CIW 2014 year in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,300 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 22 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Cool Performance Features For the ’15 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

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Two 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Burnouts!

Smoking the tires on a pair of 707-horsepower 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcats.

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2015 Alfa Romeo 4C

2015 Alfa Romeo 4CThe dissonance between first look and first wheel turn was jarring.Alfa Romeo had chosen a suitably hip venue in which to showcase the coupe that will mark the brand’s honest-to-God return to the US market – a graffiti-festooned warehouse housing a boutique furniture company in San Francisco’s Mission District. The curvilinear sports car proved a lovely stylistic counterpoint to its concrete and metal backdrop while feeling perfectly synced with the eye-watering square-footage prices of the environs. Where the young, rich, beautiful people gather, the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C will be a star.

And wherever they drive, expect things to get pretty loud. No sooner had I doubled over, dropped into the driver’s seat, and fired to life the Alfa’s utterly raucous little 1.7-liter engine, did the ‘symphony’ of the 4C begin. An introductory note of an inevitable chin scrape as I pulled out of the hipster parking lot and into the street was quickly followed by the uncivilized racket of the engine warming up, with only wafer-thin glass to filter the hubbub just behind my head. At a cold idle, the sound isn’t unlike what I’d imagine it would be like to live inside of a Volkswagen TDI engine bay.

Thankfully, as traffic cleared and The City’s streets turned swiftly into undulating coastal roads, the experiential delta between heartthrob looks and project-car manners started to shrink. Unlike the last Alfas to be sold en masse on our shores, this is no beautiful boulevardier. What the 4C is, however, is hot hell’s own driver’s car.
2015 Alfa Romeo 4C

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C  2015 Alfa Romeo 4C

On public backroads, the Alfa is nothing short of a scalpel.

Last year, newly minted Infiniti PR maestro (and former Autoblog European editor) Matt Davis had the cheek to call the 4C a “baby 458.” That’s an awfully powerful endorsement for a $55k featherweight rocking a mid-mounted turbo four, but the setting of the bar so high wasn’t without just cause. Despite gaining a few hundred pounds worth of thicker carbon fiber, heavier US-spec airbags, standard AC and audio equipment and the like, the handsome Alfa coupe really does live up to its Italian sports car roots.

With respect to the punchy engine, it’s that carbon fiber tub that really sets the stage for this coupe to handle and perform so brilliantly. Added weight noted, let us pause for a moment to note that the 4C still tips the scales at an improbable 2,465 pounds. That number makes it about 50 pounds lighter than a soft-top Mazda MX-5 Miata, more than 400 lbs down on a Porsche Cayman and a tremendous 600 lbs below the awesome (non-supercharged) Lotus Evora. It’s light enough that my driving experience – at roughly 235 lbs – may be significantly different than someone closer to an average size and weight. That both blows my mind and makes me want to cut out carbs.

The CF superstructure, bookended with aluminum subframes front and rear, also allows the 4C to be exceptionally stiff and flex-free when flung with increasing madness along California’s golden coast. Taking “the long way” from downtown Frisco to Sonoma Raceway (called Infineon in a previous life, and still referred to as Sears Point by the graybeards in our group), means mile after mile of mountainous, coastal switchbacks connected by graceful lengths of wide-open two-lane blacktop. Save for the Italian Alps, it’s pretty much the place in which the Alfa feels most at home. Carving precise lines from corner to corner was a matter of course with the 4C, its impressive underpinnings deleting any hint of roll and its brief, 93.7-inch wheelbase allowing for terse changes of direction.

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C  2015 Alfa Romeo 4C

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C  2015 Alfa Romeo 4C

The 4C has the best-judged steering for the enthusiast driver this side of an F1 car.

Despite enough space between Prius drivers and work vans to take many of the Highway 1 corners with speed, I can’t say that I was ever able to upset the rear end of the 41/59-weight-split 4C. The wide tarmac and soft-looking runoffs of the racetrack gave me enough confidence (eventually) to find the grip limits of the piquant coupe – as well as a dose of throttle-off oversteer if you’re silly enough to lift when you shouldn’t – but on public backroads, the Alfa is nothing short of a scalpel.

It must be said, too, that the desire to toss the 4C from bend to bend is enflamed by its throwback, no-power-assist, 15.7:1-ratioed steering. Back in San Francisco, the unassisted steering would doubtless become thorny – and quick – for anyone that didn’t practice regular upper-body resistance training. This isn’t a car setup to cosset the stylish-coupe driver with the demands of an urban/suburban driving route. In stark contrast to ever more livable models from Porsche and the Chevrolet Corvette, for instance, the 4C seems to turn up its shield-emblazoned nose at compromise for comfort. The upside is a steering experience that’s jaw dropping for those who care about things like tactility and weight mid-corner, while still avoiding the almost too-chatty character of things like Elise and Evora.

In short, the 4C has the best-judged steering for the enthusiast driver this side of an F1 car. It’s  brilliant.

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C

Alfa claims a 0 to 60 sprint of 4.4 seconds, which feels very accurate.

The power unit amidships is a pretty entertaining thing as well. Afla keeps calling the direct-injection, turbocharged four-cylinder a “1.75-liter” engine, but the truth is that it displaces 1,742cc. Normally those 42cc of cylinder would get rounded out to 1.7-liters, but Alfa claims a history of 1.75L engines is powerful enough to keep the tradition going… fine. The important bit is the way the engine delivers its 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, anyway, not its exact displacement.

With the single-turbo engine making its peak power at a fairly high 6,000 rpm, and its max torque starting at 2,200 rpm, the accelerative experience is slightly more linear than most current turbo engines I’ve driven. Lag isn’t a particular issue for the 4C, as the quick-spinning four is up to speed in almost no time at all when given a solid bootful of accelerator. Alfa claims a 0 to 60 sprint of 4.4 seconds, which feels very accurate. (The 4C also offers launch control when its DNA drive mode has been toggled into Race, making a real, mid-four-second starting sprint very doable.) The ample torque also allows for excellent response at speeds over 60 miles per hour, an area in which other, higher-strung small displacement engines don’t always shine.

Back in the city, the clatter of this direct-injected mill was rather grinding, as I mentioned, but out on the open road (or on the track) and fitted with the optional racing exhaust ($500), the 4C sounds like a thoroughbred. At least from the outside. Listening to cars start, run, accelerate and downshift out at Sonoma was enough to raise the hairs on my arms at some points; so stirring was the deep, Italianate resonance of their exhausts. And, to be fair, the overall sonic vibe was pretty stirring when I was behind the wheel of one, as well. Still, the audio experience when doing something as mundane as highway driving could be charitably described as “droning.”

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C  2015 Alfa Romeo 4C  2015 Alfa Romeo 4C

I’ve always loathed button-activated transmissions, and this Alfa setup does squat for changing my mind on the subject.

The six-speed dual-clutch transmission has a similar kind of bipolarity. Yes, I found the trans remarkably adept at snapping off every shift I asked for as I caned the Alfa up and down the hills of the racetrack, and have no complaints about the quickness with which it executes on its own when left in automatic modes. But the compact packaging of the pushbutton gear selector wasn’t enough to make up for its clunkiness in mundane operations like, say, finding reverse. The buttons take a solid depression before they’ll activate the desired gear (probably by design) and even then the response time seems glacial compared with a traditional shift lever. I’ll admit that I’ve always loathed button-activated transmissions, and this Alfa setup does squat for changing my mind on the subject.

There’s no question that the small confines of the 4C cabin are also a compromise to the kind of motive comfort we all now expect, but I was ecstatic to find that there’s more than enough room in the driver’s chair for a big Dutchman like me. (There was a lot of chatter among the Autoblog staff about whether or not my six-foot, five-inch frame would find a home in the slinky Alfa… haters all of them.) With an inch more headroom (38 inches) than is offered by a hardtop-raised Mazda Miata, not only could I swing in and out of the 4C cabin with relative ease (see video below), I could even wear a helmet while doing so. The only issue my above-average height posed for driving was my ability to see the top 10-percent of the central, digital speedometer and information display (which is pretty small, really), and a reduction in visibility from a low roof.

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Getting In And Out | Autoblog Short Cuts

The 4C will never win with numbers crunchers.

The story from the passenger side is totally different. Infringed upon by the hugely wide carbon-fiber sill on my right and a super-low dashboard above, it was all I could do to straighten my legs and hang on tightly while I rode shotgun. The posture that I (and any larger person) had to adopt to even fit in the right chair, was roughly analogous to that of a woman who’s just discovered her skirt is way too short and tight while sitting down to a dinner in a public place. Ladies, beware your clothing choices when faced with a ride in a 4C; egress in anything but pants or a maxi dress is best performed in a concealed spot. I’ll say no more.

None of that, nor the slightly underwhelming cabin decorations, would keep me from owning this Alfa, I should add. It’s just too good a steer and too stunning to look at for me to summon up the effort to care about mildly unsatisfactory in-cabin plastics. The heart wants what the heart wants.

And that axiom basically holds true for the 4C value proposition as a whole. I’d stake my bottom dollar on the fact that, with one glance at the $65,945 as-tested price and the 237-hp output, some Autoblog reader is going to sound off, “that’s Corvette money!” They will, of course, be correct and be utterly missing the point all at the same time. The mid-sixties pricing that Alfa Romeo believes the 4C will sell at, will of course buy any manner of sports car that is ‘better’ than this Italian coupe in some regard. Clearly cars like the BMW M4, or Porsche Cayman S, or Jaguar F-Type Coupe or the beloved C7 offer advantages of power, practicality, price, poshness or some combination therein. The 4C will never win with numbers crunchers.

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C

It will win with those that want something pure, complex and beautiful.

It will win with those that want something pure, complex and beautiful, however. Drivers who value handling and touch more than top-speed figures and rank in the horsepower wars. At just 500 units, the Launch Edition of the 4C – and its all-options-in $69,695-price tag – will also help seduce those buyers seeking something rare, and possibly iconic, depending on how well Alfa’s larger American resurrection plan takes hold. For those of particular, discerning and idiosyncratic driving tastes, this car and its impressive subdermal technology will be a bargain. Everyone else will unblinkingly buy the ‘Vette.

As my first downtown stint behind the wheel proved, the 4C is not a car that will suit as a daily driver for anyone but the deeply masochistic. Yet driving it as intended is so magical – perhaps even improved thanks to the character of its most obvious flaws – that I think it deserves a rank among the very best sports cars one can buy today. Welcome back to the neighborhood, Alfa; now, show us more like this one, please.

Engine: Turbo 1.7L I4

Power: 237 HP / 258 LB-FT

Transmission: 6-Speed DCT

0-60 Time: 4.4 Seconds (est)

Top Speed: 160 MPH

Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive

Curb Weight: 2,465 LBS

Seating: 2

Cargo: 3.9 CU-FT

MPG: 24 City / 34 HWY (est)

Base Price: $53,900

As-Tested Price: $65,945

 

 

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2014 Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake

2014 Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake

We’d consider giving up vital organs for the opportunity to drive any number of vehicles on the Nürburgring: supercars, racecars, track cars, even hot hatches… but a station wagon? That might not seem like a top choice at first blush, but this is no ordinary wagon. This is the Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake.

Now if that name leaves you scratching your head, there are several good reasons for that – not least of which is the unfortunate reality that, unlike so many performance-oriented crossovers and sport-utes, the Sportbrake is not offered in North America. But suppose it were, or that weren’t a factor. You’d likely still be left wondering how the name Jaguar ended up on a station wagon in the first place, and how that machine wound up bearing the letters R-S, the suffix affixed only to Coventry’s most hardcore performance models.

Our brief story goes back a little over two years to when Jaguar revealed the XF Sportbrake at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show, giving its mid-level sedan an elongated roof and added cargo capacity. The Sportbrake may not be the first wagon to wear the Leaping Cat badge, but following the lamentable X-Type Sportwagon, it could be argued that the XF is the first authentic Jag estate.

In giving prospective Jaguar buyers the option of a wagon – or, conversely, wagon buyers the opportunity to drive a Jaguar – the quintessentially British automaker did not initially offer a performance version. Not until two years later when it revealed the XFR-S Sportbrake at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show, skipping any conventional petrol-powered options (which it does not offer in any market save for China) and right over the XFR performance model offered on the sedan and going straight for the most improbable cross-breed it could have concocted. Having struck us from the get-go as the kind of wagon we had to get our hands on, we eagerly headed to Germany to experience it first-hand.

2014 Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake

2014 Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake  2014 Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake

A quoted 0-60 time of 4.6 seconds is downright blinding for a wagon.

Walking around any ordinary Euro wagon – say, a diesel-powered XF Sportbrake, for example – you may find yourself wondering how much space it has or how much stuff can fit in it. But circumnavigating the XFR-S Sportbrake, your eyes invariably gravitate less towards the back than they do to the front. That’s where you’ll find a familiar story, but one which we haven’t tired of telling just yet: it’s Jaguar’s long-serving AJ-V8, an engine developed with Ford Premier Auto Group money in the mid-90s. The engine has powered models from Lincoln, Aston Martin, Land Rover, and even the retro Ford Thunderbird, but it has always been a Jaguar engine first and foremost, and by this point, it’s found its way into everything Coventry makes.

It’s also been updated, having grown to displace 5.0 liters and pack a supercharger. But where the same V8 churns out 470 horsepower in the XF Supercharged and 510 hp and in the XFR, in this, its ultimate incarnation to date, output has swelled to 542 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque. It’s the same spec you’ll find not only in the XFR-S sedan, but also in the outgoing XKR-S Coupe and Convertible, the sleek new F-Type R Coupe and the flagship XJR sedan. But with a 4,336-pound curb weight – 200 pounds heftier than the sedan on which it’s based – the Sportbrake is not only the heaviest of that performance sextet, its the heaviest vehicle Jaguar makes. In fact, it’s weightier than some Land Rover offerings, models like the LR2/Freelander, Evoque and Defender, though considerably lighter than the LR4/Discovery, Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. That nets the XFR-S Sportbrake a quoted 0-60 time of 4.6 seconds – 0.2 seconds slower than the sedan, but hardly sluggish for anything but a top-flight performance model, and downright blinding for a wagon with 19 cubic feet of cargo space (59 cubes with the rear seats folded).

2014 Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake

We’d ballpark a price of $103k if it were offered Stateside. Unfortunately, it’s not.

That combination of power and practicality put the XFR-S Sportbrake in league with only the likes of the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG Estate, Audi RS6 Avant and Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon – each of which employs a different term for “wagon” – but, like the Jag, packs a forced-induction V8 with over 500 horsepower to rapidly haul whatever you’ve got. The Mercedes and Audi both offer more power and more torque for quicker performance, but get there with turbochargers and all-wheel drive. The supercharger and rear-wheel drive put the Jag more in line with the Cadillac, which may seem more out of date (especially with a new-generation standard CTS already out), but both the CTS and XF were introduced back in 2007, with the Jaguar undergoing a facelift in 2011. The CTS-V may also offer more punch for less cash, but that’s only relevant in markets where both are sold. In the UK, the XFR-S Sportbrake carries an all-in list price of £82,495, representing a £2.5k premium over the sedan. Adjusting for the UK’s typical price and taxation premium, we’d ballpark a price of $103k if it were offered Stateside. Unfortunately, it’s not, but then, neither is the RS6 or the all-wheel-drive CLS63 AMG Shooting Brake, leaving only the E63 and CTS-V to duke out this particular battle on American roads.

Our route took us along twisting mountain roads and sweeping spans of Autobahn from the airport in Frankfurt, westward through the Eifel mountains on a pilgrimage to hallowed ground: the vaunted Nürburgring Nordschleife. Jaguar rented out the track for the entire morning, also giving us the opportunity to sample the XJR and XFR-S sedans as well as the F-Type R Coupe (the latter only for a regrettably paced warm-up lap). Needless to say, the F-Type felt the most at home on the ‘Ring, but the Sportbrake more than held its own. This, despite its weight penalty over both sedans (the larger XJ being made of aluminum versus the smaller XF’s steel frame). The XFR-S also features a more performance-tuned suspension than the XFR or XJR (even the Ring Taxi version in which we later rode shotgun), and the Sportbrake’s bits are further retuned to handle the extra weight.

2014 Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake  2014 Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake

2014 Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake  2014 Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake

Electric-blue top-stitching and carbon-textured leather trim may not be everyone’s cup of Earl Grey.

Climb out of the XFR-S sedan and into the Sportbrake as we did in between hot laps, and everything feels familiar: the thick-rimmed steering wheel and the well-bolstered seats tell you this is a pure-bred, as does the electric-blue top-stitching and carbon-textured leather trim. The latter accents may not be everyone’s cup of Earl Grey, but helps differentiate the cabin space in an XFR-S – sedan or wagon – from an XF in more pedestrian trim. The only thing that will tell you this is not, in fact, a sedan but a long-roofed wagon is when you look in the mirrors: the tunnel-vision through the rear-view mirror and the stretched roofline where the spoiler might be on the sedan as viewed through the side mirrors.

Nor will you likely notice the weight penalty once you get moving. Not in any negative way, at any rate. That extra mass is shifted over the rear wheels – not a bad place, after all, to put it in a rear-drive car, whether you’re looking to gain traction or (with the electronics set to Track mode or defeated entirely) determined to break it for some sideways action. If the discrepancy doesn’t pop out at you on the Nürburgring, it’s not likely to anywhere else, either. Think, as we did, of the minute difference discernible between coupe and convertible versions of a supercar like the McLaren 650S and you won’t be far off.

2014 Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake  2014 Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake

2014 Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake  2014 Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake

The supercharged V8 packs a punch, and the exhaust note is second to none.

The obsessive might wish for slightly weightier steering (though feel and response leave little to be desired), and a left pedal with a bit more initial bite under braking. With so much weight to anchor, a set of carbon-ceramic brakes might be in order, but for the time being, that technology remains exclusive to Jaguar’s top sports coupes. Old-school as it is, the supercharged V8 packs a punch and pulls progressively up and down the rev range, and the exhaust note – unimpeded by turbo spools but augmented by the faint whine of the supercharger – is still second to none. The eight-speed automatic transmission gives you plenty of ratios to choose from, and with the rotary dial turned to Manual, it holds whichever cog you’ve summoned by paddle as close to the redline as you dare rev.

Teaching a vehicle this large and heavy to dance, meanwhile, is no easy feat. By rights, something this size should seem like it has two left feet – but the XFR-S Sportbrake will take on everything the Nordschleife has to throw at it and ask for more, all without delivering too punishing a compromise along bumpier roadways. And despite its relatively large profile, the Sportbrake proved assuringly stable at speed, even at the indicated 175 miles per hour we reached by the end of a fresh stretch of vacant, derestricted Autobahn, at which point the XFR-S felt like it could keep pulling to its quoted 186-mph top end.

2014 Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake

American buyers’ taste for SUVs remains the main reason why Jaguar won’t bother bringing over a performance wagon.

At the end of two memorable days of driving on some of the best swaths of pavement we could ask for, there remain few vehicles for which we would have given up the keys to the Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake. Maybe a handful of supercars, racecars, track cars or hot hatches, but not many – especially if we wanted to bring some friends, family or disoriented pets along for the ride. Nor would you find on that short list many sport-utes or crossovers – American buyers’ taste for which remain the main reason why foreign automakers like Jaguar won’t bother bringing over a performance wagon like this one (and why BMW won’t make a Touring version of its new M5 altogether).

Like all great things – and make no mistake about it, a supercharged Jaguar on the Nordschleife is most definitely a great thing – our experience with the Sportbrake eventually had to come to an end. But with this much power, poise, prestige and practicality, the XFR-S left us longing for a low-slung power wagon to call our very own equally as much as we did for another lap or two of the ‘Ring. In the end, that may be the most impressive feat Jaguar has performed to date.

Engine: SC 5.0L V8

Power: 542 HP / 502 LB-FT

Transmission: 8-Speed Auto

0-60 Time: 4.6 Seconds

Top Speed: 186 MPH

Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive

Curb Weight: 4,336 LBS

Seating: 2+3

Cargo: 59.0 CU-FT

Base Price: $103,000 (est)

 

 

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Kia GT4 Stinger Concept – Up Close & Personal – 2014 Detroit Auto Show

Get an up close look at the Kia GT4 Stinger Concept at the 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Could compete with Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S?

 

 

 

 

 

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Jay Leno puts a classic Corvette Stingray under the lens

Jay Leno 1963 Corvette

Jay Leno’s Garage has been on a British vehicle streak for the last several weeks. A true American classic finally puts that to an end with the latest feature focusing in on a 1963 Chevy Corvette Coupe with a fuel-injected V8. Leno says that he bought the car sight unseen and shortly afterward shipped it out to be restored. Don’t expect to find any resto-mod cues here, though, like modern wheels or a throaty exhaust. This ‘Vette is just like it came out of the factory in December 1962.

Of course, the major thing that makes the ’63 famous is its one-year-only, split rear window. However, Jay invites the restorer to go through it from stem to stern to explain what else makes an early ’63 Corvette coupe different from later models. There are a ton of tiny changes most people would never notice, like the unique side view mirrors and the way the rear gas cap is held down. They even get into detail about the fuel injection system found on Leno’s car. If you love these bits of minutiae, then this is definitely the video for you.

The point of the restoration was always to keep the car completely stock and correct to its original specifications. Leno wanted a vehicle where you could feel exactly what it was like to drive when new. Scroll down to get an education on what makes the ’63 ‘Vette such a special model.

 

 

 

 

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2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray ConvertibleIt may be impossible to spend a day in Chevrolet’s new C7 Corvette without someone asking what you think about the iconic sports car – magnetism is an understatement. I was approached by strangers in a grocery store parking lot, parents waiting for their children after school and enthusiasts on a canyon road after I had pulled to the side to take in the view.

All sneak up with a curious smile on their face, take a deep breath and then start spitting out questions like an overly aggressive prosecuting attorney. Is this the new Corvette? What do you think of it? Is it fast? How much does it cost?

While a closed-roof coupe offers a protective shield from the verbal onslaught – it’s hard to field questions through a solid roof – the drop-top Stingray Convertible allows the full inquisition to rain down each time one slows to a stop. These opportunities include incessant chatter with complete unknowns at stop lights, street corners and even while stuck in traffic.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible  2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

My first time behind the wheel of the all-new seventh-generation Corvette was last August. In an event tied to Pebble Beach, I was fortunate enough to spend a day driving the just-launched Stingray coupe, testing both the six-speed automatic and new seven-speed manual gearbox variants, in Monterey, CA, on pre-planned driving routes. This time, however, Chevrolet dropped a bright-red convertible in my driveway and told me that they weren’t going to ask for its key to be returned for a full week. Understandably, I couldn’t resist.

The coupe and convertible share identical chassis tuning and performance technologies.

Even though the coupe and convertible have unique physical attributes, Chevrolet engineered the C7 platform with the drop-top in mind. The two share identical chassis tuning and performance technologies, says the automaker, with everything from brake rotor size to suspension damper rates and the steering systems being virtually identical. The only structural changes to the convertible model are minor, with the safety belt mounting points repositioned and some alterations to accommodate the folding roof mechanism.

Interestingly enough, the curb weights of both are remarkably close. The coupe tips the scales at 3,298 pounds, while the convertible is a mere 64 pounds heavier at 3,362 pounds.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible  2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible  2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

The American automaker has been making drop-top variants of its flagship sports car for decades, but Chevrolet designed an all-new, fully electric roof for the new C7 convertible. The soft cloth top may be lowered remotely via key fob while parked, or from the cabin at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour (the operation takes a little more than 20 seconds, either way). Top down, it folds completely out of sight, hidden from view by a painted hard tonneau cover. When raised, the thick multi-layered top (constructed with a layer of sound-absorbing material sandwiched in the middle) has been engineered to isolate the passengers from the outside world.

The new model’s upscale materials and premium appointments surround occupants with a 360-degree sweep.

The base price of the Corvette Stingray Convertible is $56,000 – a reasonable $3,000 premium over the coupe. My you-can’t-miss-me test car, painted Torch Red over Adrenaline Red interior with optional red calipers, was lightly optioned with just four items. The first was the 2LT Package ($4,210) which included a list of convenience upgrades including heated and ventilated seats, head-up display, power lumbar and a premium Bose audio package. Second on the list was the Multi-Mode Performance Exhaust ($1,195), which is a must-have upgrade. Third was Chevrolet’s My-Link Navigation ($795) and infotainment package. After adding the red Custom Caliper Color ($595) and destination ($995), the bottom line on the window sticker read $62,795.

I’m a big fan of the C7’s significantly improved interior, which easily shames all six generations prior, as it finally allows owners to offer rides without having to apologize for lackluster passenger accommodations. The new model’s upscale materials and premium appointments surround occupants with a 360-degree sweep, and although they still aren’t meeting European standards (or even those of the SRT Viper) few will complain about contrasting stitching on the dash, well-executed switch gear and soft upholstery.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible  2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible  2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

With my six-foot, two-inch frame planted in the very comfortable driver’s seat, I depressed the clutch pedal and tapped the start/stop button hidden behind the right spoke of the steering wheel. The traditional rumble of an American V8 barking to life shook the chassis.

The Stingray convertible leaps off the line and it feels every bit as quick as its published sub-four-second 0-60 sprint.

It’s hard not to fall for the LT1 under the long hood of the Corvette, as it’s a real gem. The thoroughly modern, naturally aspirated 6.2-liter eight-cylinder pumps out 460 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque (Chevrolet reminds us that it is the most powerful standard engine the company has ever offered on a Corvette). While GM will offer the 2014 small block mated to a carryover six-speed automatic transmission for an additional $1,350, my advice is to put the money towards a vacation and opt for the standard seven-speed Tremec TR6070 manual gearbox with Active Rev Matching instead. (If you must have a slush box, hold out for the 2015 model that will offer an eight-speed automatic.)

With a power-to-weight ratio that would make a cheetah envious, the Stingray convertible leaps off the line and it feels every bit as quick as its published sub-four-second 0-60 sprint. Throttle response is immediate, with zero delay between mashing the accelerator and your mobile phone launching out of the shallow cup holder and onto the floor. Wheel spin is easy to initiate, but also easy to control, and that makes launching a no-brainer. First through fifth gears are very usable, and plenty fun to play around with, but I continue to find sixth and seventh gears simply too tall for North American speed limits, as the engine is turning painfully slow. Even on the highway at 70 mph, the LT1 was completely out of its powerband in those last two ratios (credit the frustrating gear ratios with helping to deliver an impressive EPA rating of 29 miles per gallon on the highway, however).

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

Chevrolet boasts that the drop-top’s all-new aluminum frame structure is 99-pounds lighter, and 57-percent stiffer, than it was the previous-generation convertible. “An important goal for the team was to create a more intimate and connected driving experience for the new Corvette Stingray,” said Mike Bailey, chassis vehicle system engineer. “Because they share common chassis tuning, power-to-weight ratios and structural rigidity, the coupe and convertible feel almost identical behind the wheel.”

The Corvette puts miles under its chassis without any harshness or jarring.

My red test car was not equipped with the performance-oriented Z51 package, which includes upgraded suspension (sport-tuned shocks, springs and stabilizer bars), uprated brakes, dry-sump lubrication, 19-/20-inch alloy wheels with summer tires, differential cooling, transmission cooling, aerodynamics package and an electronic limited-slip differential. The lack of Z51 also meant it didn’t have the optional Magnetic Selective Ride Control (MSRC), or active damping. Those were two significant omissions, as it meant the convertible rode on the standard suspension, with fixed damping, and the standard five-spoke alloys wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport run-flat tires (sized 245/40ZR18 front and 285/35ZR19 rear).

There is no reason to question the standard underpinnings during normal day-to-day driving, as the Corvette puts miles under its chassis without any harshness or jarring – I would call the ride very comfortable, which isn’t a word I often throw out when reviewing a low-slung performance car. With the roof peeled back and tucked away, and the windows rolled all the way down, the cabin of the C7 convertible remained remarkably pleasant. Buffeting is present, but it isn’t annoying (some convertibles seem to direct all the cold air at the top of your head or blast tornado-like vortices between the two passengers). Close the roof and the cabin becomes hushed – I would say it almost feels quieter than the coupe, as the convertible lacks the rear window that acoustically reflects tire noise forward towards the occupant’s ears. The only negative with the roof erected is the significantly reduced three-quarter view out the rear due to a thick opaque roof buttress. Convertible owners learn to accept the compromised visibility, but someone jumping in from a coupe will find it startling.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

One other attribute that may come as a surprise is how much attention the drop-top commands. Make that positive attention. Even as Chevrolet dropped some of the traditional styling cues (round tail-lamps come to mind), everyone appears to like the C7’s styling – more than a few passers-by wondered if it was a Ferrari. Newborn babies, puppies and bright-red Corvette convertibles – three things that receive countless unsolicited comments from strangers.

Everyone appears to like the C7’s styling – more than a few passers-by wondered if it was a Ferrari.

Compared to nearly all of its peers within the segment, the standard Stingray Convertible is an exemplary cruiser – most of the credit goes to its long wheelbase, which provides a very nice and stable ride, and a large-displacement engine, which is effortlessly working at highway speeds. The coupe is as comfortable after the tenth hour as it is for the first ten minutes. (With an 18.5-gallon fuel tank, the convertible should be able to cover about 500 miles per tank of premium unleaded on the open road.)

The open-air C7 is a commendable grand tourer, too, as its sport-tuned underpinnings allow fast sweepers to be challenged at well above posted speed limits. Yet regrettably, the rose-colored glasses cloud over when the highway is exited and the Stingray Convertible is forced to be a chariot over extremely challenging roads – think nine-tenths driving. When pushed hard over undulating surfaces, transitioned through sharp switchbacks and asked to circle tight corners, a side of the two-place sports car was revealed that I didn’t expect – the Corvette lost its sterling composure.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible  2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

The standard suspension allows the chassis to roll and pitch, and eventually bottom out on big dips.

Without the Z51 upgrade, and lacking the Magnetic Ride Control, the vehicle’s ride height is simply too tall and the dampers are too soft to accept the committed driver’s challenge. The standard suspension allows the chassis to roll and pitch, and eventually bottom out (reach the end of the suspension travel) on big dips. Rear wheels broke free on the hairpins, too. Adding to the frustration, the flexible black plastic air dam that hangs beneath the nose scrapes continuously with an awful and very unnerving noise. I didn’t recall any of that when I pushed the Z51 and MSRC equipped vehicles on similar roads last year – they were very competent – the optional equipment’s absence was glaringly frustrating.

After a week with the Corvette Stingray Convertible, my driving notes included positive mentions of the engine’s power delivery, accurate steering feel, excellent frame-less rear-view mirror and bright head-up display. But I also threw dislike at the shallow cup holders, the trunk and center storage console (both get too warm after extended driving) and the electronic parking brake, which should not be part of any manual transmission car’s equation. Many of my passengers were also frustrated by the slow push-button door releases that seemed to work like annoying gatekeepers as they curtailed quick egress from the cabin.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

The Corvette remains an exceptional sports car and an unbeatable bargain.

The Corvette C7 has earned countless accolades since its introduction last year (including a few with my name on them) but extended time driving the Stingray Convertible platform with the standard brakes, wheels, tires, differential and base suspension made me realize that not all Corvette models are equally as fantastic – in this softer configuration, the very capable platform isn’t being fully exploited. The experience is comparatively deflating.

But while I wouldn’t recommend the C7 without the Z51/MRC combination, a slight miscalculation with the options list isn’t catastrophic enough to force it off my short list. The Corvette remains an exceptional sports car and an unbeatable bargain, which is only improved when it arrives in the form of a 2014 Corvette Stingray Convertible with a folding top.

Engine: 6.2L V8

Power: 460 HP / 465 LB-FT

Transmission: 7-Speed Manual

0-60 Time: 3.9 Seconds (est.)

Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive

Curb Weight: 3,362 LBS

Seating: 2

Cargo: 10.0 CU-FT

MPG: 17 City / 29 HWY

Base Price: $56,000

As-Tested Price: $62,000

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2015 Lamborghini Huracán LP 610-4

Lamborghini Huracan

We’re comfortable ranking the new Lambo with a score of “Monica Bellucci” on the scale of Italian hotness.

We’re fresh from the heart of the Lamborghini headquarters in Sant’Agata Bolognese, Italy, where Italian and German executives have beamed like proud papas in front of their soon-to-debut Huracán LP 610-4. The successor to the ultra-successful Lamborghini Gallardo will have its coming out party at the Geneva Motor Show next week, but there’s no need to wait any longer for the details of this hotly anticipated model.

We, like many of you, have of course seen the Huracán in photos and videos before now, but it’s safe to say the that the car makes a far stronger impact in the metal than it does in pixels. While the bodywork doesn’t lack for the kind of metal origami that made the Gallardo so attractive, the Huracán contrasts areas of soft curvature against hard lines to great effect. We’re comfortable ranking the new Lambo with a score of “Monica Bellucci” on the scale of Italian hotness (for those grading at home, that’s just one below “Sophia Loren”).

Designer Filippo Perini described the overarching hexagonal theme to the design details, pointing out that even the shape of the bodywork around the windows (which he referred to as the “Egyptian Eye”) was penned with six sides. Continue to look at images of the Huracán and you’ll see hexagons inside and out, with the interior especially bedecked with similarly shaped accents. The bodywork functions as well as it attracts, too, with a three-percent reduction of drag versus Gallardo and a whopping fifty-percent increase in downforce – all without using active aerodynamics, we should point out.

Lamborghini Huracan LP 610-4

Lamborghini Huracan LP 610-4  Lamborghini Huracan LP 610-4

We’re compelled to mention that the Huracán interior is simply one of the nicest that we’ve yet had the chance to sit in, full stop. Material quality is absolutely impeccable based on sight and touch, with a remarkably subtle mix of brushed and satin surfaces serving as backdrop for the drama of bits like the starter switch and the sexy new steering wheel. Lamborghini is especially proud of that wheel, which integrates controls for the new “ANIMA” drive mode switch, wiper and indicator controls, and more. With the resultant loss of traditional stalks behind the wheel, new, larger shift paddles are easy to reach for and a joy to behold.

The Huracán interior is simply one of the nicest that we’ve yet had the chance to sit in, full stop.

We might all “eat with the eyes” first, but Lamborghini fans and potential customers are likely to be primarily concerned with the motivating force that lies underneath that louvered rear window. For the Huracán, that engine is a new, naturally aspirated 5.2-liter V10 that sounds like the hammer of the gods based on the few blats we were treated to. Lamborghini has a new tech called Iniezione Diretta Stratificata (IDS) that combines traditional fuel injection with direct injection, yielding gains in both output and economy compared with the Gallardo’s mill. That all means the new powerplant is good for an impressive 610 horsepower at 8,250 rpm and 413 pound-feet of torque at 6,500 rpm, with an expected fuel economy average of about 19 miles per gallon.

The new engine is mated to an equally new, seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that the Italians have dubbed Lamborgini Doppia Frizione (LDF). Designed to serve as the perfect companion for driving styles ranging from passive to racing, we’re told the overriding characteristic of the LDF trans is “smooth shifting without any kind of torque interruption.” When set in Corsa mode, the LDF will also preselect gears for ultra-quick downshifts, and offer launch control.

Lamborghini Huracan LP 610-4

Lamborghini Huracan LP 610-4  Lamborghini Huracan LP 610-4

With the new engine and transmission, Lamborghini was more than happy to quote some very impressive first performance figures: 0-62 miles per hour in 3.2 seconds, 0-124 mph in 9.9 seconds and a top speed of “more than 325 kilometers per hour” which means better than 202 mph. If you like your Lamborghinis fast, this one’ll do.

0-62 miles per hour in 3.2 seconds, 0-124 in 9.9 seconds and a top speed of better than 202 mph.

On the other end of that equation, the supercar company hasn’t forgotten that a quick car must stop well. Brake rotors are carbon ceramic all around, with 15-inch (380mm) diameter units in front and 14.2-inchers (360mm) out back. Accordingly, the stopping distance from 62-0 mph is said to be a remarkable 31.9 meters (104.7 feet), or 1.1 meters better than the Gallardo.

The lighter-weight construction also nets gains in handling for the Huracán, as well. The car uses a fully electronic all-wheel-drive system, with a default toque split of 30/70 front/rear, and the ability to send up to 50-percent of twist to the front wheels, or 100 percent to the rears. Lamborghini has also partnered with Pirelli to create a unique set of P-Zero tires designed to offer a near-perfect balance of grip and comfort for Huracán drivers. Should something more aggressive be required, we’re told that Pirelli will be happy to sell you a stickier set of P-Zero Corsa slippers for what is likely to be a rather obscene amount of money. Rubber wins races, don’t forget.

Lamborghini Huracan LP 610-4  Lamborghini

As we alluded to earlier, the Huracán is also set to make use of Lambo’s new ANIMA management software. The Italian word for “soul” is also an acronym for Adaptive Network Intelligent MAnagement (future trivia question), and offers driver selectable modes that alter steering effort and response, transmission and engine mapping, all-wheel-drive systems and the magnetorheological dampers. Set to the race-ready Corsa mode, ANIMA helped the Huracán lap the Nardo circuit some two seconds quicker than a Gallardo LP 560-4 (and Lamborghini’s test driver considers that gap to be very conservative).

Execs see more than 1,000 units in 2014 as an easy target, with first shipments starting just after June.

The Gallardo may be the most successful Lamborghini of all times in terms of sales figures, but the company fully believes Huracán will eclipse it on that front. With over 700 cars pre-sold already, Lamborghini seems confident that it could best the Gallardo’s one-year sales record of 1,844 deliveries in 2008. Execs see more than 1,000 units in 2014 as an easy target, with first shipments starting just after June in all markets. We still don’t know what the starting price of the car will be in North America, but European buyers will be looking at a base cost of 201,000 euros – around $275,000 USD – which ought to add a lot of cheddar for Lamborghini and the Audi group.

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C.I.W. 2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,600 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

2014 Chevy Corvette Stingray Convertible

About 20 seconds, and 30 miles per hour. These are, if not the most heart-thumping statistics you need to know before continuing to read the rest of this review, the most pertinent to get out of the way. What are they? The amount of time it takes, according to our stopwatches, for the power-operated fabric roof to hide itself entirely inside the bodywork of the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible, and the maximum speed at which that action can be performed.

Because, of course, when piloting a brand-new Chevy Corvette Convertible for the very first time, there is absolutely no reason the top should be up. It’s cold outside? Fine, blast some heat. It’s raining? No problem; once you’re moving at speed, the showering blast from above will be obliterated by the car’s own jetstream. Snowing? For heaven’s sake, either put on some appropriately wide winter tires or park the ‘Vette in the garage and take the Cruze, you big baby.

And so it was that I layered on a second hoodie, slipped on my sunglasses and plopped myself inside the new-for-2014 Corvette Convertible. First thing’s first; the top must go down. Just 20 seconds later, I was ready to continue, the sound of 6.2 liters of American V8 muscle filling the open-topped cabin, a sinewy stretch of roadway near Palm Springs, California, spread out ahead.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible  2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

The angularity of its sharply creased lines are not spoiled by the removal of its top.

As I drove off through the boring stretch of city toward the mountains that were my destination, I couldn’t help but notice how many people stop and stare at a bright blue Corvette Convertible. If you’re an introvert, this is not the supercar for you.

Much has been said about how the new Corvette looks, and to all of that I’ll add that the angularity of its sharply creased lines are not spoiled by the removal of its top. There’s an overall exaggerated wedge shape that starts low ahead of the front wheels and slowly rises to the car’s fat and flat rear haunches. The bodysides are much more defined than the previous generation, highlighted by the slash-like front fender vents that match the heat extractors atop the hood.

Other details worth pointing out are the headlights and their LED-lit clusters, the taillights’ deep internal recesses, the four shotgun-shaped exhaust tips peaking out the rear valence and the highly stylized Corvette insignia that was redesigned for this seventh-generation sports car.

As with previous Corvette designs since the third-generation model appeared in 1968, there are massive peaked fenders that do somewhat obstruct the driver’s view out of the windshield while looking quite aggressive. There are bits that look like mini headrests behind the actual headrests of the seats, which helps to visually break up the flat surface of the piece that covers over the convertible top in its stowed position.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible  2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible  2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

Chevy is happy to report it required absolutely zero additional stiffening in its transformation from hardtop to droptop.

Whether or not the convertible is actually better- or worse-looking than its hardtop counterpart is a matter of preference, of course, but my personal eyes prefer the hardtop in appearance. I prefer the convertible, however, from behind the wheel.

Perhaps it’s the rush of wind that makes a convertible so enticing, or the burbling and wailing exhaust note making its way unencumbered to your eardrums. Perhaps it’s a little bit of both, the combined senses serving to make everything seem just a bit faster, more reckless. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. All I know is that driving a good convertible on a perfectly crisp day with the top down is one of life’s most rewarding motoring moments, and that’s especially true when the car on which it is based is as good as the 2014 Corvette Stingray. And make no mistake, the latest Corvette is exquisite.

The inherent goodness of the Corvette Stingray starts with its aluminum-intensive chassis structure, which is 57-percent stiffer than the previous generation and 99 pounds lighter, and which Chevy is happy to report it required absolutely zero additional stiffening in its transformation from hardtop to droptop. In fact, Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Jeuchter tells us that the 2014 Stingray Convertible is stiffer than the McLaren MP4-12C Spider, at least when measured on Chevy’s equipment.

The actual act of dropping the top is extremely simple. There are no manual latches to be found, with only one button needing to be pressed and held for the duration of the electronic dance. And, as was alluded to before, the top can be operated at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour – Chevy engineers explained that it could be operated at much higher speeds, but they had to take wind speed into account, as well. Once stowed, the top is completely invisible under a one-piece cover that I personally witnessed close without properly sealing in one instance out of a few dozen.

Autoblog Short Cuts: 2014 Chevy Corvette Convertible

In one unfortunate omission, however, the steering wheel cannot be heated.

With the top firmly and electronically latched in place, enclosing the cabin, wind noise is relatively well managed, and I didn’t see any hints of moisture making its way through the seals in the lone rain storm I suffered through. Visibility is somewhat compromised over each shoulder, naturally, but it’s not exactly claustrophobic inside.

Even when enclosed, the 2014 Stingray is a pretty nice place to be. Seats are comfortable, supportive, and importantly for a nice convertible, can be optionally heated or cooled. In one unfortunate omission, however, the steering wheel cannot be heated, regardless of how many option packages you check. Bolstering from the standard thrones is pretty good, but stepping up a notch to the $2,500 Competition Sport Bucket Seats isn’t a bad idea if you plan to drive aggressively or at a race track on a regular basis.

The digital gauge cluster in front of the driver is clear, and the amount of information it can offer the driver on its eight reconfigurable inches of LCD area beats that of any traditional gauge cluster I’ve seen. A head-up display on 3LT models puts the most pertinent information directly in front of the driver where it’s easiest to see. Navigation is optional, though thankfully the eight-inch screen equipped with Chevy’s MyLink technology suite is standard, as is a helpful little storage cubby behind that screen.

The C6 Corvette, when it was first introduced in 2005, had an interior that was much improved over the C5, which in turn was a nicer place to be than the C4 that preceded it. I’m happy to see that the steadily improving interior accommodations have continued with the C7. That said, I happen to think that people will indeed be clamoring for a nicer interior when the C8 hits the scene, whenever that happens to be, because while it’s a significant improvement over its predecessor, the latest Stingray is still several steps behind the luxed-up confines of cars like the Audi R8 and Porsche 911. Granted, those steeds are more expensive than the Corvette by a large margin, but they are indeed the types of cars with which the ‘Vette must be compared. It’s possible to raise the standards inside the 2014 Stingray with options – most notably the 3LT package (as seen in our images above and below) and its $8,000-plus premium – but even in this best-case scenario, you won’t exactly be ensconced in the very finest of luxury trimmings.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible  2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible  2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

Thing is, the Corvette has long been known for performance first, with beauty and comfort trailing, struggling to keep up like a little kid who doesn’t want to be left behind when his big brother goes out to play with friends. Beauty and comfort aren’t falling so far back anymore, but this performance-first attitude has never been more pronounced than in 2014.

The Z51 is a bargain and a package you want.

First off, you really should be checking the $2,800 Z51 box on the order sheet. For that easy-to-digest sum, Chevy loads the ‘Vette up with an amazing amount of kit that includes an electronically locking differential, 13.6-inch slotted front brake rotors (one inch larger than stock), a stiffened and retuned suspension and 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels shod in sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport ZP summer tires, not to mention the dry-sump engine lubrication, coolers for the transmission and differential and revised gear ratios. In other words, the Z51 is a bargain and a package you want.

GM’s 6.2-liter LT1 V8 engine pounds out 460 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque when equipped with the dual-mode performance exhaust (which, at $1,195, you also want) or 455 hp and 460 lb-ft in standard trim. Power goes to the rear wheels through the buyer’s choice of a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters or, if the buyer is smart, a seven-speed manual gearbox equipped with an excellent rev-matching feature that automatically blips the throttle when downshifting. It’s an excellent gearbox, with short throws, positive action and a clutch that’s easy to modulate while being stiff enough to remind you how many horses you’re corralling underfoot.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

Removing the roof adds an extra stage of drama and lets much more of the engine’s beastly soundtrack filter in.

Using the handy-dandy Launch Control feature – scroll the drive mode dial through Weather, Eco, Tour and Sport to put the Corvette into Track mode, then hit the controller’s button until a light on the dash confirms Launch Control – the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible with Z51 Package will fling itself from 0-60 in just 3.8 seconds. Those figures are an exact match for the Coupe, except that removing the roof adds an extra stage of drama and lets much more of the engine’s beastly soundtrack filter in. Keep it planted and you won’t stop accelerating until the needle hits 190, but not after seeing a quarter-mile whiz by in 12 seconds flat.

With the beautiful beast of an engine sitting up front, you might expect somewhat sloppy handling, but the reality is that the Corvette, with its transaxle sitting all the way at the back of the car, has perfect 50/50 weight distribution and holds its grip on the tarmac to the tune of 1.03 lateral Gs. More impressive, though, is the confidence at which the Stingray delivers such performance. There’s simply no understeer to speak of, and the car’s mid-corner attitude is so easily controllable with the throttle that the Corvette would make an excellent car in which to learn to drive fast.

Considering the extreme grip that the Stingray Convertible is capable of, the ride is downright comfortable. If your backside is particularly sensitive, or if you want the absolute best suspension setup available, consider the optional Magnetic Selective Ride Control and Performance Traction Management system a wise investment at $1,975.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

That sum, in base trim, is a tidy $5,000 increase over the Corvette Stingray Coupe.

Steering feel is excellent, as is braking performance, particularly with the Z51’s ventilated rotors. I did miss a few shifts when I wasn’t paying rapt attention, usually from second to third, and the oft-derided skip shift feature that forces you from first to fourth is still included in a nod to emissions and economy. Chevy’s Jeuchter says the alternative would be Stop/Start, and he doesn’t think Corvette owners are ready for that leap quite yet. I’d rather have the Stop/Start, since that at least would be defeatable with a button…

You’ve read about a lot of performance and a lot of options by now, but here’s the quick takeaway: With its base price of $56,000 in Convertible form, or $58,800 in Z51 1LT trim, no car offers more performance for less money than the 2014 Corvette Stingray. While a fully optioned model can easily crest $70,000, keen use of the options sheet can result in a Stingray Convertible with the Z51 Package, the seven-speed gearbox, Magnetic Selective Ride Control, dual-mode Performance exhaust, Competition Sport Bucket seats and navigation for $66,075 out the door in your choice of color.

For those keeping track, that sum, in base trim, is a tidy $5,000 increase over the Corvette Stingray Coupe. That’s a pretty sweet deal if you’ve got the means to afford it… and, of course, an extra 20 seconds or so to spare before most every trip out of the garage. And don’t worry about all those gawkers – they’re just jealous.

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Engine: 6.2L V8

Power: 460 HP / 465 LB-FT

Transmission: 7-Speed Manual

0-60 Time: 3.8 Seconds

Top Speed: 190 MPH

Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive

Curb Weight: 3,362 LBS

Seating: 2

Cargo: 10 CU-FT

MPG: 17 City / 29 HWY

Base Price: $56,000

As-Tested Price: $75,770

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Turkey Fryer

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Cool way to cook a turkey, but I think it would be too smoky. 🙂

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2013 Audi RS Q3

2014 Audi RS Q3

The year 1994 was a really good year for German performance fans, because it was that year when Audi released its very first official RS model (for “RennSport,” or racing sport), the RS2 Avant. Recently, I was invited to participate in a three-day leg of the Audi Land of Quattro Alpen Tour, a blatant flaunting over hill and dale of the company’s current lineup of RS models. We hit Austria, Switzerland and Italy – the roads were epic and the weather held for this exquisite boondoggle.

Our chief focus on this tour, which included the RS6 Avant and RS7, was the newcomer RS Q3 small crossover that will absolutely never be coming to North America, but which starts deliveries in November of this year. This no-North America policy is because we still don’t have enough customers who see the thrill or sense in a $52,000 all-wheel-drive baby sport utility that gets to 60 miles per hour from a stop in under five seconds. Meanwhile, in crazy, drunken Europe, orders for this ridiculous, wondrous set of wheels have, to quote Quattro head of technical development Stephan Reil, “far outstripped the limited production numbers of the business case.” Those silly Europeans, don’t they know that an RS Q3 makes no sense at all? Sheesh.

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2014 Audi RS Q3

2014 Audi RS Q3  2014 Audi RS Q3

The engine is a slightly less uppity version of the five-cylinder used in the TT RS.

The wee RS Q3 is pumped up with a not-so-wee 306 horsepower between 5,200 and 6,700 revs, and then 310 pound-feet of torque from 1,500 to 5,200 revs. This is clearly meant to be one dense little sucker.

The engine is a slightly less uppity version of the “W28” 2.5-liter TFSI five-cylinder used in the TT RS, a car that has always struck me as wrong in execution (admittedly, a minority opinion among the Autoblog team). It’s a question of sheer expectations; the TT RS should be a consummate sports car right out of the box and it is not. But then if you place that very same powertrain and drivetrain in a crossover like the Q3, well then heck, it’s good enough because my expectations were honestly low prior to shooting off into the curve-covered Alps.

2014 Audi RS Q3

This RS Q3 very soon felt just about perfect.

It was most likely due to the very narrow nature of the squiggly two-lanes I was driving that this RS Q3 very soon felt just about perfect. The little CUV and I were routinely arriving at high-altitude coffee stops and lunch/relief breaks several minutes before any of the other big RSes could manage. Overtaking tall German tourist buses and little two-cylinder Piaggios filled with plumbers was rendered easy by the point-and-shoot capabilities of the littler Audi (that nonetheless still cracks the scales at 3,800 pounds, similar to a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta or Chevrolet Camaro Z/28).

The RS recipe is by now relatively repeatable: the RS Q3 is lowered by one inch versus the standard Q3, which accentuates even more the natural dynamic properties of Audi’s aluminum-and-steel subframe assembly. The tubular anti-roll bars front and rear are of an ever so slightly greater diameter, again for side-to-side stiffness. For my mountain sojourn at speed, Audi fitted the optional 20-inch five-spoke “Rotor” wheels wrapped in Pirelli PZero treads – 255/35 R20 97Y front and rear. The electro-mechanical steering system, with such a setup and on such prettily maintained mountain pass roads, has come a long way since the Germans started going this route with all of their cars about three years ago. Besides, on a configuration like this Q3, the expectations are again such as they are that the steering exceeded them. The modified lower front wishbones of forged aluminium also help matters significantly when speaking of ride and handling.

2014 Audi RS Q3

2014 Audi RS Q3  2014 Audi RS Q3  2014 Audi RS Q3

The hills were alive with the sound of the music as the RS Q3 thundered along.

Helping matters always here was the latest massaged version of what many call the “faux” Quattro all-wheel-drive setup using the Haldex differential mounted for these smaller transverse engines. Maximum torque to distribute to the front axle as needed is 70 percent, while the max in back is up to 85 percent. This fairly peerless traction system is coupled to an electronically locking differential and, as this is not an RS5 we’re talking about, the arrangement works absolutely fine in exceeding every small-utility-vehicle driver’s needs, even the sportiest thereof.

Audi says that 70 percent of RS buyers go for the sport exhaust and, I mean, just look at that blunderbuss at bottom left! Put your Audi Drive Select with the Dynamic Package (taken by 55 percent of RSers) in the Dynamic setting and get ready for a few sophisticatedly loud fireworks. The hills were alive with the sound of the music as the RS Q3 thundered along. I am most grateful that the standard compound brake discs – 14.4-inch front ventilated, perforated and using Audi’s wave-design technology and an 8-piston fixed calliper, 12.2-inch arrears – handle this tiny terror without any flinches or very much fade to speak of.

2014 Audi RS Q3

There are those who can and so they will buy it.

Along the same lines of logic as I’ve mentioned already, the seven-speed S-tronic automated gearbox and its shift paddles work exceedingly well here on the dimensions of this Q3 versus how they work for me on the TT RS. On this small sport SUV, the rhythms of shifting up and down over the mountains while pushing the action fairly hard were correct, while they get me grumbling on the TT RS, due almost exclusively to expectations thwarted.

So, I’ll acknowledge the demerits for this relatively useless product even existing, but there are those who can and so they will buy it. The same can be said of many glaring status objects that clients are willing to throw money at. But this RS is at least very pleasantly convincing. There will no doubt be a sporty diesel SQ3 priced in a more acceptable manner for more sales to less rich (on average) people, as has been done with the European SQ5. That just makes this gas-driven RS Q3 that much more a standout showpiece for the silly buyers on the Olde Continent who must have one. Sheesh.

  • Engine: Turbo 2.5L I5
  • Power: 306 HP / 310 LB-FT
  • Transmission: 7-Speed Auto
  • 0-60 Time: 5.0 Seconds (est.)
  • Top Speed: 155 MPH
  • Drivetrain: All-Wheel Drive
  • Curb Weight: 3,800 LBS
  • Seating: 2+3
  • Cargo: 12.6 / 44.6 CU-FT
  • MPG: 18 City / 28 HWY
  • Base Price: $52,000 (est.)

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2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series – Up Close & Personal

Get an up close and personal look at the 2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series.

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This is one sexy car.

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How To: Beat Launch Control in an SRT Viper GTS

Here’s  how the SRT Viper’s launch control system works, and how to beat it for even faster acceleration runs.

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