Mercedes AMG GTR is the Ultimate Roadster: 1 of 750

In 2020, roadsters represent the most fun way to get around town on a beautiful day. They use to be the best way to get around the race track too because of their light weight nature. Less steel / aluminum = less weight. But as cars started getting faster and faster, engineers learned the affects of drag at high speeds and discovered that coupes are significantly more aerodynamic. On top of that, consumers began wanting automatic convertible tops, which negated the weight savings due to the electric motors. After that, manufacturers then started putting their most power engines only in coupes; leaving drop top gear heads like myself with less powerful engines.

Mercedes-Benz apparently disagrees with the pack, and has released their AMG GT Convertible in GTR in spec. The “R” stands for race. The boys in Stuttgart deserve an extra 27 pints of beer for this one. It delivers the same 4.0L AMG biturbo V8, suspension components, forged wheels, carbon ceramic brakes, and the same active-aero dynamics as the coupe variant.  My particular favorite is the carbon fiber spoiler paired with the “solar beam yellow” metallic paint, so stoplight drag races know you mean business. It is boy racer in all the right ways. I just don’t know if I could pony up $9,900 for a paint color.  Click Here To Continue Reading

The 2020 Jeep Wrangler Sahara EcoDiesel Is The Best Jeep Ever Built

I was surprised and delighted when I got the call that a Jeep Wrangler was heading to office. That is because I am a bit of a Jeep fanboy. My wife has a Jeep Grand Cherokee parked in the driveway of our home in Florida, and there is a Jeep Wrangler parked in the garage of our family home in Missouri.

The Wrangler has always been a go-anywhere rough and tumble vehicle. It is designed for climbing sand dunes and in Sahara desert, traversing jungles in South America, and rock crawling in Arizona. Its roots tie back to its military days, serving as a light duty transport on the frontlines. The Wrangler has always preferences utility over comfort… until now.

Modern versions of the Wrangler feature new chassis and suspension components in order to give the vehicle a more pleasant ride. Gone are the extreme vibrations at highway speed. It is still a brick driving down the road, but a lower drag coefficient also reduces swaying. The Wrangler also steers better than ever before.

But the best part of the 2020 Jeep Wrangler, in my opinion, is that premium trim levels are available with a powered convertible top. With the press of a button, the top slides back, exposing the majority of the cabin. It delivers a truly open air feeling, without having to remove any panels or unzip any pieces of canvas. And with the top closed, you get a hardtop feel, with very minimum cabin noise. I personally loved, small bursts of sunshine while running errands or coming home from work.

And the reason why the Sahara is the best trim level for the 2020 Jeep Wrangler is because it is posh. Gone are the use of cheap plastics and cloth. Instead, Jeep enthusiasts can enjoy leather seats, aluminum trim, a premium Alpine Sound System, and an 8.4inch touch screen display. The interior quality is better than a $100,000 Mercedes G-Wagen from a couple years ago. The Jeep Wrangler Sahara I described can be had for around $40,000.

One new item for the 2020 model year is that you can now get a Jeep with a 3.0L Diesel motor. This delivers more torque and better fuel economy. With us to 29 miles per gallon, you can take a Wrangler on a road trip and not break the bank. The towing capacity is rated for 3,500 pounds, which means that the 2020 Jeep Wrangler Sahara EcoDiesel can easily tow a boat, a car, or most RVs.

Don’t let the sound of these creature comforts fool you, the latest Wrangler (with the right off road options) is fully capable of outlasting any Overland trail. A two-speed 4X4 transfer case will allow you to get out of any sticky situation with easy. The vehicle also has excellent approach and departure angles.

If you have been itching to get into a new Jeep or thinking about buying your first one, now is the time. It is going to be a long time before Jeep can top the 4th generation JL Wrangler.

2020 BMW X6 M50i: A Sports Coupe On Stilts

Let’s face it, the world is obsessed with SUVs. These family haulers are becoming more and more mainstream, because advance engineering and technology have allowed them to become more fuel efficient and safer. Then you also have companies like BMW who are turning them into rocket ships that are able to outrun super cars from 20 years ago.

I recently got behind the wheel of the BMW X6 M50i. It is BMW’s X6 mid-size coupe (like) SUV, but with a 4.4L twin turbo V8 that produces an impressive 523 horsepower and 553 pounds of torque. All this power means that you can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph faster than a Porsche 911 Cabriolet (4.1 versus 4.2 seconds). It also comes standard with M Sport Brakes, and adaptive M Suspension. For those familiar with the X6 M, this is a slightly tamer and more civilized version. Both vehicles beg you to hit every apex, and produce a nice thunder when you smash the gas pedal.  Click Here To Continue Reading

2020 Chevrolet Blazer

The original Chevy Blazer is and was a cult classic dating back to the late 1960s. People love it because it looks tough and can traverse over any off-road obstacle.

However, the new all-new Chevy Blazer is in a different ball game. It is more refined and arguably sportier, but in a different way. The new Blazer is designed to conquer the open road versus dirt trails; and you won’t get a true 4X4 experience. However, it looks like a high performance SUV with blacked out badging, wheels, and grills on the RS model. But 308 horsepower coming from a 3.6L V6 isn’t exactly heart throbbing. The base 1LT model only has 193 horsepower.

On the plus side, the interior offers a nice fit and finish. The design language takes cues from the Camaro, which enhances the sporty feeling of the vehicle. So for Dads that want a Camaro, but need an SUV, this is the vehicle for you!

Add A Little Fun To Your Daily Commute With The Mercedes E53 AMG Cabriolet

For those that want the comfort of a mid-size executive sedan on their morning commute, but also want to unwind a little on their way home from the office: I present to you the Mercedes E53 AMG Cabriolet.

Well equipped models feature all of the technology and luxury offered by E-Class sedan. In fact, from the front seat forward, it is almost identical in appearance. Sleek styling on the exterior, and a beautifully dressed dash complete with two large displays on the inside. The leather wrapped seats are soft to the touch and supportive in all the right areas. Depending on how you configure the car, you can also get massaging seats. Surprisingly, the Mercedes E53 AMG Cabriolet is almost as practical as the sedan too. The rear seats are usable for a full-grown adult with the top up or down. And, their is enough truck space for two suit cases or your golf clubs.

What isn’t apparent from the outside is AMG’s new straight six bi-turbo engine that produces 429 horsepower and 384 pounds of torque. It is a great engine for a sporty car. The power curve is very linear with zero turbo-lag. The power output isn’t what I expected though from an AMG model; I was hoping for a rocket ship 0-to-60 mph time and a German muscle car like experience. Instead I got a respectable 4.4 second time and a nice bark from the exhaust. Of course I am just being picky after having the privilege of previously experiencing AMG engines with 12-cylinders and 600+ horsepower. On the plus side of having a more tame engine though, the E53 AMG has impressive fuel economy for an AMG. Up to 26 miles per gallon is great for a larger luxurious performance oriented car. On a weekend sports car, you typically don’t care about fuel economy. But it can get quite annoying having to fill up the tank multiple times throughout the week. The engine sounds quite good thanks to adjustable baffles in the exhaust for loud and quite modes. Handling characteristics are quite nice for this type of vehicle. In sport+ mode, the vehicle hunkers down in the corners. While in comfort mode, the adjustable suspension system minimizes bumps in the road.

Cabriolet is French for convertible. And while the E53 AMG Cabriolet is a true convertible in every sense of the word, I was surprised by how coupe like the car feels with the top up. Gone are the burdens of driving a convertible. The insulated top keeps the cold and heat out very well. It also dampens road noise to traditional fixed roof levels. Even at highway speeds, I could easily forget I am driving a convertible. I credit Mercedes engineers and the advancements in Haartz top materials. But when nature calls, the top goes down in a matter of seconds – even when driving at slow speeds.

All this technology, luxury, and performance comes at a price though. The Mercedes E53 AMG Cabriolet that I tested had a price tag of just under $100,000. For that kind of money you could get Mercedes’ flagship sedan, the S-Class, or the SL-class convertible. But the S-Class wouldn’t be as fun to drive. And the SL isn’t as practical for everyday use.

Many will argue that a panoramic roof or a sunroof with the windows down will deliver the same experience, but nothing compares to the freedom of a true convertible. It will release your stress and quickly put a smile on your face.

The 2019 Audi Q3 Gets A Much Needed Upgrade

Entry level vehicles are often times contrived as being the cheapest way to buy the name plate, versus delivering a taste of what the brand represents. Obviously, the Audi Q3 will never be “as good” as its older brothers, the Q5, Q7 or Q8. But, throughout the years it felt like the baby SUV was the red headed stepchild of the Audi family: With the Q3 not having the same interior design or technology options as its larger SUV siblings.

But that has changed with the all-new Q3. It joins the Audi family as a full-blood member, with a sleek exterior and a plush interior worth of the four-rings badge. The 2019 Audi Q3 feels more like a shrunken SUV versus a lesser Q5 this time around. But in actuality, it is more like a miniature Q8, Audi’s $70,000 flagship SUV. That is because the Q3 is using Audi’s newest design language. The larger and more expensive Q5s and Q7s are still using Audi’s old design language; which is beautiful, but not stunning like its latest rendition on the Q8.

Like on the Audi Q8, the 2019 Audi Q3 features a large touchscreen display that seamlessly blends into the center of the dash. Here you can control a number of infotainment options, but best of all: It has wireless CarPlay. When synced, your phone, while inside your pocket, will appear on the dash to make phone calls, listen to music, navigate, and even find you the best nearby restaurant. The screen on center console is paired with another large display for viewing the instrument cluster; it is dubbed the “Virtual Cockpit.” A slew of information can custom presented here. Giving you focus to traditional gauges, the navigational map, or your music selection.

Like a proper Audi, the interior is a work of art; it is visually pleasing and precision crafted. It does include quite a bit of plastics, but all of the pieces appear to be high quality plastics with a nice finish. Aluminum trim is carefully placed throughout the cabin to give a high tech look. The door handles especially are beautifully crafted. Depending on how you configure your vehicle, additional brushed aluminum inlays, brown natural wood inlays, or orange alcantra inlays can create a unique look. The seats, steering wheel, gear lever, and part of the doors come in genuine leather standard. The options are black, brown, and gray.

The front seats were comfortable and spacious enough for long commutes or road trips despite the deceptively small size of the vehicle. The backseats were also comfortable and offer acceptable legroom. There is also plenty of cargo space for road trips, but if you need extra space, the second row seats fold flush with the rear storage area.

In terms of driving dynamics, the vehicle feels well planted at high speeds on the highway. It also steered wheel at slower speeds around town, and features a good turning radius. It is not a rocket ship, with only 228 horsepower, but it is peppy for a compact SUV. The sprite nature is largely thanks to the motors 258 pounds of torque. That translates into 28 more horsepower and 51 more pounds of torque compared to the previous generation Q3.

Other vehicles in this segment are the Mercedes GLA, BMW X1, and the Lexus UX. The Audi has a way nicer interior than the Mercedes. The Audi is slower than the BMW, but the Audi comes standard with all-wheel-drive and leather seats. The Lexus is cheaper than the Audi by a couple grand, but the Lexus also uses a cheap CVT transmission versus Audi’s eight-speed traditional automatic transmission.

If you want to learn more, I recommend visiting your local Audi dealer and taking a test drive for yourself.

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