Racing is why Michelin makes the best tires.

Disclosure: Michelin did not pay me to write this article, however they did provide race passes and travel accommodations for me to attend the Petit LeMans race at Road Atlanta a few weeks ago. In the spirit of full transparency, I paid full price for the last 3 sets of Michelin Pilot Sport tires on my car.

Most automotive industry manufacturers go racing for three reasons: the fame, the glory, and to sell things. Michelin on the other hand is different, they go racing to test their products in extreme conditions. This approach has allowed Michelin stayed on the forefront of tire technology for over 100 years. There greatest achievement was in 1946, when they introduced the radial tire: “a special radial ply design now almost universally used in tires that makes them both durable and flexible.” Then they struck gold again 1992, when they started using silica in their compounds. This formula, which was designed for racing, improves fuel efficiency (important for endurance racing) and enhances both wet and dry grip (important for all cars).

“Motorsports leads to better tires and increased safety.” So to learn about Michelin’s track to street approach, they sent me to Road Atlanta for Le Petit LeMans; the final race of the IMSA Sports Car Championship series. There I learned how every member of their all-volunteer motorsports team has one mission: to test, to learn, and to create a better product.

Le Petit LeMans consists of four classes, but the most relevant to the street is GTLM. It is a factory team only class that represents the fastest and most advanced GT cars on the track. You could easily see these vehicles on the road during your daily commute to the office. Furthermore, all of the participating cars have the same exact wheel size (18 inches) in order to create an even playing field.

Teams are able to choose their tire manufacturer at will, but the vast majority choose Michelin for every race. The decision doesn’t come lightly as the teams still have to pay for the tires no matter which manufacturer they choose. Pricing information was not released to me, but I am guessing that you are looking at somewhere around $60,000 per race in tires alone. Michelin leases tires to teams for a fee in order to reduce the cost of racing. This strategy ensures that competing tire manufactures don’t get access to Michelin’s technology, and it guarantees Michelin engineers access to analyze tire performance after each race.

The best R&D lab in the world can’t simulate the stress a tire endures during a 10+ hour endurance race. Which is why Michelin engineers bring the R&D lab to race track. Realtime data analysis is employed using RFID chips embedded into each tire. This allows engineers to know when each tire goes on to the track and when it gets off. After the race, data is cross referenced with teams to analysis relative weather conditions, the vehicle’s average speed for each set of tires, and how many laps were completed. No other major tire manufacturer is leveraging technology this way.

The data becomes increasingly relevant, because Michelin will often times test new compounds and tread patterns for each race. Michelin’s latest formulas are top secret, however I was told that they include both synthetic and organic materials. They have even gone as far as testing orange peels in the mix.

Before going to Le Petit LeMans at Road Atlanta with Michelin, I thought the main reason to get new tires on my car was because my tread was getting low – replacing a wearable item. Or in the case of collectibles, the tires would start to dry rot.

Now I realize that new tires are actually a performance and safety upgrade. This means that with each new evolution of rubber, my 20 year Porsche will get better and better. In fact a Michelin representative argued that modern Michelin street tires would out perform race tires from 50 years ago. It may look like the same black rubber, but Michelin tires will keep you planted on the race track and your family safer on the road.

Range Rover Sport SVR: The only true Super SUV

Lamborghini created the Urus to be a ultra-high performance SUV, however it lacks real off-road capabilities and significant cargo capacity. So does that still make it a true SUV? It has super car performance, but in my opinion it lacks the UV in sport utility vehicle. It is the “SUV” you buy if you wish you were driving a super car, but can’t right now because you have two kids and a dog in the backseat.

Rolls Royce’s newest member of family is the Cullinan, named after the world’s largest diamond. It is by far the most luxurious car in the world with 4X4 capabilities. It is definitely super luxury. I drove one about 6-months ago, and I was supremely impressed by the supple cabin and the isolated driving experience. To be fair, it is hard to say something negative about any Rolls Royce, because their cars are superb. But lets face it, it is not the quickest SUV on the market, so it can’t hold the title of super high performance. Additionally, it would be disrespectful to damage a handcrafted piece of machinery as fine as a Rolls Royce while you are driving off road. So the utility piece is also missing from the equation.

So with the two most expensive SUVs on the market not deserving the “Super SUV” title, what is left? There always is the original King of sporty SUVs, the Range Rover Sport. And like a few of its predecessors, the SVR edition brings super performance to a super capable and super luxury SUV.

In terms of performance, one work: Supercharged. Range Rover Sport SVR comes standard with a 5.0L supercharged V8 that pumps out 575 horsepower – on par with the McLaren 540C. It is a heavy vehicle (for a performance oriented machine), but it can still do 0 to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds and reach a top speed of 176 mph – impressive for a 5,000 pound vehicle. And because it is an SVR, it offers comparatively exceptional grip thanks to sticky Pirelli tires, a re-tuned suspension, and Active Dynamics damping. So the performance benchmarks makes this a Super SUV.

In terms of capability, two words: Land Rover. Their all-wheel drive system with locking differentials and a low-speed transfer case will get you out of any situation. This includes water, because the Range Rover Sport SVR can wade through a shallow river – 33.5 inches to be exact. You can also tackle rock climbs thanks to its height adjustable suspension. Also in terms of capabilities, you can two up to 6,613 pounds and carry 27.5 cubic feet of cargo. So the capability benchmarks makes this a Super SUV.

In terms of luxury, there words: It is British. The Range Rover Sport SVR is sportiest of the Range Rover fleet, but it is still incredibly posh inside. My test vehicle was covered top to bottom in supple leather with real aluminum and carbon fiber trim. The no-cost option performance seats are not as comfortable as the standard seats in regular Range Rover Sports, but the performance seats still perfectly mold to your body. In comfort mode the vehicle offered a smooth and quite ride – in contract to sport mode which opens the exhaust baffles, lowers the ride height, and tightens the dampers. And for the technology enthusiast: three large displays on the instrument cluster and center console put everything at your finger tips. From level 3 semi-autonomous driving to high quality audio coming out of the 23-speaker Meridian sound system. So the luxury benchmarks makes this a Super SUV.

The 2020 Range Rover Sport SVR is the only vehicle that checks all the boxes for a true Super SUV. And since it starts at around $120,000, versus the Lamborghini at ~$200k and the Rolls Royce at ~$325k, the Range Rover Sport SVR is offered at a super price. I can’t think of a better high performance and capable daily driver.

Up Close With The C8 Corvette Convertible

I have been to a number of “Super Car World Premier Parties,” but none of them had me as giddy as the Corvette Convertible’s introduction last week. I was finally able to touch and feel a car that fans of the Corvette (including myself) have been begging to get for decades.

With the Corvette coupe, we asked for a mid-engine sports car that could keep up with our European rivals. What we got was an American made super car that could not only keep up with, but also out price EVERYTHING on the market. This includes Italy’s Ferrari 488 GTB, England’s McLaren 720S, Germany’s Audi R8, and Japan’s Acura NSX. The Corvette comes in at 1/2 the price or less than all of these machines.

There was no doubt that Chevrolet would give us a convertible Corvette – it is a tradition that dates back to the very first Corvette – but I didn’t realize that the 2020 Corvette Convertible would look this good! Its top down silhouette is an enchanced replica of the Ferrari 488 spider, complete with speedster humps. But for some reason, the speedster humps look better on the Chevy than they do on the Ferrari.

Also just like the Ferrari and the McLaren, we now have a retractable hardtop convertible. This means that you get best of both worlds: a topless experience for when the sun is shining, and a “coupe” experience for the race track.

And for those track day enthusiasts, you will be delighted to know that Chevrolet designed the Corvette to be a convertible from the start. That means both the coupe and convertible should be just as rigid, and offer similar handling characteristics. And with only a ~150 weight difference, both are expected to rocket from 0 to 60 mph in less than 3 seconds… like I said before, super car performance.

The Corvette I got to sit in was a preproduction prototype with the top-of-the-line LT3 package. So the fit and finish was spectacular – $200k super car quality for 1/2 the price.

In fact on the way back from my C8 experience, a fellow journalist and I marveled at how Chevrolet’s $67,000 Corvette is going to radically change the sports car and super car world if the performance benchmarks live up to their claims. It is Porsche Boxster pricing, but with Porsche 911 Turbo performance.

I might actually have to trade my Porsche in for one… or add a C8 to the stable.

BONUS: I got to touch Neil Armstrong’s completely original untouched 1967 Corvette Stingray. You might recognized it from Season 3, Episode 9 of the Grand Tour on Amazon Prime.

The Hyundai Palisade: It is pure trickery

Cheap is rarely a bad word, especially when it is used to describe a great value. So when I say that the 2020 Hyundai Palisade is cheap, I mean that to the extreme. It is the bargain of a century! Driving the vehicle on a four-hour road trip to attend a conference, I often lost myself in this sub-$50,000 luxury suv. In fact, I would argue that the Palisade is better than most $80,000+ full-size SUVs on the market.

Let’s face it, true luxury vehicles are not about fancy technologies or 0-to-60mph times. They are about isolating you from the rest of the world. And, the Palisade does just that. Its supple ride mitigates bumps akin to what you would expect from a Mercedes SUV and its noise insulation properties make it supremely quite. I had a group of people in the vehicle curiously ask: “who makes this?” Without the big H on the front, its exterior styling cues would make you think German versus Korean. Click Here To Continue Reading

Get It While You Still Can: the 2019 C7 Corvette Grand Sport

The 2020 Corvette is ushering in a new generation for America’s sports car. The C8’s mid-engine design means better handling around corners and improved grip off the line. The Corvette will finally and truly be able to keep up with the best from Porsche and Ferrari thanks to its new architecture.

Those in favor of the latest and greatest will love the mid-engine C8, but let’s not forget the C7. It represents the pinnacle of front-engine sports cars with a 60+ year heritage. And since this is the last generation of front engine cars using the Corvette name plate, it will surely become a collectible.

Upon first approach, the long sweeping hood paired with hood scoops and side scoops scream race car. They are a visual tease to the 6.2L naturally aspirated V8 lying under the long hood, just behind the front axel. The pushrod engine pumps out 460 horsepower and 465 pounds-of-torque, which can be paired with either an 8-speed automatic or 7-speed manual transmission. This will be your last chance to get a new Corvette with a manual transmission, so get it while you still can. Dual clutch transmissions, like on the 2020 C8 Corvette produce better lap times due to quicker shifts and reduced power loss, but they lack the emotion connection of manually sliding through the gears one by one. Click Here To Continue Reading

35 Years of the VW Jetta GLI

The GLI for Volkswagen in many regards is the equivalent of the M3 for BMW. While the performance benchmarks are not quite the same, the spirit of taking the brand’s highest volume vehicle and making it thrilling to drive is all the same. In this case the GLI takes VW popular compact sedan, the Jetta, and turns the cool factor up to 10 for its 35th Anniversary.

Notable differences on the VW Jetta GLI 35th Anniversary Edition exterior are a striking blackout grill and 20″ wheels with a red accent piece. You will also quickly discover a seductive black rear spoiler, black painted roof, and mirrors. You also get red painted brake calibers to complete the look.

Inside the GLI I tested you will find a stylish new interior design language complete with red stitching and a flat bottom steering wheel to give the GLI an extra edge over previous generations.

The 35th Anniversary Edition of the Jetta GLI isn’t just all flash. Enthusiastic drivers will enjoy an upgraded 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces a respectable (for the type of car and price point) 228 horsepower. The GLI is unfortunately front-Wheel-drive only, however it does come standard with a limited slip differential.

The price as equipped was under $28,000, which seems like a bargain for such a cool looking car.

In read world situations, I found the car quite pleasurable to own (for a week). Multiple people took notice of the car. This includes the valet at the Ritz-Carlton, who gave me two thumbs up and asked inquisitively about GLI. He found the 35th Anniversary livery a rare site. I also found the vehicle to be surprisingly comfortable on long distance drives. The Jetta GLI has great visibility and felt very stable at highway speeds.

Now the question is… where do I sign as the 35th Anniversary Edition surely won’t be here long.

Rolls Royce Motor Cars: The Only Way To Stand Out From A Crowd

There are places in the world, like here in sunny South Florida, where there is an abundance of luxury vehicles. I am not talking a Mercedes E-Class or BMW 5 Series, I am referring to streets littered with Porsche 911 Turbos, Ranger Rover SVRs, and Bentley Continentals. You will also see quite a few Ferrari, McLaren and Lamborghini sports cars on the main boulevard every Friday and Saturday night. So how does one stand out from the crowd? The answer is simple…. Buy a Rolls-Royce.

I have driven and tested over a dozen Roll-Royce vehicles in the past ten years – each one unique to its future owner. That is because over 80% are commissioned bespoke vehicles. In some cases, like the Phantom, every vehicle off the line is Bespoke. IE a one-of-a-kind handcrafted piece of art. Some included rare woods, artisan stitching, and distinctive leathers, like Ostrich. While others featured unusual color schemes. And because 95% of these vehicles are one-offs, it’s driver and passengers are never keeping up with the Joneses… they are the Joneses.

The Rolls-Royce I most recently tested was the Dawn. It came in a magnificent shade of blue, with matching blue center caps on the wheels and a blue top. The white pinstripes and chrome accented the vehicle to give it (in my opinion) a nautical look.

I have made trips to the grocery store in a number of exotic cars, however none of them garnered as much attention as this Rolls-Royce Dawn. I drove the Dawn everyday during my one-week test, and everyday someone took a photo of the car or asked me about the car. I felt like a celebrity as my wife and I drove the Dawn to museum. When going to dinner in the Dawn, a parking attendant gave us a VIP spot in front of the restaurant and we seemingly got a table right away even though the restaurant was packed… it is better than having a Centurion Card (aka AMEX Black Card).

Driving a Rolls-Royce isn’t all about showing off. Even on a desolate road, the experience is like no other. The steering wheel delicately glides like butter as you navigate the vehicle along twists and turns. Bumps in the road are almost nonexistent. And the attention to detail of the stitched seats and hand carved wood on the dash reminds you to take pride in the fact that you are behind the wheel of “the best motor car” that money can buy.

Even though this 5,600 pound palace is designed to take away all of life’s troubles, you can still have a little fun with it. Under the bonnet (hood) is 6.6L twin turbo V12 with 563 horsepower. It is paired with a GPS guided transmission to make sure you are always in the proper gear. IE a lower gear if you are approaching a turn for optimal power. This dangerously smooth motor and gearbox propels you from 0 to 60 in less than 5 seconds. If you are not careful, in the blink of an eye you can be doing well over the speed limit. These kind of benchmarks can be expected across the entire Rolls-Royce line up.

So for the person who has the means to buy all that he desires, the personalization of a Rolls-Royce will allow your individuality to live on for generations. It is uniquely yours from start.

Contact your local Rolls-Royce dealer or visit Rolls-RoyceMotorCars.com for more information.

2019 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye: The Last Great American Muscle

The term “American Muscle Car” is clearly open for interpretation. Many would argue that the latest Ford Mustang GT350 or Camaro ZL1 fit the bill. I disagree, because both of those vehicle’s roots are in the pony car era. Plus the Mustang and Camaro are seemingly becoming more and more like a traditional sports car versus a muscle car. The difference being that the muscle cars are all about raw power and acceleration at the drag strip versus road handling.

With no true competitors on the horizon, Dodge has outshined itself once again with the 2019 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody. It checks all of the muscle car boxes with nearly 800 horsepower and over 700 pounds of torque under the hood – 797hp if you want to be exact. It is obviously the quickest production muscle car on the planet, however its 0 to 60mph time of 3.4 seconds isn’t earth shattering when compared to today’s modern super cars. The fault lies with its rear wheel drive drivetrain versus all-wheel-drive which delivers superior traction off the line. However once the rear tires begin to stick, the Hellcat Redeye rockets with a quarter-mile time of 10.8 seconds at 131 mph. But in all honesty, who wants a muscle car with rear wheel drive? How will you do burnouts?

The heart of the 2019 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye is a supercharged 6.2L HEMI V8. It is detuned version of the Dodge Challenger Demon engine. With the primary difference (in my opinion) is that the Redeye is designed primarily for everyday use versus track use. Another thing the Hellcat Redeye has going for it over the Demon is that you can buy one today. The Dodge Challenger Demon is sadly no longer in production. This means that the Hellcat Red Eye is the start of the show!

My week with the Hellcat Redeye was primarily consumed with meetings, however it also included a boys weekend at my friend’s ranch in Sebring, Florida to watch the 12 Hours of Sebring Race live. I was shocked by how many people were enamored by this car. During my road trip to Sebring, I had kids give me thumbs up while driving and adults ask me about every detail of the car as I filled up the tank at a gas station. Upon arriving at the boys weekend, I was welcomed with a slew of questions about the Hellcat Redeye by my friends. They all wanted to drive the car or at least ride in it. These are the same guys who have brand new Porsches, Audis, Jaguars, Corvettes, Mustangs, and AMG Mercedes in their garage. I gratuitously have my friends rides, with mixed reactions. Some exuberantly wanted an encore ride, while others wanted to escape the cabin in terror due to the shear magnitude of the Hellcat Redeye’s muscle car performance. Everyone was safe and no laws were broken, however a few childhood fantasies were unleashed.

A muscle car certainly isn’t for everyone. They chug gasoline, are loud, and primarily built for straight line performance. Even with the wide body spec on the Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye, you still felt the weight transfer going around a corner due to the massive engine. But all these factors contribute to the millions of smiles you, your family, your friends and on lookers will enjoy as you cruise around town.

2019 VW Tiguan: 3 Row Awesomeness

The 2019 VW Tiguan may look like your average stylish compact crossover, but it features a hidden gem. One which I only discovered during my last day with the vehicle… a 3rd row.

Normally a childless 30 something year old sports car enthusiast wouldn’t get excited about something like a 3rd row. And normally I wouldn’t, but the Tiguan wasn’t designed for me. It was created for young families.

Over the past 10 years, I have seen countless friends go from a sports sedan to a compact SUV when they get their first child. Then go from a compact SUV to a full-size SUV when they get a second kid or their child starts making friends in school; extra seats are needed for the carpool club.

Since VW added a 3rd to the Tiguan, new parents can make the compact SUV last a few years longer. This a blessing because I hear kids are expensive!

Jaguar iPace: It’s Electric?

The problem with most electric vehicles is that the only the noteworthy thing about them is the fact that they are electric. Cars like Tesla are prime example. All three Tesla vehicles that I have tested felt cheap inside, which is crazy for a $100,000 vehicle!

A car should be able to hold its own whether it is electrically charged or petrol powered. And this is where Jaguar comes into play… the iPace is a joy to drive.

Behind the wheel, I kept forgetting that I was driving an electric vehicle. My senses told me that I was driving a Jaguar. A car manufactured by a brand with a racing pedigree, while also being a brand renown for their fit and finish. A brand that the Queen of England has endorsed.

The Jaguar iPace in its truest form is a sports sedan. It hugs corners like a sports sedan and accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds like a sports car. It is not the fastest EV, however, it is one of the most thrilling daily drivers you can purchase. I consistently found myself “playing around” both on the highway and city streets.

Despite is 4,702 pound weight, the Jaguar iPACE felt very agile and balanced, with only a small bit of understeer. You want understeer on this type of vehicle because it is proven to be significantly safer than oversteer in untrained hands. The steering was well sorted and crisp. It didn’t provide as much feedback as I would have liked for a Jaguar, but it also didn’t feel video game like either.

At highway speeds, the Jaguar iPACE zipped along beautifully and felt very stable. Power always seemed readily available, although I noticed my battery levels exponentially decrease the faster I went. The vehicle is rated for a range 234 miles, but I felt anxiety planning for a 150 mile day trip. I made the trip but I didn’t have too much extra juice to spare. And then once I got to my destination, I had to charge the 90 kWh battery pack.

It is no surprise that luxury is paramount with the Jaguar iPace. The fit and finish of each element on my prototype test vehicle exuberated English craftsmanship with fine buttery leathers. But unlike Jaguar’s of yesteryears, the iPACE felt high tech at the same time with multiple displays for systems management and entertainment. However, the displays didn’t seem cumbersome or give you the impression that you are driving a spaceship.

My entire experience felt like I was in a car, a car that so happens to be powered by two magnetic electric motors.