7:20 seems possible.
|The ZL1 has a line-lock feature for those who enjoy turning their rear tires into smoke, but the car was, instead, designed to destroy its tires on a road course.|
Broad-shouldered, wide-hipped, and gape-mawed, the ZL1 is a caricature of the now devastatingly ordinary SS. Its front fenders are 0.6 inch wider on each side than the SS’s, partially to cover huge rubber and partially to allow more cooling air to the array of heat exchangers housed in the ZL1’s nose. And that hood? It’s a functional two-piece aluminum-and-carbon thing that extracts air from the engine compartment. Wind-tunnel time largely determined the shape of the ZL1’s nose, which divides its work between managing lift and drag and cooling the powertrain and brakes. Despite its Sofia Vergara–esque bulges, this ZL1 presents about 2 percent less frontal area than the previous model, which, coupled with an additional 70 horsepower, should yield a measurably improved top speed. GM isn’t releasing that number yet, but the fifth-generation ZL1 managed 184 mph flat-out. We expect this ZL1 to just miss the 200-mph club.
Forged 10-inch-wide front and 11-inch-wide rear wheels wear 285/30R-20 and 305/30R-20 rubber, respectively. Goodyear, once again, is the ZL1’s tire supplier, and it worked with engineers through many variants of its Eagle F1 Supercar tire before arriving at the final compound and construction, which is called G:3.
Carbon-ceramic brake rotors, like those offered on the 2015 Z/28, aren’t available. This is both a cost-control measure and a practical one, as the iron brakes meet GM’s performance targets. The ZL1’s two-piece 15.4-inch iron front rotors are clamped by fixed, six-piston Brembo calipers. Even with hefty brakes, the Alpha platform nets the ZL1 a 220-pound weight savings over the last model; at about 3950 pounds when equipped with the 10-speed automatic, though, it’s certainly no featherweight. Still, it’s quicker. Chevy says 10-speed–equipped coupes should hit 60 in 3.5 seconds and hammer through the quarter-mile in 11.4 seconds at 127 mph.
Customizable launch control that allows adjustable engine speed and wheelslip between 5 and 15 percent is standard and can be had with either transmission. And, keeping pace with Ford, the ZL1 now offers line-lock, a feature that clamps the front brakes but leaves the rear free for epic burnouts. It’s so buried in the instrument-cluster menus that even Captain Liability himself couldn’t accidentally activate it.
Chevy is prepared to sell you a ZL1 coupe for $62,135 when it goes on sale this month. The convertible will follow in the spring for seven grand more. Both will be subject to gas-guzzler taxes, and their gratuitously burned hydrocarbons will be worth every extra penny.
It shouldn’t surprise us that this car can at once be so unapologetically raw and yet so seemingly controllable. So loud and yet so articulate. Finding those traits melded in a single piece of hardware like the ZL1 is one of the great joys of being a car enthusiast today. And it’s quite likely that the ZL1 is the most rewarding means ever created to move leaves off a racetrack.
Tech Highlight: Cooling That Goes to 11
That the ZL1 packages 11 heat exchangers into its powertrain shouldn’t surprise you. Six hundred and fifty, after all, are a lot of ponies to chill. Of the 11, seven are air-to-liquid coolers and four are liquid-to-liquid. There’s an air-conditioning condenser packed in there as well because drivers need cooling, too. Chevy engineers came up with a novel solution for keeping the ZL1’s active differential from cooking its lube. Cooled transmission oil is routed to a heat exchanger inside the differential housing where it extracts heat from the differential oil. An auxiliary transmission cooler is packaged horizontally and sits under a wind-tunnel-designed cover that protects it from road debris and increases flow through its core. Cool.
Small Engines, Big Technology: Three Takes on the Big Luxury Sedan
Large luxury cars used to be powered by throaty, grumbling eight-cylinder engines. Cadillac had its old Northstar V-8s, Mercedes-Benz a 4.3-liter, and Volvo a 4.4-liter V-8 in the mid-priced offerings. But downsizing is all the rage these days, and all three of those manufacturers’ new mid-priced offerings are powered by diminutive 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines. Our testing suggests that you might not miss those extra cylinders.
The segment stalwarts are the ones leading the downsizing charge. The 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 Sport is the German automaker’s bread-and-butter mid-priced midsize sedan. Starting at around $50K and selling well-equipped for nearly 70 large, the E-Class targets the heart of the luxury sedan market with semi-autonomous driving technology, baby S-Class luxury, and a four-cylinder engine cranking out a respectable 241 hp.
Cadillac has historically been synonymous with big engines. It sold high-tech V-16 engines through the middle of the Great Depression and has been known for its high-power V-8s since the ’60s. Yet its stunning don’t-call-it-a-flagship 2017 Cadillac CT6 2.0T Luxury offers an engine with a quarter of the cylinders of its V-16 cars, a tried-and-true 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 making a stout 265 hp.
You can always count on the Swedes to be just a little bit different. Although the 2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription makes just as much of a visual impression as the Caddy and Merc, it differs ever so slightly under the hood. Yes, it too has a 2.0-liter four-banger, but the S90’s is twin-charged, featuring both a supercharger and a turbocharger. The end result is a potent little engine making 316 hp. That’s V-8 territory.
So are these small-engined thoroughbreds engaging to drive? Can they deliver flagship luxury?
Each sedan in this test brings a serious amount of technology to the segment. The Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo each offer their manufacturer’s latest in semi-autonomous driving technology, because there’s no greater luxury than doing as little work as possible.
Although each of these three vehicles takes a fundamentally different approach to luxury, all come nearly loaded and comparably equipped for our $70,000 cutoff price. Yeah, they’re different sizes, but consumers don’t buy size. They buy price. The winner of this high-priced four-cylinder shootout must be great to drive, luxurious, and offer impressive autonomous-driving credentials.
Third Place: Cadillac CT6 2.0T Luxury
Big on Engineering, Short on Execution
Put the Cadillac through one corner, and it becomes immediately clear where Cadillac invested its money on the new CT6 sedan: chassis engineering. The CT6’s bones are phenomenal. Extensive use of aluminum gets this big car’s curb weight down to just 3,893 pounds, only 2 pounds heavier than the next-size-down E300, the lightest car here.
Ostensibly intended to bridge the gap between midsize and flagship luxury cars such as the E-Class and S-Class, the CT6 was designed to offer up the luxury and space of an executive bruiser like the big Merc while offering the driving experience of a midsize offering.
To the latter end, it excels; the CT6 may not have been designed to be a sports car, but it gives a fair approximation at the test track. Its 2.0-liter turbo-four packing 265 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque seems on paper to be overmatched for the Cadillac’s long, low, and wide proportions, but it’s our favorite engine available in the CT6. Paired with an eight-speed automatic, the Cadillac is the second-quickest of the trio to hit 60 mph, doing so in 6.4 seconds. Its drag strip performance is equally impressive, with the Caddy rolling through the quarter mile in 14.7 seconds at 92.8 mph.
Not impressive, compared to its Nordic and Germanic competition, is the CT6’s 60–0 braking performance of 117 feet. Our tester’s standard all-season tires may be to blame for this and for the CT6’s third-place figure-eight performance, which surprised us given how composed the Cadillac felt from behind the wheel. The CT6 lapped the figure eight in 26.7 seconds at 0.66 g.
The Cadillac’s on-road manners are hit and miss. On the interstate, the CT6 is an exceptional cruiser. “There’s a bit of ‘good old days Cadillac’ in the way it goes down the highway,” associate editor Scott Evans said. The car is quiet and comfortable with an especially well-mannered ride—considering the CT6 2.0T isn’t available with Cadillac’s Magnetic Ride Control suspension system. The turbo engine is pretty solid, too; it’s responsive and quite capable of keeping the big Cadillac going at autobahn-esque speeds. “Smooth and torquey,” senior features editor Jonny Lieberman said. “It’s amazing to me that 2.0-liter engines have come so far. A generation ago this is what V-8s felt like.” The eight-speed transmission is mostly up to snuff, too, although it did regularly exhibit rough 1-2 shifts, especially at parking-lot speeds.
Where the Cadillac could use some improvement is in the little details such as steering feel, as its steering is lacking the feedback we’ve come to expect from Cadillac. The bigger problem is the “safety” cinching seat belt, which attempts to slice the driver in two like a cheese wire every time you turn a corner with any modicum of pace. “The constant hugs from the seat belt drive me insane,” technical director Frank Markus said. “I’m almost tempted to remove my seat belt.” Don’t do this.
Cadillac’s radar cruise control and lane keep assist systems are stopgap measures until the brand’s delayed semi-autonomous Super Cruise system arrives. Unfortunately, Cadillac has decided that CT6 2.0T buyers don’t need radar cruise control, with the system only available on V-6-equipped cars. The radar cruise control system on a CT6 3.0TT we tested worked as-advertised, but the stopgap’s stopgap on the CT6 2.0T—a simple forward collision alert radar—is inadequate in a car of this class. The CT6’s cruise control can actually use the front-facing collision radar to sense the distance the Cadillac is from the car in front of it, The CT6’s lane keep assist function is also lacking; it’s fine when the road is well-marked and its curves exceedingly gentle, but once it does cross a line, the system ping-pongs the car back and forth between lane markers.
Unfortunately for the Cadillac, things don’t get better inside. The cavernous cabin gives a good first impression but falls apart on closer examination. First, the good: The cabin is nicely designed, if a bit understated. The front seats are well-bolstered, and the executive-spec back seat package is spacious and comfortable so long as you’re not sitting in the middle seat. The seats themselves are also wrapped in thick baseball-glove-looking leather. Sadly, it all falls apart from there. The material choices in the CT6 are downright perplexing with a weird mix of leather, carbon fiber, chrome, and plastics. Most frustrating are the deep-grain plastics above the beltline and hard-grain plastics that lurk below it. The switchgear quality is maddening, too, ranging from a bespoke steering wheel to parts-bin buttons on the doors and center console.
And then there’s CUE, Cadillac’s infotainment system, which has somehow, impossibly, been made worse with the addition of a track pad. Although the finger-trace pad provides haptic feedback to the user, it’s constantly overshooting the user’s intended command. You’re much better off ignoring it and just using CUE’s touchscreen—provided it’s working, of course, as it froze multiple times before eventually crapping out, taking USB connectivity and charging with it.
Also inexcusable was the difference in quality between the rear-camera mirror and the backup camera. The rear-camera mirror, which displays an image from a second rear-facing camera, looked like a 4K video on a flat screen—although the focal length of the lens was disorienting for some. Worse still, the standard backup camera image was ridiculously grainy and crude. Seeing the two images displayed simultaneously is confounding. “This car is way too expensive for this nonsense,” Evans said.
Ultimately, the Cadillac’s refined cruising manners and roomy cabin just aren’t enough to overcome the technology and quality gap between it and the top two finishers. Senior features editor Jonny Lieberman sums up our disappointment well. “I thought Cadillac moved to New York specifically to avoid crap like this,” he said. “This is not good enough. Cadillac has to improve.”
Second Place: 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 Sport
Tight Package Delivers on the Road
Mercedes-Benz practically invented the modern midsize luxury sedan with the E-Class. With the 2017 E300, it proves that it still knows what it takes to be successful in an increasingly competitive segment. Mercedes’ formula for the new E-Class was a pretty simple one: Shrink the S-Class design, and squeeze in the brand’s new Drive Pilot semi-autonomous driving. Same sausage, different lengths.
Despite being the least powerful car by 24 horsepower, the E300 hangs tough at the test track. Mercedes’ ubiquitous 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 makes 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque and comes paired to a Mercedes-developed nine-speed automatic. The 0–60 run takes 6.5 seconds, and it needs 14.9 seconds to roll through the quarter mile at 92.4 mph. Equipped with the optional Sport package, which includes uprated front brakes and summer tires, our E300 tester was an unsurprising performer in braking and handling tests. The Mercedes did the 60–0 test in a comparison-best 106 feet and similarly lapped the figure eight in a best time of 25.8 seconds at 0.70 g.
Although stellar at the track, the E300 left a majority of our judges wanting a little more refinement on the road. The nine-speed auto is hit and miss, quite literally; sometimes it shifts quickly and with precision, other times it clunks between gears and takes a good two-Mississippi count before shifting. “This transmission seems to get discombobulated and gave me some very hard shifts; its logic wasn’t terribly great, either,” Markus said. The E300’s engine feels plenty powerful at lower speeds, but it feels as though it runs out of steam at highway speeds while passing, likely the result of poor choice in transmission ratios. Thanks to that Sport package our E-Class came with, the Merc was pretty fun to fling around corners. But the same package hurts its ride quality and cabin noise, as the E300 both rode worse and was louder inside than the Volvo or Cadillac.
With the addition of Drive Pilot, the new E300 is the most technologically advanced car to come out of Mercedes-Benz since the current S-Class. In fact, some Benz engineers say the E300 system is more advanced. Oversimplifying things, Drive Pilot promises Tesla levels of semi-autonomy, combining radar cruise control, self-steering via lane keep assist, and automatic lane change, among other technologies. The cruise-control system maintains speed well and will hook itself a few car lengths behind the car in front of it at highway speeds. Lane keep assist works most of the time on well-marked roads. However, for consumers to readily adopt semi-self-driving systems, said systems need to work all of the time, which Drive Pilot doesn’t. The cruise control’s radar sensor would regularly get dirty from light road grime, disabling the system. Lane keep assist frequently struggled in dealing with sun glare, and it had trouble tracking road markers as highway speeds crept higher.
Although Drive Pilot was a disappointment, the rest of the tech in the E300’s cabin worked as advertised. Sporting the latest generation of Mercedes’ COMAND infotainment system, the E-Class sports a large 12.3-inch infotainment screen on top of the center stack, with our car featuring an identical screen replacing the instrument cluster. COMAND itself has a bit of a learning curve, the driver’s left and right thumbs controlling actions on each respective screen via steering wheel–mounted touchpads, but it works once you get the hang of it.
The rest of the E300’s cabin is pretty inelegant compared to the other two cars. The materials, such as the leatherette seats and wood grain, are mostly convincing. But there was still more cost cutting than we’re used to seeing from Mercedes, the padded dash topper being one example. More elegant materials can be ordered on the E300, but not without exceeding our $70,000 cutoff. And although the front seats are comfortable, there’s no overlooking the tight back-seat package on the E-Class compared to the Volvo and Cadillac. As executive editor Mark Rechtin said, “Not great as a table for four.”
Although the Mercedes E300 makes a good case for itself behind the wheel, its tight back-seat package and inconsistent self-driving suite combined with its test-highest $70,025 sticker price relegate it to second place.
First Place: 2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription
Like Goldilocks, we find the Volvo to be “just right”
The Volvo XC90 blew us away in last year’s SUV of the Year testing, so it should be no surprise that the S90 T6 AWD Inscription captures the same magic as the high-riding SUV. Riding on the same platform and sporting the same powertrains as the XC90, the S90 is a lighter, faster, and equally luxurious version of our 2016 SUV of the Year winner.
The goodness starts under the hood, where the Volvo should serve as the prime example for why luxury sedans don’t need six- or eight-cylinder engines. Powered by a 2.0-liter I-4 that’s both supercharged for low-end grunt and turbocharged for high-rpm power, the S90 makes 316 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque running to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic. The powertrain is good for a 5.6-second run to 60 mph and a 14.1-second quarter mile time at 98.9 mph. The S90’s braking and handling performance splits the difference between the CT6 and E300, stopping from 60 mph in 107 feet and lapping the figure eight in 26.3 seconds at 0.68 g.
On the road, the S90 is a sweetheart. “Excellent power delivery from this twin-charged engine,” Evans said. “It’s not wanting for power.” The Volvo’s engine is smooth, powerful, and refined—everything a luxury buyer could ask for. The S90’s eight-speed automatic doesn’t enjoy being rushed in Dynamic mode, but it shifts smoothly in normal driving. The Volvo handles well but isn’t as sporty as the other two. Its suspension, which features a Corvette-like transverse leaf spring in back, irons out most bumps rather well and minimizes roll, but the optional 20-inch wheels transmit more harshness and noise into the cabin than we’d like.
Volvo’s Pilot Assist system is easily the best of the three entrants, although it’s still lagging behind Tesla’s Autopilot benchmark in its effectiveness. Lane keep assist keeps the S90 pegged in the center of the lane through gentle highway curves, and the radar cruise control behaves as if it were a human driver. The system, like the others here, is less reliable once off a well-marked highway, but it’s still an order of magnitude more predictable than the Caddy or Merc.
Where the S90 really separates itself from the other two is inside. The light and airy cabin is cleanly executed and beautifully designed. The ultimate expression of Scandinavian minimalism, the flagship-level interior focuses on the essentials: leather, wood, and metal. “Elegant, genuine materials everywhere you look and touch,” road test editor Chris Walton said. Volvo’s iPad-like Sensus infotainment system also deserves recognition for how many features it packs into an incredibly intuitive and responsive 9.0-inch touchscreen display. The cabin is roomy, too, with bad back-friendly front bucket seats and a spacious back seat, which strikes a nice balance between the cramped Mercedes and limolike Cadillac. “They grow tall people in Sweden, so the back seat easily passes the 6-footer-behind-6-footer test,” Rechtin said. “The back seat has tons of legroom and loads of headroom.”
The price further elevates the Volvo’s standing in this comparison, as this nearly loaded S90 undercuts the Mercedes and Cadillac by three to four grand.
For its few faults, the Volvo S90 is the Goldilocks of the three: It’s not the outright sportiest, nor is it the roomiest, but its properly luxurious, the best to drive, and the best at driving itself. The Volvo S90, quite simply, is 2.0-liter luxury done right.
Third Place: Cadillac CT6 2.0T Luxury
The big Caddy looks good on paper but can’t deliver on the details.
Second Place: Mercedes-Benz E300 Sport
The segment stalwart is fun to drive but held back by its cramped cabin.
First Place: Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription
The Volvo strikes the right balance between drivability, luxury, and tech.
|2017 Cadillac CT6 2.0T (Luxury)||2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 (Sport)||2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD||Front-engine, RWD||Front-engine, AWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head||Turbo- & supercharged I-4, alum block/head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||121.9 cu in/1,998 cc||121.4 cu in/1,989 cc||120.1 cu in/1,969 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||265 hp @ 5,500 rpm*||241 hp @ 5,500 rpm||316 hp @ 5,700 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||295 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm*||273 lb-ft @ 1,300 rpm||295 lb-ft @ 2,200 rpm|
|REDLINE||6,500 rpm||6,300 rpm||6,600 rpm (max engine speed 6,000 rpm)|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||14.7 lb/hp||16.1 lb/hp||13.1 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed automatic||9-speed automatic||8-speed automatic|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar||Control arms, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, transverse leaf spring, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||12.6-in vented disc; 12.4-in vented disc, ABS||13.5-in vented, drilled disc; 11.8-in vented, drilled disc, ABS||13.6-in vented disc; 12.6-in vented disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||8.5 x 19-in cast aluminum||8.0 x 18-in; 9.0 x 18-in, cast aluminum||8.5 x 20-in cast aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R||245/45R19 98V (M+S) Goodyear Eagle Touring||245/45R18 100Y; 275/40R18 103Y Dunlop SportMaxx RT2||255/35R20 97W Pirelli P Zero|
|WHEELBASE||122.4 in||115.7 in||115.8 in|
|TRACK, F/R||63.4/64.0 in||63.8/64.0 in||63.7/63.7 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||204.0 x 74.0 x 57.9 in||193.8 x 72.9 x 57.8 in||195.4 x 74.0 x 56.8 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||40.0 ft||38.1 ft||38.7 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,893 lb||3,891 lb||4,148 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||51/49%||53/47%||55/45%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||40.1/38.0 in||41.4/38.2 in||37.4/37.8 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||42.4/40.2 in||41.7/36.2 in||42.2/35.9 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||58.2/56.2 in||57.8/57.1 in||57.5/55.9 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||15.3 cu ft||13.1 cu ft||17.7 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||1.8 sec||2.1 sec||2.0 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||3.6||3.5||2.9|
|QUARTER MILE||14.7 sec @ 92.8 mph||14.9 sec @ 92.4 mph||14.1 sec @ 98.9 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||117 ft||106 ft||107 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.82 g (avg)||0.90 g (avg)||0.88 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.7 sec @ 0.66 g (avg)||25.8 sec @ 0.70 g (avg)||26.3 sec @ 0.68 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,600 rpm||1,700 rpm||1,600 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$69,010||$70,025||$66,105|
|AIRBAGS||8: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee||7: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, driver knee||7: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, driver knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||6 yrs/70,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||6 yrs/70,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/Unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||19.5 gal||17.4 gal||15.9 gal|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||20.0/37.2/25.2 mpg||20.4/35.2/25.2 mpg||16.4/31.2/20.8 mpg|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||22/30/25 mpg||22/30/25 mpg||22/31/25 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||153/112 kW-hrs/100 miles||153/112 kW-hrs/100 miles||153/109 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.78 lb/mile||0.78 lb/mile||0.77 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|
Mercedes is open to selling a truck in the U.S., but it won’t be anytime soon
Putting an end to recent rumors, Mercedes-AMG has announced it’s not interested in building a hot-rodded version of the upcoming X-Class pickup truck.
AMG currently offers high-performance variants of large, heavy off-roaders like the G and the GLS, but the X-Class is a completely different story. Company boss Tobias Moers revealed to Australian website Motoring that the truck isn’t a candidate for the AMG treatment because the demand for a sporty pickup simply isn’t there right now. That could one day change; two decades ago the idea of an AMG-badged G was ludicrous.
At launch, the X-Class’ most powerful engine will be a Mercedes-sourced 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 tuned to send 254 horsepower and a stout 457 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels via an automatic transmission. Less powerful four-cylinder engines borrowed from the Nissan parts bin will also be offered.
A separate report confirms Mercedes-Benz has ruled out selling the X-Class in the United States — at least in the foreseeable future. After it’s unveiled in 2017, the truck will go on sale in dozens of markets around the globe including Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Australia. The brand will closely monitor how the truck performs in each region and what kind of buyers it attracts.
How well the truck sells in its first few years on the market will play a large role in determining whether Mercedes breaks into North America’s hotly contested pickup segment.
“It’s the biggest segment we’re not in. It’s overall an attractive, huge segment, but we need to make sure it’s the right time for Mercedes,” Mercedes USA CEO Dietmar Exler told Automotive News.
The production version of the Mercedes X-Class will debut in the coming months, so the second-generation model will not arrive here until well into the next decade if it gets the green light for production.
- Volkswagen’s midsize pickup could arrive by the end of the decade
- X-Class concept previews Mercedes’ first pickup truck, coming in 2017
- Mercedes-Benz teases its sleek pickup truck concept ahead of Swedish reveal
LONDON – Chinese electric car company Next EV unveiled its new brand NIO Monday and launched what it said was the fastest electric car in the world. The NIO EP9 has 1,360 hp, which propels the car from rest to 160 mph in 7.1 seconds.