Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Venet on display in Beverly Hills

Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Venet

Even if you don’t consider yourself an art connoisseur, Bugatti just gave car lovers a great reason to visit the Ace Gallery in Beverly Hills, CA. As a part of an exhibit for French artist Bernar Venet, the Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Venet, which was unveiled last year, is also on display.

Although not quite as exciting as a date in the desert with the Lamborghini Veneno, we still hopped at the chance to get an up-close look at this custom Veyron. Venet, who had said that the Veyron is a work of art on its own, decided to put his touch on the car by using Bugatti’s engineering equations – all of the mathematical equations and notations make the car look like it was left on the set of A Beautiful Mind.

If you’re going to be in Beverly Hills over the next week, perhaps you’d be interested in checking out the Ace Gallery yourself – admission is free. If not, well, we hope the high-res image gallery above proves to be a reasonable alternative. Enjoy.

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2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

2014 Chevy Camaro Z/28

To hear Al Oppenheiser, chief engineer for the Chevrolet Camaro, tell it, the brand-new 2014 Z/28 is “the car everyone expects.” The modern Camaro concept first debuted at the 2006 Detroit Auto Show, and in early 2014 – over eight years later – the Z/28 will finally be available for public consumption. It is perhaps the most highly anticipated Camaro model to spawn from the modern interpretation of General Motors’ ‘Murican muscle car. After all, when we first spied the track-focused 1LE, we assumed it would be called Z/28. And then when Chevy surprised us with the ZL1 at the 2011 Chicago Auto Show, we were sort of shocked that it wasn’t called Z/28, either.

As you would expect, the questions surrounding a Z/28 model have been flooding in since we first heard the Camaro nameplate would be making a comeback. But Oppenheiser was saving the best for last, saying this actually is the car “no one expects.” Through all these years, he had been telling owners, fan-boys and the media that the Z/28 name – “a haloed moniker” – would be reserved for the most hardcore Camaro available.

So, to show us exactly how serious this new Z/28 package is, Chevy invited us out to GM’s Milford Proving Grounds for a proper deep dive. And instead of just telling us what the new top-dog Camaro can do, we buckled into the passenger seat of the very car that recently set a 7:37.47 Nürburgring lap time – with the very driver that set the time as our pilot – and stormed the 2.9-mile Milford Road Course.

We’ve waited a long time to finally greet the Z/28. And boy, has the wait been worth it.

2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28  2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

This isn’t just another crosstown rival for the Ford Mustang.

The key thing to keep in mind about the 2014 Camaro Z/28 is that it isn’t just another crosstown rival for the Ford Mustang. Sure, the 1LE and Boss 302 are perfectly matched for a fight, and heavyweights ZL1 and Shelby GT500 equally so, but really, there isn’t a clear competitor from Ford or even Chrysler for this even more extreme Z/28. (At least, not yet.) Chevy is dead set on venturing off into the land of the Nissan GT-R and Porsche 911 GT3 with its track-focused Z/28, and firmly states that this car is not to be treated as a daily driver. To that end, Chevy is extending the factory warranty on the Z/28 to include track use – the company stands behind the full performance capabilities of this car.

Z/28 models are based off of the refreshed 2014 Camaro, using the slightly redesigned front and rear fascias. But even though this is a higher-end model, the base headlamps and taillamps have been fitted to save weight and reduce cost. In fact, massive weight savings have been applied to the Z/28. Chevy has taken out everything that wasn’t a legal necessity or didn’t improve performance. Of course, the larger V8 engine adds some heft, as do added bits of aero and the higher caliber chassis, suspension, braking and wheel/tire components. The end result, however, is a Camaro that weighs 3,837 pounds – some 300 pounds less than a ZL1 coupe – and has enough added aero to produce 440 pounds of downforce at 150 miles per hour. The functional aerodynamic enhancements include a front splitter, large rear spoiler, hood vent, reshaped rockers and Gurney lip fender flares.

2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

Compared again to the ZL1, the Z/28 is less powerful, but as we’ve learned before, engine output isn’t everything. Surely, no one will complain about the Z/28’s naturally aspirated 7.0-liter V8, officially rated at 505 horsepower at 6,100 rpm and 481 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm. Yes, you could argue that that using GM’s supercharged 6.2-liter LSA V8 from the ZL1 and Cadillac’s V models would have been a good choice, but simply put, the Bowling Green-assembled LS7, which was also used by the last-generation Corvette Z06, weighs less and still absolutely rocks.

The Z/28’s 7.0-liter V8 is officially rated at 505 horsepower and 481 pound-feet of torque.

A few tweaks were made to the LS7 during Z/28 development. Pankl titanium connecting rods were added, as well as Mahle pistons, and a revised air intake with K&N cold-air induction and exhaust headers. The 505-hp rating may be the same as the LS7-powered Corvette Z06, but the extra massaging here in the Camaro is what yielded the 481 lb-ft number – 11 more torques than in the ‘Vette. The only transmission available is a Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual, with close-ratio gearing and a 3.91 final drive ratio – up from 3.45 in the Camaro SS.

More than 190 of the Z/28’s parts are unique, with each one focused on solely making this thing the most capable track car in the Camaro lineup. In addition to the LS7 tweaks, the Z/28 marks the first application of a dry sump lubrication system in a Camaro, designed to better handle frequent high revving and the higher g-forces of the Z/28’s improved cornering ability. Of course, things get super hot under extreme driving conditions, so to keep it all in check, there’s a liquid-to-liquid cooling system for the engine oil (identical to the system used in the Corvette ZR1), and the transmission and differential are kept cool with a high-capacity liquid-to-air system that’s similar to what Chevy uses in the Camaro ZL1.

2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28  2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28  2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

To keep everything steady, Chevy has fitted a beefier Torsen helical limited-slip differential, which we’re told cuts lap times on the Milford Road Course by 0.7 seconds. This improved setup is specifically designed to optimize track performance, with built-in programming for corner entry, mid-point and exit. Naturally, higher-quality stoppers were fitted: lightweight, carbon ceramic brakes at all four corners. Up front, the big rotors measure 15.5 inches with fixed, six-piston calipers (in an asymmetric layout for improved clamp-force distribution), and at the back, large 15.4-inch rotors are used with four-piston fixed calipers.

The Camaro Z/28 marks the first mainstream application of the DSSV dampers.

Those brakes are nestled behind lightweight 19-inch alloy wheels all around, wrapped in ultra-sticky (and ultra-meaty) 305/30ZR19 Pirelli Trofeo R tires. Yes, larger 20-inch wheels are available throughout the Camaro line, but not here on the Z/28 – the 19s save 50 pounds of weight and lower the car’s center of gravity by 33 millimeters, which improves overall handling.

Perhaps most importantly, the suspension has been heavily reworked, with springs that are 85-percent stiffer up front and 65-percent stiffer in the rear, optimized for the new Multimatic DSSV (Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve) dampers. These state-of-the-art dampers were first pioneered in the Champ Car series in 2002, and to this day are used in Formula One by Red Bull Racing. DSSV dampers are also found in DTM, Formula 3 and the Ferrari 458 Challenge, and were installed as factory equipment on the Aston Martin One-77. The Camaro Z/28 marks the first mainstream application of the DSSV dampers.

2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28  2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

Beyond that, a whole host of suspension components have been stiffened, including the lower trailing-link bushings at the rear, the lower-arm link bushings up front (to improve steering feel), and rear upper control arm bushings that are a full 400-percent stiffer. Chevy says this last part is so the car can cope with maximum lateral cornering forces of 1.08 Gs.

Around the MRC, Chevy’s engineers have recorded a time of 1:53.71 in the Z/28.

Simply put, the Z/28 is the most muscular modern Camaro yet, and the Milford Road Course was designed to flex every last component that makes up this crazy coupe. Around the MRC, Chevy’s engineers have recorded a time of 1:53.71 in the new Z/28, compared to 1:56.58 in the more powerful ZL1. That seriously quick lap time even bests both the Camaro 1LE and Mustang Boss 302 by more than five seconds, and beats the Shelby GT500 by over six seconds.

Our experience in the passenger seat of the silver Z/28 was brief – just two quick laps around the MRC – but we can already tell that this car is capable of some absolutely wonderful things. First of all, it makes a fantastic noise – a deep, throaty burble that you can hear long after the car is out of sight. But even with our own tame racing driver manhandling the Z/28 at ten-tenths around the road course, the Camaro never seemed to be a handful. It remained flat during corners, absolutely hugged the tarmac, and pulled off mind-rattling cornering forces.

Chevy Camaro Z/28 Lap Video

The key takeaway from the Milford drive was seeing just how late the driver could brake before entering each corner, and the speed at which we would enter the turns. On full attack, we were doing over 130 miles per hour entering the high-speed esses and were just a kiss away from 150 mph coming into the very tricky Turn 1 with its decreasing-radius, downhill slope.

On full attack, we were doing just over 130 mph entering the high-speed esses and were just a kiss away from 150 mph coming into Turn 1.

We don’t have performance data like a 0-60 time or top speed just yet, only because Chevy is still in the development process of the car. Tweaks are still being made, and final numbers are forthcoming. Who knows, maybe a quicker ‘Ring time will yet be achieved.

As we mentioned, the Camaro’s interior was largely left alone for the Z/28. Standard Recaro chairs are found up front and nicely hug the driver and passenger to keep them stable during hard turning. Of course, this is still a Camaro, so our normal complaints about poor visibility and not-so-great quality remain intact. Chevy will no doubt have a tough time competing with Porsche in this regard, and the Z/28’s cabin isn’t exactly worlds better than what Nissan offers in the GT-R, either.

Inside, a lot of components have been removed, including the air conditioning, all of the audio system speakers (except for one), and the gauges affixed to the center console normally found in front of the gearbox – again, to save weight. That said, engineers did confirm that buyers will have the option to leave the A/C and full set of speakers intact. Furthermore, some of the material has been removed from the rear seats, even though Chevy still kept the four-passenger seating configuration intact. (Nissan, for example, removes the GT-R’s rear seats on the Track Edition model.)

2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

Production of the Z/28 starts in the first quarter of 2014, with sales anticipated to start sometime before Q2. Pricing has not been announced, and executives wouldn’t even hint at possible starting MSRPs. That said, Chevy is fully expecting the Z/28 to be a low-volume car, only selling at about half the rate of the ZL1. The company would like to sell maybe 3,000 to 4,000 Z/28 models over the next two years.

Chevy is fully expecting the Z/28 to be a low-volume car, only selling at about half the rate of the ZL1.

So, who’s the target customer? It can’t really be driven every day (again, Chevy flat out told us that it shouldn’t be), and a more powerful ZL1 offers better refinement and more creature comforts. Ideally, private track users will be the folks stepping up to the Z/28 plate, and we’ll be curious to see if would-be 911 or GT-R owners give the American bad boy a try. No doubt, Camaro enthusiasts will surely pick up a few on their own, and we’ll be watching the sales numbers closely.

Regardless, we’re just thrilled to finally see the Z/28 back on the street. It’s been a long-time coming, and it looks to be a truly remarkable feat of engineering for the Chevy performance team. This is a bona fide track weapon, and we can’t wait to get our first drive of this vicious Camaro. We’ll be waiting…

Engine: 7.0L V8

Power: 505 HP / 481 LB-FT

Transmission: 6-Speed Manual

Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive

Curb Weight: 3,837 LBS

Seating: 2+2

Cargo: 11.3 CU-FT


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2015 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

A little more than two years ago, I called the 2011 Aston Martin V12 Vantage “an intoxicating machine masterfully engineered to gratify every emotion in a car enthusiast’s soul.”

It wasn’t difficult to understand why, as the aluminum two-seater was like an old-school muscle car in its mechanical execution. While most of its competitors were boasting small-displacement engines with forced induction, the Aston Martin was fitted with a naturally aspirated 6.0-liter V12. While the others used sophisticated electronic dampers to maximize grip, the British automaker stuck with a fixed-rate setup. And, while nearly everyone in the industry was boasting automatic gearboxes, the V12 Vantage was still fitted with a slick-shifting six-speed manual. The coupe was not perfect, but it had tons of personality and it was a real kick to drive.

But now we have the V12 coupe’s successor, updated with an ‘S’ for the 2015 model year, and Aston Martin has altered some of the ingredients: the engine is more powerful, the suspension is electronically controlled and the gear changes are now automatic.

What effect does that have on a car that I once considered one of my favorites? I recently spent a long day with the sleek coupe to find out.
2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S  2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

The V12 Vantage S first appeared on the scene in early summer when the British automaker boasted the arrival of “the fastest road-going Aston Martin yet.” After reading the press release, it was obvious that the team in Gaydon had taken advantage of an old racer’s old trick – they had dropped their most powerful engine into their smallest chassis.

Most observers will find it difficult to distinguish the 2015 model from last year’s car.

Like all Aston Martins today, the V12 Vantage S rides on an all-aluminum monocoque platform that the automaker calls its VH architecture. The lightweight framework is rigid and strong, and it is far from showing its age. While Aston offers the chassis with a variety of skins (the Vanquish features carbon fiber body panels), the Vantage S arrives with a mix of aluminum (doors, hood and roof) and composite (front quarter panels).

Most observers will find it difficult to distinguish the 2015 model from last year’s car, as the two appear nearly identical from anything more than 50 yards. The easiest way to differentiate it from its predecessor is to peer closely at the Aston’s signature front grille. While the outgoing car featured six horizontal aluminum vanes, the new models wear carbon fiber or titanium mesh with or without body color accents. The 10-spoke alloy wheels are also a fresh addition, and discriminating eyes may note a host of subtle changes to some of the trim and color combinations (e.g., a painted black roof is now offered).

2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S  2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S  2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

Aston hasn’t left the cabin alone either. Inside the cockpit, the standard chairs have additional Alcantara on the seating surface and revised stitching patterns. There is more upholstery detailing on the doors, and customers are offered more choices in terms of options (a new Carbon Fiber Interior Pack and lightweight sport carbon-fiber seats, for example).

It is the fastest street-legal sports car the company has ever sold – with the exception of the sold-out One-77.

The outgoing model was fitted with a naturally aspirated 6.0-liter V12, rated at 510 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque – it was the automaker’s strongest regular production engine at the time. Aston recently upgraded the powerplant, now called the AM28, with dual variable valve timing, larger throttle bodies, a revised intake manifold, fully machined combustion chambers and an improved fuel pump. The result is a solid bump of oomph to 565 horsepower at 6,750 rpm and 457 pound-feet of torque at 5,500 rpm.

While its predecessor was only available with a three-pedal, six-speed manual gearbox mid-mounted in the chassis, the new car loses the traditional transmission in favor of a standard Sportshift III AMT – a seven-speed, single-clutch automated manual transmission with electronic shift-by-wire controls. According to Aston Martin, the new V12 Vantage S will sprint to 60 miles per hour in 3.7 seconds and not run out of steam until it hits 205 mph (the V12 Vantage 6MT did the same run in four seconds flat and topped out at 190 mph). It is the fastest street-legal sports car the company has ever sold – with the exception of the sold-out One-77.

2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

Another significant difference is found with the independent double-wishbone suspension. Last year’s V12 Vantage had fixed-rate dampers, but the 2015 model has been fitted with Aston Martin’s three-stage Adaptive Damping System (ADS). To adjust the damping, the driver uses a button on the top of the console to switch between three modes (Normal, Sport and Track), an action that also configures the amount of power steering assistance going through a new quicker-ratio ZF-Servotronic hydraulic system.

The 2014 model has been fitted with Aston Martin’s three-stage Adaptive Damping System (ADS).

The brakes are carried forward unchanged. Up front are massive ventilated/drilled carbon ceramic discs (15.7 inches in diameter) with six-piston calipers. The rear brakes are only marginally smaller ventilated/drilled carbon ceramic discs (14.2 inches in diameter) with four-piston calipers. The forged aluminum wheel size is unchanged, 19-inches in diameter, with each wrapped in a Pirelli PZero Corsa rubber (255/35ZR19 up front and 295/30ZR19 at the rear).

In the morning of the drive, Aston Martin handed me the keys to a Flugplatz Blue V12 Vantage S in the heart of Palm Springs, with instructions to meet for lunch at the Anza-Borrego Visitor Center. The destination was due south, about 50 miles away, with a mile-high range of mountains blocking the direct route. The circuitous drive to the desert would cover double the miles, but that was the automaker’s objective – much to my pleasure.

2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S  2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S  2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

Sitting in the right seat was downright uncomfortable.

The seats have only been tweaked cosmetically over the years, meaning the driving position hasn’t changed. This meant my six-foot, two-inch frame fit comfortably in the driver’s seat and there was ample room for my legs, outstretched arms and plenty of headroom. Moving the seat into an agreeable driving position was easy, thanks to power-operated back and bottom cushions. Unfortunately, passengers won’t find the accommodations nearly as pleasing, as Aston Martin has not fitted an adjustable bottom cushion to their throne. This deliberate omission (blamed on the bulky occupant sensors that work with the airbags), combined with a shortened footwell that forces everyone’s legs to remain bent, meant sitting in the right seat was downright uncomfortable.

Unlike the Vanquish, which benefits from the upgraded instrument panel, the Vantage carries forward with the older Aston Martin cockpit that is best described as a smorgasbord of buttons, dials and switches. The layout is odd, and unfamiliar to the uninitiated, but someone who has spent some time sitting behind the wheel will know exactly how to reset the trip odometer (the small button to the right of the radio volume dial) and turn on the overhead dome lights (two small buttons just above the fan dial). It all makes sense. Well, eventually.

2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S  2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S  2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

The 6.0-liter V12 roars to life, and then quickly settles into a silky idle.

Instantly understood, however, is the power emanating from under the aluminium hood after the crystal key is pressed into the center of the dashboard. The 6.0-liter V12 roars to life, and then quickly settles into a silky idle. I immediately pressed the Sport button, to the left of the key slot, and left its red LED illuminated the whole time. This control, common to nearly all Aston Martins, sharpens the steering, quickens throttle response and injects a bit more vitality into the transmission. Aston Martin uses glass buttons (RND) on the top of the console for selecting gears, with a hand-operated parking brake at the driver’s left thigh to hold the vehicle still when parked. Pull up and release on the brake, and then press the D button to get underway.

I’m no fan of single-clutch automated gearboxes because I have never come across one that works particularly well – and Aston Martin’s Sportshift III AMT makes no exception. Like similar systems from other high-end European rivals, the transmission is clunky and cumbersome around town and only becomes moderately bearable when shifted in manual mode with a slight lift before requesting the next-higher gear. Downshifts, on the other hand, are quick and smoothly executed by the automatic.

2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

With 55 more horses at its disposal, the new V12 Vantage S finally runs with the fast players in the segment.

Transmission quirkiness aside, the V12 is a jewel of a powerplant. Naturally aspirated engines are a dying breed, and Aston Martin still makes one of the best on the market. Spinning the tachometer needle counter-clockwise around its dial is an effortless exercise when the accelerator pedal is planted, and the force at the backside is accompanied by a wondrous exhaust note from the twin pipes. Last year’s V12 Vantage was plenty quick, but with 55 more horses at its disposal, the new V12 Vantage S finally runs with the fast players in the segment. The seat-of-the-pants difference between the two vehicles is extraordinary.

And the Aston will have no trouble keeping up in the corners either. The adaptive damping delivers a tailor-made ride customized for the road surface. Part of my route included Montezuma Valley Road (County Highway S22), which culminates with a spectacular curvy drop to the desert floor. Its fresh asphalt is glass smooth, so I switched to Sport mode for the descent. Later in the afternoon, when traversing broken decades-old asphalt, I switched back to the softer setting and was rewarded with a noticeably improved ride. The new steering may give up a tiny bit of sensitively compared to the old system, but I found little to complain about. It felt accurate, stable, nicely weighed and mechanically connected to the front wheels (that can’t be said about some of today’s new electrically boosted units).

2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S  2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

Nothing short of a race track is required to exceed its cornering capabilities – posted legal speeds won’t even warm its tires.

Pirelli Corsa rubber is considered by many nothing more than a street-legal grooved slick, and its treadwear rating of just 60 (most high-performance summer tires are in the 140-200 range) promises plenty of grip at the expense of longevity. Nevertheless, I’d stick with them for the ownership duration as their meaty contact patches allowed the V12 Vantage to corner at obscene levels. The coupe is low and wide, and it hunkers down with a solid demeanor when coaxed into a curve. With its first-rate tire and adaptive suspension combination, nothing short of a race track is required to exceed its cornering capabilities – posted legal speeds won’t even warm its tires.

Another part of the car that isn’t fully utilized on US public roads is the carbon-ceramic brakes, which are designed to absorb the energy from blistering 200-mph stops. I pounded them hard at speed, multiple times, just to see how they reacted. They responded consistently, hauling the two-seater down to a stop without any unnecessary wandering, drama or fade. Early carbon brakes were fraught with compromise, including lackluster stopping power when cold and an annoying noise. Not anymore.

2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

It is by all counts a tremendous sports car.

Including the round trip drive from Palm Springs to the desert, and adding in a few more hours for off-site photography, I put about eight hours in the driver’s seat and burned an entire tank of premium unleaded (it holds slightly more than 21 gallons). While most of it was with a heavy right foot, dancing between the accelerator and brake pedal, there were also long periods of steady cruising at highway speeds. It was an excellent drive – one that let me put the talented Brit though its paces.

Overall, the Aston Martin left me speechless with its gorgeous styling and dazzled by its brilliant performance – strong praise, indeed – and it is by all counts a tremendous sports car. But, to answer my original question, does the new version remain one of my favorites?

Dropping the beloved manual gearbox (it really was a gem) and replacing it with a mediocre single-clutch automated transmission was a painful blow in the eyes of this enthusiast, but it doesn’t appear to have crippled the new car when considered as a complete package. In fact, from the driver’s seat, the V12 Vantage S emerges with more capability than ever before. A glance at its performance, or a stint behind the wheel, reveals that the S model is quicker, faster and more agile than its predecessor could ever be. And with the welcomed cosmetic enhancements, additional luxury and new technology, I am led to believe that few in this rarefied segment will ever miss the effort of rowing their own gears.

UPDATE: Aston Martin has informed us that the new V12 Vantage S will actually be sold as a 2015 model year vehicle, rather than a 2014 model.

Engine: 6.0L V12

Power: 565 HP / 458 LB-FT

Transmission: 7-Speed SCT

0-60 Time: 3.7 Seconds

Top Speed: 205 MPH

Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive

Curb Weight: 3,560 LBS

Seating: 2

Base Price: $184,995

As-Tested Price: $209,690


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2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible

2014 Chevy Camaro SS Convertible

I first caught a glimpse of the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro in person at the New York Auto Show, and the Convertible version (by way of pictures) at its far-flung debut in Germany. As a car writer, a V8 enthusiast, a convertible diehard and, most days, no fool, I’ve wanted to get my turn in this very car ever since.

The Camaro SS Convertible rumbled up to my door in 2SS trim, meaning my first go with the deeply attractive pony car would lack for neither bells nor whistles, nor imposing 20-inch aluminum wheels. While undoubtedly pricey, fully loaded with a manual transmission is a great way to buy this car. What’s more, the middle of the Michigan autumn is pretty much the perfect time to have the keys to it in your pocket.

Driving Notes It’s a piece of cake to pick out this 2014 Camaro Convertible SS (or the coupe, for that matter) from the outgoing model, with just a quick glance at the front of the thing. The air extractor dead-center at the top of the hood is a giveaway, only slightly less subtle than the lower, smaller grille with silver accents. In back, the two-per-side squared off taillight clusters have been replaced with single integrated units that I believe look a lot better. I’ll admit that I’m not crazy about the looks of the integrated lip spoiler on the Convertible SS, though Chevy tells me that it does help with rear end lift at speed. I didn’t get the thing up to speeds high enough to notice the difference, apparently (commence with pillorying of my driving, in Comments).

Inside the car you’ll find very little changed for the new model year, meaning the same love-it-or-hate-it, super-shiny plastic panels on the doors and framing the dash, along with big blocky gauges and (in our 2SS trim car) Chevy’s useful MyLink infotainment system.Though the 6.2-liter V8 engine is clearly the adrenaline-pumping heart of this modern muscle car, it’s the ability to drop the roof that makes the Camaro Convertible a more usable performance machine for me. I’ve always been impressed with the sports-car handling of the 5th generation Camaro, but the coupe’s turret-slit windows and thick pillars fore and aft have always made it difficult to place the car on the road with utter confidence. The increased visibility of the convertible transforms this car for me – in the interest of full disclosure, my above-average height certainly colors my strong feelings here. The engine’s 426 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque flow freely and joyfully to the Camaro’s rear wheels when you put your foot down, and they sound great doing so. Chevy rates the SS Convertible at about 5.4 seconds for the sprint from 0 to 60 miles per hour, which seems right on. The truth is that the big V8 convertible feels slightly more sluggish than the power numbers would indicate when moving away from a standstill, but faster ‘n hell when accelerating from speed up to much higher speeds. The engine needs to get spinning before the full force is unleashed. Fitted as my car was with the optional dual-mode exhaust system, I became quite enamored with passing lesser cars under highway overpasses, where the exhaust could trumpet against the cement and (probably) set off car alarms blocks away.

The Camaro doesn’t exactly ‘dance’ along back roads – this is a car that clocks in at over two tons, don’t forget – but it offers enough raw grip to make it more than up to the challenge of anything I threw at it. It’s stunning to me just how rigid Chevy engineers have made this convertible, which doesn’t seem to give away one whit of flex to the coupe. The cowl shake that you remember from the fill-in-the-model-year-here F-Body convertible you rode in as a kid has been utterly banished. My Camaro SS Convertible tester stickered for over $46k, which is a lot more money than you might associate with a car that has historically been pegged as a performance bargain. Remember, especially when talking about high-powered convertibles, there’s just not a lot that goes head-to-head with Camaro other than Mustang. When it comes to sports convertibles with big V8-power and racy handling, plus two seats for the kids in back, you basically have your choice between Chevy, Ford, or spending a lot more money on something German.

As you’d expect, Mustang is still pretty much in lock-step with Camaro in terms of pricing. These days, with the ‘Stang due to be replaced and the Camaro Convertible brand-new and looking as sexy as ever, I know where my money would go.

Engine: 6.2L V8

Power: 426 HP / 420 LB-FT

Transmission: 6-Speed Manual

0-60 Time: 5.4 Seconds

Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive

Curb Weight: 4,172 LBS

Seating: 2+2

Cargo: 10.2 CU-FT

MPG: 16 City / 24 HWY

Base Price: $39,055

As-Tested Price: $46,360


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2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport

Bridging The Gap With Power And Poise

2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport

As you read these words, West Coast Editor Michael Harley is preparing to drive the brand-new 2014 Cadillac CTS along the gorgeous, sun-drenched roads of Southern California. And while I’ll wait for Harley’s full report before I put words in his mouth, I’m willing to bet he enjoys the hell out of Cadillac’s new CTS. In fact, I’m sure of it.

I say this with confidence because, about a month ago, I spent the better part of a day flogging the new CTS Vsport around the 2.9-mile Milford Road Course – a challenging circuit laid out in the infield of an oval test track at GM’s proving grounds in southeast Michigan. The MRC was built about a decade ago after Bob Lutz was lured out of retirement to work closely with GM’s product development team, and thus, this circuit is known informally as the “Lutz Ring.” The main objective of the MRC was to have an in-house facility for engineers to fine-tune vehicle dynamics, without having to constantly schlep cars over to Germany’s infamous Nürburgring. (Of course, they still do.)

To drive the new CTS on the very track where it was honed was an incredibly rewarding experience. This Vsport, folks, is something very special.
First Drive: 2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport
Because Harley will be filing his report of the new CTS in relatively short order, I’ll spare you many of the technical details that he’ll no doubt cover in his story. The long and short of it: this 2014 CTS is lower, lighter and leaner than its predecessor, and there’s a whole mess of specifications to prove that statement. In some configurations, the new CTS is as much as 250 pounds lighter than the outgoing model, and compared to a BMW 5 Series, the Cadillac is anywhere from 200 to 400 pounds skinnier, depending on engine and trim.

Compared to a BMW 5 Series, the CTS is anywhere from 200 to 400 pounds skinnier.

This massive weight savings comes though the use of aluminum components throughout the entire body, including the doors, engine cradle, bumpers, pillars, instrument panel structure and shock towers. Not only does this reduce weight, but in some areas, it’s actually more cost effective, and it has allowed Cadillac to tune the CTS in such a way that it achieves a perfect 50/50 weight distribution. Win-win.

All that lightweight goodness is wrapped up in a package that is, in a word, stunning. The new CTS is a visual treat, incorporating all of the same Art & Science design DNA into something that is modern, elegant and oozes graceful aggression. The front overhang has been reduced, the ever-important dash-to-axle ratio lengthened, and the new body features highly sculpted panels that all work together to form a cohesive shape. In my estimation, it’s easily one of the best-looking designs in the class – a design that you really need to see in person to properly understand how all of the little details work together. That large rear overhang still looks a bit lengthy from some angles, and the rear view isn’t nearly as powerful as the front, but have a glance of the 2014 CTS next to the 2013 model and, well, the improvement is massive.

2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport

2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport  2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport

The twin-turbo 4.6L V8 of a Mercedes-Benz E550 is actually less powerful in terms of horsepower.

Speaking of massive, get a load of what’s under the hood of the Vsport – a brand-new, twin-turbocharged, direct-injected 3.6-liter V6 that pumps out 420 horsepower at 5,750 rpm and 430 pound-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm. That’s some serious power for a V6, especially when you consider that the twin-turbo 4.6-liter V8 of a Mercedes-Benz E550 is actually less powerful, at least in terms of horsepower, than Cadillac’s new six-cylinder. This new TTV6 engine will find a home in more places than just the CTS Vsport – a detuned version already exists under the hood of the new XTS Vsport, and fitting this inside of the upcoming ATS-V seems like it’d make a whole lot of sense. Here in the 3,952-pound CTS Vsport, this engine is enough to scoot the rear-drive sedan to 60 miles per hour in just 4.6 seconds.

Cadillac has employed electronic sound enhancement in the CTS Vsport, allowing drivers to hear the roar of the 3.6-liter twin-turbo engine at different volumes depending on driving style. This is a sweet-sounding engine, to be sure, and Cadillac’s system uses small microphones placed underneath the hood to then pipe-in engine noise through the car’s audio system. In Tour mode, things are pretty tame, though you can still hear a nice, pronounced engine note, but in Track mode, the bellowing engine noise is at full volume, and I must say, its rich, deep tones are almost V8-like. On aural delight alone, the CTS Vsport is easily better than anything offered by the Germans without a full-spec M or AMG treatment.

2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport

The new Track mode is a key part of the dynamic Vsport experience.

This engine is mated solely to a new eight-speed automatic transmission with a sport mode and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. And while I only drove the CTS in full attack mode on the Milford Road Course, this slick new cogswapper never once felt laggy or lazy. Shifts were executed precisely and quickly, and when left to its own devices in Track mode, gears were eagerly held until redline and downshifts under braking were fired off as if I were ordering the changes myself.

The new Track mode is a key part of the dynamic Vsport experience. Cadillac is now offering its fantastic Magnetic Ride Control on standard CTS models, and with the Vsport, this sportiest setting joins the normal Tour, Sport and Snow/Ice modes. Track mode enhances steering weight, and the Vsport’s ratio is quicker than lesser CTS models (15.4:1 vs. 15.5 for RWD and 16.2 for AWD models), the right ingredients for a command performance. Track mode also adjusts the Magnetic Ride Control calibrations to allow for the best possible handling experience under extreme situations. In other words, it’ll let you have oodles of fun while still keeping the electronic nannies on the sidelines to step in if things get too unruly.

2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport  2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport

2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport  2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport

Cadillac chose not to offer 19-inch wheels – available elsewhere in the CTS range – on the Vsport.

But even so, the CTS is easily controllable with light, direct steering and adaptive suspension damping that provides excellent feedback at all times. The car has subtle amounts of body roll in corners, but it’s nothing that isn’t par for the class – the MacPherson front and five-link rear suspension setups are nicely tuned for what the CTS Vsport needs to offer. On one hand, it should be able to haul ass around Milford, but it also needs to serve duty as a smooth, comfortable luxury sedan on public roads. The whole package feels like a more refined, less-powerful version of the current CTS-V, and turn after turn, the Vsport went exactly where it was pointed with perfect poise. Of course, the Vsport’s 245/40-series 18-inch wheels wrapped in Pirelli PZero tires certainly aided things here. Interestingly, Cadillac has chosen not to offer 19-inch wheels – available elsewhere in the CTS range – on the Vsport, saying that the combination of the 18s and PZero tires provides the best possible handling results.

Every corner of the Milford course is designed to test the limits of a car’s chassis, and in some cases, you need to purposely do things like brake mid-corner to get the stability control system to flex its muscles. And in every single case, the CTS powered through each turn with good levels of feedback and a direct, lightweight feel that inspired confidence in the driver and made me want to keep pushing harder and harder. I’ll need to get the CTS Vsport out onto public roads before giving a final judgment to the ride/handling balance, but on the track, it was sublime. To be fair, GM has the home turf advantage here, having me drive the car at Milford, where the car was tuned. Even so, the whole package feels like a larger, faster ATS, and that’s a fine compliment, considering how Cadillac’s smaller sedan is wooing critics these days.

2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport

2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport  2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport  2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport

On the whole, everything inside the CTS is super nice and comfy.

Shard lineage with the ATS is apparent inside the CTS, as well, with a substantially updated cabin lined with premium materials in a variety of colors, accented with aluminum, wood and faux carbon fiber inlays. Cadillac will even reportedly offer to swap out the accent panels at the dealership level, increasing the overall level of customization possibilities. The testers I drove were all very early pre-production units, so I won’t judge things like panel gaps or, you know, exposed wires, but on the whole, everything inside the CTS is super nice and comfy. Visibility from all angles is generally good, and the interior feels familiar, if only because it doesn’t stray too far from the ATS’ design.

Uplevel CTS models get the full-LCD instrument panel with reconfigurable displays, sort of like what’s available in the XTS. On the lower end, though, there are analog gauges like those found in the ATS, and if I’m honest, they look like a cheap solution here. Of course, there’s still the love-it-or-hate-it CUE infotainment system rounding out the center stack, with the same haptic feedback controls found below. Thankfully, my day of track testing didn’t require use any of the functionality found behind the CUE screen.

2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport

If the Vsport is indicative of the CTS family as a whole, we have a real winner on our hands.

Pricing for the 2014 CTS Vsport starts at $59,995, not including $925 for destination, putting it a few thousand bucks below the $63,900 BMW 550i. Spec out the two cars with similar options, and I’ll bet the CTS still comes in at a lower price, though the more powerful 550i is also available with all-wheel drive – the CTS Vsport is a rear-drive-only affair, and the twin-turbo V6 is only available in Vsport trim.

The CTS Vsport is really wonderful, and without a doubt will nicely bridge the gap between the naturally aspirated 3.6-liter CTS with 321 hp (or the base-grade 2.0T with 272 hp) and the next-generation CTS-V that’s expected to pack more than 560 hp. If the Vsport is indicative of the CTS family as a whole, we have a real winner on our hands. But I’ll wait for Harley’s full report before making that declaration. What I know right now is that, at the Milford Road Course, the CTS Vsport is damn impressive, and that makes me incredibly hopeful for the rest of the range – especially the upcoming CTS-V.

Engine: Twin-Turbo 3.6L V6

Power: 420 HP / 430 LB-FT

Transmission: 8-Speed Auto

0-60 Time: 4.6 Seconds

Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive

Curb Weight: 3,952 LBS

Seating: 2+3

Cargo: 13.7 CU-FT

MPG: 17 City / 25 HWY

Base Price: $59,995



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1967 L88 Corvette Convertible sells for record $3.2 million

1967 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray L88 sells for $3.2 million, a Corvette record.

The values of collectibles are going up, particularly those of classic cars, the prices paid for which we’ve seen climb over the years to several millions of dollars, if not (much) more. While many of those high-priced classics have been of the European variety, this past Saturday’s Mecum Dallas auction saw the sale of a L88-spec 1967 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible for $3.2 million – a record as far as Corvettes are concerned.

Why so much green for a Corvette? The L88 option code, for all intents and purposes, turned the Corvette into a production racecar, giving it a race motor; heavy-duty transmission, suspension and power brakes; positraction differential and a “stinger” hood scoop. The 430-horsepower race motor (Chevrolet is said to have grossly understated output) required race fuel as indicated per a warning sticker stuck to the center console. On top of that, only 20 L88-equipped C2-generation Corvettes were produced in 1967, when the option was first introduced. The C3 generation came out for 1968, and about 200 C3 Corvettes had the L88 option until it was dropped from ordering forms after 1969.

This particular convertible was used for drag racing until 1970, when it was returned to stock form, and it has the race slips to prove it. The fuel warning sticker, an important detail, is still attached to the center console, and it’s equipped with the heavy-duty “Rock Crusher” four-speed manual transmission.


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2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z51 – Road Test – CAR and DRIVER

But before we show you what it can do, here’s a primer on what makes the C7 worthy of bearing the ­Corvette flame and the Stingray name. The new LT1 V-8 c­arries over a 6.2-liter displacement and pushrod architecture but nothing else. Direct injection and optimized combustion hike the power to 460 horses while fluffing the torque curve by 50 pound-feet between 2000 and 3500 rpm. Cylinder shutdown and a mega-tall seventh gear in the Tremec manual transmission push EPA highway mileage to 30 mpg (in eco mode). A stout aluminum frame and Michelin tires are now standard for all Corvettes. The C7’s tech arsenal includes an electronically controlled limited-slip differential, aerodynamic lessons learned from racing, manual-transmission rev matching, and a patented means of sensing tire temperature to fine-tune the chassis. Inside, the cockpit is comprehensively upgraded, and the sorry C6 buckets have been replaced with world-class, eight-way-adjustable driver and passenger thrones.



Here’s a quick burnout test.


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2013 Chevrolet Camaro SS Hot Wheels Edition

2013 Chevy Camaro Hot Wheels Special Edition - parked in front of Toys R Us store

Pairing your car, truck or SUV with another brand is a tried-and-true method to create the sort of positive association that sells vehicles, or at least gives them an attractive new look and higher margins. Ford knows this, having paired the Explorer and rugged apparel brand Eddie Bauer in the ’90s with great success, and the F-150 with iconic motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson since 2000 (that partnership, however, has ended with the 2012 model year).

Not every partnership is geared towards making a vehicle appear more macho, though. The Fiat 500 by Gucci, for instance, matches the cute Cinquecento with a high fashion icon (something Cadillac tried back in 1979), and Lexus has a history of Coach Edition models that came with higher grade leather and matching luggage. Indeed, this 2013 Chevy Camaro Hot Wheels Special Edition isn’t even the only pairing of toy and car, another example being the recent Call of Duty MW3 and Black Ops editions of the Jeep Wrangler. It isn’t even the only Camaro co-branded with a toy – the 2012 Transformers Edition with Bumblebee paint job preceded it.

Pairing your automobile with something sold inside a Toys R Us, however, can be tricky. Fashion and apparel brands have more universal appeal among adult buyers than, for instance, the latest first-person-shooter video game. Partnering with a brand that markets primarily to children can also communicate the wrong thing about the person who buys such a vehicle – that he or she has a Peter Pan syndrome, not wanting to grow up, buy that sensible sedan and get on with life like the rest of us. Then again, buying a Hot Wheels Special Edition Camaro could just mean you remember the fun side of life and have the extra disposable income to show it.

Driving Notes The Hot Wheels Special Edition options package is a $6,995 question that needs answering when ordering your Camaro 2LT (V6) or 2SS (V8) coupe or convertible. The package includes Kinetic Blue metallic paint; 21-inch black aluminum wheels with red striping; the Camaro’s RS appearance package; Hot Wheels badging, decals and embroidery; premium floor mats and a painted engine cover. Nothing here makes the car go quicker, turn better or stop shorter, which is fine, as the Camaro’s got plenty of other packages and models that do that. This test car was also equipped with the optional dual-mode performance exhaust for $895 and navigation system for $795, bringing its out-the-door price minus tax to $45,720.In creating this Hot Wheels Special Edition model, Chevy designers have done a good job walking the fine line between attention-grabbing aesthetics and gratuitously over-the-top looks. The Kinetic Blue paint pops, but not nearly as much as some other Camaro colors (remember Synergy Green?).

The design of the wheels is a matter of taste, and they appear neatly inspired by their 1:64 scale counterparts, but no one will guess this is a Hot Wheels car by wheels alone. What will tip them off is the badging, which includes Hot Wheels logos on the grill, front fenders and the rear. I wouldn’t mind if that badge count were halved, but wouldn’t dare touch the wide single matte black stripe or subtle blue flames on the rear fenders. The red striping on the wheels that’s mirrored around the grille and headlights is another subtle and appealing design touch.I was less fond of this Camaro’s interior, which sports huge Hot Wheels logos embroidered in the seat backs, large logos on the side sill plates and an eency-weency logo embedded in the bottom of the steering wheel. The branding message while entering the vehicle is a bit obnoxious that way. Speaking of the wheel, General Motors needs to move on to a new tiller design. We’ve seen seen this one for years in everything down to the lowly Sonic, which makes grasping it in a $45k special edition Camaro feel less than special. Also, this was my first experience with a navigation system in the Camaro, and while the MyLink system Chevy uses is fine enough, its application in this pony car’s interior is a miss.

More physical buttons to navigate the system, or more clearly marked ones, would help.What you’re ultimately buying with a Camaro like this is a burnout machine. While other models, particularly ones with the 1LE package and the top-shelf ZL1, are engineered specifically to expand the Camaro’s handling envelope, this Hot Wheels model is basically an SS with wheels an inch larger in diameter than you could otherwise order. It feels neither particularly spry nor nimble when turning, which isn’t helped by the Camaro’s now-trademark tank-slit outward visibility. Not knowing the exact location of the car’s front corners while carrying that much inertia made me feel less-than-confident while cornering, so I gravitated more towards having fun in a straight line. My colleagues in the industry appeared to agree judging by the amount of tread left on the car’s rear tires upon arrival.And what a performance the Camaro gives when getting on the gas. The 6.2-liter V8 producing 426 horsepower and 420 foot-pounds of torque is everything an American muscle car’s engine should be. The optional dual-mode exhaust was a gloriously guttural flute through which to play the motor’s music, and I often found myself throttle-goosing for encores of the performance. Power is available everywhere in every gear, and the six-speed manual transmission was not at all a bear to operate around town. It feels stout enough to handle the engine’s fury at full bore, but the engagements are smooth and the pedal isn’t too firm.Would I buy one?

The Hot Wheels Special Edition model is a limited edition, and Chevy has said when they’re gone, they’re gone. We don’t know if all have been sold yet, but you can still build one using the configurator on Chevy’s website, which suggests they are still available. Regardless, my answer would be no, this isn’t the Camaro I would buy myself. As special editions go, I like its aesthetics a lot and a few less badges and logos would get me even more on board, though on some level, taht defeats the point of co-branding. But if you’re a parent with a kid who collects Hot Wheels and feel a mid-life crisis is coming on, could there be a more perfect purchase than this?

Engine: 6.2L V8

Power: 426 HP / 420 LB-FT

Transmission: 6-Speed Manual

Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive

Curb Weight: 3,860 LBS

Seating: 2+2

Cargo: 11.3 CU-FT

MPG: 16 City / 24 HWY

Base Price: $36,135

As-Tested Price: $45,720

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Muscle Car Restoration: 1969 Dodge Superbee

Pro Builders MCR Car 1

Muscle Car Restoration (MCR) was started in the summer of 1988 when John Balow and a few acquaintances began putting their talents to sheet metal and making a hobby into a full-on business. During the first couple years, John worked full-time for Xerox, forcing him to build in his spare time. He did little in the way of promoting MCR, but through reputation and word of mouth the business took off. By the early 90’s, some of the cars his team had restored started appearing in magazines – which increased his national exposure and of course was good for business. Muscle Car Restoration is a team of expert custom metal fabricators, chassis and custom carbon fiber parts builders, and chassis dyno tuners. They continue to work hard to earn and protect the trust each customer has in them.

MCR is coming out of the gate swinging this year, bringing along a ‘69 Superbee that has a list of parts we can barely wrap our brains around. To get things started, the classic Mopar is harnessing the power of a 572ci Hemi with 10.25:1 compression, Mopar Performance heads and block, custom Ross racing pistons, K1 Technologies crank and rods, and a Cam Motion hydraulic camshaft. At the rear wheels, the 572ci Hemi is pumping out 476 hp and a stump-pulling 704 lb/ft. Of course, if that’s not enough, the motor is producing 544 hp and 745 lbs/ft. on a small hit of nitrous. Shifting through the gears is a 4L80E MasterShift automatic shifter, passing the power to 4:40:1 gears in the rear. The frame sits on an RMS Street Lynx suspension, and hugs the road with Budnik wheels wrapped in Mickey Thompson Sportsman tires at all 4 corners – 29x15x20 in the rear and 26x10x18 up front. Doing the stopping are Wilwood 13-inch drilled rotors behind each wheel. The body has a mini tub, but other than that it looks stock. It was painted in-house with PPG’s silver 2 stage base and clear. The interior has fresh, red leather-wrapped seats sitting atop a red carpet. The instrumentation is 100% custom, which sits nicely in the custom dash. Would you believe it gets an estimated 11.5mpg? Not too shabby for such a big-block car.

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C7 Corvette production to kick off with Premiere Edition

2014 Chevy Corvette Stingray Premiere Edition with luggage

The much-lauded team behind the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette is kicking off production of the new C7 generation in predictable fashion, with a limited edition version of the car announced this afternoon. Chevy is throwing a launch party at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY, at which the wrapper is being pulled of this 2014 Corvette Stingray Coupe Premiere Edition.

Just 500 examples of the Premiere Edition C7 will be built in total, with all being top-spec 3LT models and all wearing this Laguna Blue Tintcoat paint over Brownstone suede interiors. Other appearance upgrades for the Premiere Edition include suede and carbon fiber interior trims, a visible carbon fiber roof, hood stripe, “Stingray” kickplates and wheel caps and, wait for it… a matching set of Stingray luggage from Thule. It’s every dude’s dream: a Corvette with matching luggage.

Functionally, the Premiere Edition will be blessed with the Z51 performance package, as well as Chevy’s trick Magnetic Selective Ride Control. Those, along with the car’s impressive 6.2-liter, 450-horsepower LT1 V8, should make this special edition as formidable as it will be collectable. Continue reading below for Chevy’s brief press release, and be sure to get a close look at all that luggage in our attached gallery.

Production of the 2014 Corvette Stingray Coupe Premiere Edition will be limited to 500, all top-of-the-line 3LT models with:

· Laguna Blue Tintcoat exterior, and Brownstone suede interior

· Suede-wrapped interior trim and carbon-fiber interior packages

· Visible carbon fiber roof, variable tuned performance exhaust system, and Z51 Performance Package with Magnetic Selective Ride Control

· Unique accessories, including “stinger” hood stripe, “Stingray”-logo interior sill plates and wheel caps, and custom Corvette-branded luggage from Thule

· Additionally, Premier Edition models will have a unique vehicle identification number, starting with 300001, as well as an exclusive dash plaque commemorating the limited-edition model.

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Ford reflects on radical Mustang concept that never reached showrooms

1962 Ford Mustang Concept

The Ford Mustang that we all know and love made major waves in the auto industry way back in 1964 by offering style and reasonable pricing with optional V8 power. Its long hood and short rear deck, combined with a low-slung and sporty cockpit, made a lasting impression in the minds of consumers and car designers alike, and its basic shape has so endured the test of time that it’s still in use today.

This being the case, you may be interested to know that the first Mustang of 1964.5 wasn’t actually the first Mustang at all, being preceded by a concept car that made its public debut in 1962. This concept was nothing like the car that would eventually make it into production, with a radical wedge shape and a small V4 engine sitting behind the car’s two occupants, driving the rear wheels. In other words, the conceptual Mustang was pretty much the complete opposite of the production Mustang besides the name.

Ford has kindly decided go through its massive archive to bring the original Mustang concept back into the public eye. The company goes so far as to pose this question to fans of the pony car: “Should we borrow a few of these style elements for the next iteration of the Mustang?” Check out our image gallery above and then let ’em know what you think in the Comments below.

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2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG

A Really Hot Little GT Plants The Seed For A Better AMG

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG

Mercedes-Benz has AMG on an impressive growth curve these days, the official name of the effort being Performance 50. By the 50th anniversary of AMG in 2017, the Mercedes performance division will produce 30,000-plus units per year. That’s up from today’s 20,000 or so, and AMG will boast a catalog of 30-plus models. Despite that very full range, this new CLA45 AMG is certain to be an important contributor on all accounts.

The thrill monitors at AMG have a long-established reputation for creating large, open-road rockets that err on the side of brute force and everyday comfort over zippy, tight-feeling sports car finesse and balance. The strategy has worked wonders for the company’s sales ledger and created handsome levels of profit per unit, but entire developing sectors of the premium hot-car market have been knowingly left out of the AMG equation. While there are exceptions, AMG has never been considered a maker of truly agile machinery that’s easily tossed around.

The very first thing that we notice while driving the CLA45 AMG – on schedule for North American deliveries beginning in April with a reported starting price of $47,450 – is exactly how lively its new 4Matic chassis can be. It’s an entirely new feeling for an AMG, and it’s entirely welcome by us. Some will complain about the price being asked for this super CLA-Class, but this little sedan is a true AMG of the new genre, and as such, it might just be something of a bargain.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG side view

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG front view  2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG rear view

A Driver’s Package will extend the speed limiter to 167 mph.

Physically, we have a top-trim CLA with a handsome leather interior, very nice performance seats in front and some AMG aero extensions and trim bits to highlight the stance and darker side of the 45 AMG. The standard wheel is an 18-inch set, but our tester came dressed in 19-inchers, an option to be made available in a Driver’s Package that will also extend the speed limiter to 167 miles per hour. Our first CLA45 tester was fitted with the Euro-standard lower and stiffer setup, and it was already very sharp. Combined with a 30:70 torque split on the 4Matic all-wheel drive and the sticky Dunlop Sportmaxx RT tires – 235/35 ZR19 91Y front and back – the CLA45 can be snapped around entertainingly between tight curves.

Yet the CLA45 only really pops all of your senses when fitted with the optional AMG performance suspension and exhaust system. In this fully optioned chassis, the front springs are 20-percent stiffer and rear units are 22-percent stiffer. So, if you get one of these, opt for both of those plus the 19-inch alloys. Thus prepped, you’re bound to seriously enjoy yourself.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG front fascia  2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG wheel

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG side mirror  2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG rear fascia

This powerplant has been gifted with a wild maximum turbo-boost pressure of 26.1 psi.

We were in on earlier ride-and-drives with the engineers of this little AMG. At that point, Benz reps admitted they wanted to improve the electro-mechanical steering’s crispness and fidelity. Boy, do they seem to have worked out the bugs, because we felt very sure behind the wheel. Our time with the CLA45 stretched over some hilly north-central German country roads and lots of no-limit Autobahn. (Track time at the new and very hilly 2.6-mile Bilster Berg Drive Resort was in an Edition 1 trimmed A45 AMG.) The AMG-specific front axle treatment and re-engineered elasto-kinematics of the multi-link rear axle make this CLA45 unrecognizable to the AMG family we thought we knew all these years.

Certainly, the 147 additional horsepower (peaking at 6,000 rpm) and 74 greater pound-feet of torque (between 2,250 and 5,000 rpm) supplied by the new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine helps things a bit. This sweet-feeling 355-horsepower, 332-pound-feet-of-torque powerplant (internally called “M133”) has been gifted with a wild maximum turbo-boost pressure of 26.1 psi from its big twin-scroll Honeywell unit, which is clearly visible when the hood is lifted. The mood button on the center console that corrals the drivetrain includes modes for Controlled Efficiency, Sport and Manual, and in either of the latter two settings, your optional exhaust will flap open and make you smile throughout the rev range and the seven shift points of the dual-clutch AMG gearbox.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG engine  2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG interior

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG front seats  2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG paddle shifter

The A45 AMG, which we won’t get, is a tick better at all of this performance driving stuff than the CLA45.

As much as we can rave about this machine, we noticed something that the AMG dudes will only halfway admit: The A45 AMG, which we won’t get in North America, is a tick better at all of this performance driving stuff than the CLA45. It would have been outstanding to try an all-boxes-ticked CLA45 around the track against the A45 AMG Edition 1 cars we did have. The trouble is that the CLA45 launches in Europe this September, whereas the A45 starts selling right now, so there were no spiked CLA45s yet for us ham-fisted press mooks.

Compared to the A45 AMG hot hatch, the CLA45 is more of an acutely warmed-up little grand tourer. This is not actually a criticism at all, and we sincerely dig the CLA45. But it just feels a tiny bit disingenuous to pull this punch from our trunked cars. AMG insists that the suspension calibrations are all identical between the two models, but every sophisticated yaw sensor on our bodies tells us that the whole story has yet to be shared. The weight difference between the A and the CLA is only 66 pounds trim for trim, so that doesn’t account for it, either – perhaps it has something to do with distribution?

Sooner or later we won’t hesitate to mention the AMG lineup in the same breath as M from BMW or even Porsche.

With the three-stage ESP all the way off and our most aggressive track driving packed with high lateral g-force maneuvers, we could feel the ESP Curve Dynamic Assist chiming in ever so slightly. Or to put that into plain English, we noticed the torque vectoring system while wringing the car out. On this ideal tarmac under the early summer sun, though, we didn’t really need or want it to kick in, since the CLA45 was nailing every line through every single transition and weight shift. On these AMGs, when you’ve got the Speedshift dual-clutch transmission in manual mode, the gears are held at the rev limiter, unlike in the CLA 250 Sport. What’s more, in Sport or Manual, shift times are exactly as quick as on the SLS AMG GT. Along with this true manual treat, the redline has been extended 200 rpm up to 6,700 rpm. Downshifting is still frequently forbidden, most annoyingly, right when you might need it heading into curves, and second gear is too short to be of much use anyway, but the turbocharged torque rush helps out there.

Even though we’d like a Black Series CLA45 that collaborates in some clever way with the rear-biased 4Matic, we are definitely fans already of this 2014 Mercedes CLA45 AMG. The chassis sensations alone are happily unlike anything we’ve ever felt from Affalterbach. Sooner or later we won’t hesitate to mention the AMG lineup in the same breath as M from BMW or even Porsche. AMG may arguably already be there in certain cases, but it takes time to break old perceptions that have been engraved over decades. The CLA45 is a fantastic start for a better, nimbler AMG.

Engine: 2.0L Turbo I4

Power: 355 HP / 332 LB-FT

Transmission: 7-Speed DCT

0-60 Time: 4.5 Seconds (est.)

Top Speed: 155 MPH

Drivetrain: All-Wheel Drive

Curb Weight: 3,494 LBS

Seating: 2+3

Cargo: 16.6 CU-FT

MPG: 14 City / 23 HWY (est.)

Base Price: $47,450

As-Tested Price: $51,000 (est.)

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Lamborghini to show Gallardo replacement concept in Frankfurt

Lamborghini will give us a big clue as to the look and feel of the impending replacement for its Gallardo model at this September’s Frankfurt Motor Show. According to a report by Autocar, the Italian supercar maker will have a concept car in Frankfurt that will preview a 2015 replacement for the current Gallardo (pictured above).

While nothing is set in stone, the word is that Lamborghini is still considering “Cabrera” as the Gallardo-successor’s name. We didn’t know the company had so many Tigers fans, but the Autoblog Detroit office is stoked.

The same report tells us that the new Lamborghini, currently going by the internal designation LP724, will be based on the same platform as the second-generation Audi R8, rather than on the more exotic Aventador underpinnings. That means a modular spaceframe, aluminum and carbon fiber construction and a reduction in curb weight as a result – the target is less than 3,300 pounds. Even with the diet, the next Gallardo will be slightly longer than the current car, but about the same height and width.

The svelte Lamborghini will draw power from an updated version of the current 5.2-liter V10, which should be good for more than 600 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. Autocar also indicates that both a six-speed manual and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission will be optional on the new Gallardo, replacing the existing six-speed E-gear automated manual. Standard cars will offer all-wheel drive, but rear-drive models will be available at some point as well. Bring on Frankfurt, we’re ready to see this one in the metal.

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Audi readying 650-hp Sport Quattro Concept for Frankfurt

Audi Quattro Coupe Concept - front three-quarter view

Remember Audi‘s perfectly lovely Quattro Concept from the 2010 Paris Motor Show? Of course you do. The latter-day Ur-Quattro is laser-etched in our brains as well – and not just because Audi was kind enough to offer our man Michael Harley a mountain drive of its seven-figure showcar. At the time, Audi hinted that the coupe might have a showroom future, but the gossip pipeline has long since gone dry, leading us to believe that the car’s production hopes had soured.

That 2010 concept was powered by a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine yielding 380 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque, a relatively modest but appropriate engine configuration in light of the Ur-Quattro’s five-banger. Given the Quattro Concept’s size and specs, it wasn’t clear exactly where such a vehicle might fit into the company’s lineup, though, as it already already offers the successful A5/S5/RS5 lineup.

Apparently, Audi might have a solution to that conundrum. A new report from Germany’s AutoZeitung suggest that the automaker is posed to reveal a production version of the concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September – on the Ur-Quattro’s 30th anniversary, no less. Word is that Audi is taking the Quattro Concept upmarket in a big way, with a tuned version of the twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 from the RS7 churning up in the neighborhood of 650 horsepower. Naturally, all-wheel drive will get all that power to the ground, and new bodywork is expected as well. In addition to the powertrain switch-up, there is talk of extensive use of lightweight materials, including magnesium, carbon fiber and aluminum, with a target weight of under 2,900 pounds. Magnetic ride control suspension and carbon-ceramic brakes are also expected to find their way onto the model. Unsurprisingly, all of that extra equipment is likely to impact the car’s bottom line – reports suggest its sticker price could crowd that of the mighty R8 at around $150,000.

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2014 Aston Martin Vanquish

Squirrelling Away In Motown With British Royalty

2014 Aston Martin Vanquish - front three-quarter view

As far as unexpected encounters with wild animals go, squirrels don’t normally rate. The furry little nut-smugglers are omnipresent fixtures in my neck of the woods – literally – so a chance meeting doesn’t warrant caution the way a bear or even an ornery raccoon might. But one’s list of priorities can’t help but change a bit at 175 miles per hour. That was exactly the case when I drove this Aston Martin’s predecessor, the DBS, a few years ago.

I was hammering around a closed course – Ford’s Romeo proving grounds – on the company’s high-banked 5-mile long track, 25 mph shy of the double ton, when a little red dot appeared on the surface of the track, far up the straight. It was a squirrel, which, lacking the good sense not to be on the track at that particular moment, was at least smart enough to flatten itself into a pancake (perhaps it heard the Aston’s mighty V12 closing in). I prayed it wouldn’t dart from its adjacent lane into mine, because at my closing speed, I figured I wouldn’t have time to retaliate. Naturally, the kamikaze rodent skittered on its stomach directly into my trajectory at the last minute, leaving me no choice but to issue a critical hair’s breadth correction at the wheel. Roadkill manufacturing is normally a momentary wince-inducing affair – a grimace, a quick appeal for the universe’s forgiveness – and then on with one’s day. Yet in a car as low as an Aston Martin, at the velocity I was traveling, a bit of fur flying and battered karma would’ve been the least of my concerns.

The squirrel, the DBS and I all survived to fight another day, and that 175-mph run still stands as my own personal v-max. The Aston’s high-speed stability and steering saved my bacon that morning, but in truth, I wasn’t that impressed with the car overall. So it was with some consternation that I took possession of this 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish, its replacement killer.
2014 Aston Martin Vanquish side view

2014 Aston Martin Vanquish front 3/4 view  2014 Aston Martin Vanquish rear 3/4 view

It’s so gorgeous you can’t help but take every raindrop that falls on it personally.

Like the DBS I drove, this Vanquish rear-wheel-drive coupe arrived riding atop Aston’s VH platform, powered by a 5.9-liter V12 paired with the company’s Touchtronic six-speed flappy paddle gearbox. It’s a direct descendant of the DBS. Hell, it even looks basically the same… all of today’s Astons – save the court jester Cygnet – do. And while today’s Aston design waters flow obviously and directly from the DB9 of 2004, we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: that’s no bad thing. This Vanquish, now fully sheathed in carbon-fiber bodywork, is about as visually stunning as modern automobiles get. From its general proportions to its exposed carbon elements (everything from the front splitter to the side mirrors and rear fascia is sporting a weave) to its One-77-inspired taillamps, it’s so gorgeous that you can’t help but take every raindrop that dares fall on its flanks a little personally.

Thankfully, despite the visual similarities, a lot has actually changed under the skin in this car’s transition from DBS to Vanquish. For starters, it rides atop Generation 4 VH architecture. Based on the One-77 supercar’s bones, the aluminum chassis is said to be 25-percent stiffer than the DBS’ thanks to a carbon-fiber intensive parts count that’s 75-percent new. Needless to say, this Vanquish is a substantially different beast than the model that carried its name until 2007.

2014 Aston Martin Vanquish front fascia  2014 Aston Martin Vanquish wheel

2014 Aston Martin Vanquish taillight  2014 Aston Martin Vanquish rear fascia

My child-of-the-80s-self thinks the seats look like something stolen from Cobra Commander.

The Vanquish is still a pretty large car, as those voluptuous curves need a big canvas to stretch their legs. It’s definitely scaled to grand tourer proportions, even if it isn’t as big as more common rivals like the Bentley Continental GT Speed or Maserati GranTurismo MC, both of which are quite a bit longer yet far narrower. To open the swan doors of the Vanquish is to be greeted by a heady hit of tanned leather aroma. From there, you cast a curious eye onto this example’s two-tone leather seats, which my child-of-the-’80s-self thinks looks like something stolen from GI Joe’s Cobra Commander thanks to its odd Spectral Blue quilting and stitching. They’re a bit ridiculous, to be honest, but they’re comfortable and supportive, and you needn’t spec them this way: if you’ve got the money, honey, Aston will happily skin your seats in whatever manner you like (though it might turn up a refined nose at squirrel fur).

Newer Aston cabin hallmarks are here in full force: the outboard handbrake, the counter-rotating tachometer, the button-based transmission selector and, of course, the crystal key “Emotion Control Unit” receptor/start button are all present and accounted for. The latter two remain a bit fiddly, but unique ‘surprise and delight’ features like these telegraph luxury and exclusivity better than any high-tech electronics ever could. They’re the secret handshakes of the automotive world, reserved exclusively for the rich or in the know impostors like me.

Yet there are important changes to note, here, too. There’s much more interior space than in the old DBS, including another inch and a half of legroom. The center stack, encased on either side by leather-stitched bulwarks, is effectively all new, with backlit capacitive-touch crystal buttons that offer subtle haptic feedback when pushed.

2014 Aston Martin Vanquish interior  2014 Aston Martin Vanquish front seats

2014 Aston Martin Vanquish rear seats  2014 Aston Martin Vanquish trunk

The nav system is a Garmin-based unit, and the 6.5-inch screen looks it.

There’s a fresh infotainment system as well, with a power-fold screen as before. While not the best unit we’ve ever used (the input controller is still a bit difficult to use and there are moments when it’s a bit slow), it is light years ahead of the old setup. That’s particularly true of the navigation system, even though it suffers from a graphics package that looks jarringly inelegant in this environment (it’s a Garmin-based unit, and the 6.5-inch screen looks it). At least the 13-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo sounds predictably wonderful, should you want to blot out the V12’s soundtrack for some unearthly reason.

In addition to the optional squarish steering wheel (One-77-derived and much better in feel than it looks), our test car was also fitted with the available rear seat package. They’re so tight as to be useless for anything other than convincing your twenty-something trophy wife that you are genuinely serious about entertaining the possibility of having a baby this late in life. Trunk space is way up over the DBS, too, some 60 percent in fact, to around 13 cubic feet. That’s good, because the missus won’t be stashing any wet naps in the glovebox – there isn’t one. Overall, the interior is a pretty stunning environ, but even now, years after Aston’s Ford ownership chapter and close kinship with Jaguar, it’s marred by numerous bits of switchgear scavenged from lesser parts bins that even the Blue Oval forgot it had.

2014 Aston Martin Vanquish gauges  2014 Aston Martin Vanquish navigation system

2014 Aston Martin Vanquish instrument panel  2014 Aston Martin Vanquish sill plate

This Aston’s numbers just aren’t enough to Vanquish a pretty wide cross-section of today’s competitors.

For our First Drive, West Coast Editor Michael Harley journeyed to the Big Easy to sample the Vanquish at NOLA Motorsports Park, but he wasn’t given time in the car on public roads, a real pity since that is a GT’s most natural element. Thus it fell to me to spend a week with this Cobalt Blue tester in the greater Detroit region, where I would sample it under real-world conditions – broken pavement, torrential rain and all.

Deploying serious power in suboptimal road conditions demands due care, and the refreshed AM11 V12 (now with dual variable valve timing, bigger throttle bodies and a revamped manifold) qualifies for all of your attention by delivering 565 horsepower at 6,750 rpm and 457 pound-feet of torque at 5,500 rpm. Those are healthy metrics for any stable, but with a starting price of $282,820, they had better be. 0-62 mph is quoted at 4.1 seconds and top speed at 183 mph. Those performance totals seem almost modest in today’s 3.0-second, 211-mph-world of the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta (a coupe that doesn’t cost much more), to say nothing of more accommodating (if pedestrian) four-doors like the 3.6-second, 190-mph Porsche Panamera Turbo S. Of course, it takes a particular sort of gentleman to buy an Aston, and they’re generally not the type who will challenge others to stoplight drag races (even if this model does include a new launch control system). But even aristocrats like to rib each other about their inadequacies, and while they might be impressive figures in isolation, this Aston’s numbers just aren’t enough to Vanquish a pretty wide cross-section of today’s competitors.

2014 Aston Martin Vanquish engine

What those numbers don’t readily convey is the character of the Vanquish, which is delightfully old school in many ways, even as advanced materials have rendered improvements to just about every aspect of its performance. As Harley noted, there’s a pleasing heft to, and commensurate feedback from, all controls, from the hydraulic speed-sensitive steering (2.62 turns from lock to lock) to the throttle and brake pedals. The latter is hooked to standard carbon-ceramic brakes, six-piston up front and four-piston rear, assuring fade-free stops for this 3,900-pound blue bolide. They might be a bit soft upon initial application for track usage, but they’re nicely predictable and linear for street use. We did notice some minor squealing on cold, wet discs at low speeds, but they warmed quickly.

Putting it in Sport opened up the active exhaust’s bypass valves for maximum engine music.

After tooling around for a bit with the car in its standard settings, I found it desirable to thumb the S button on the steering wheel and leave the car in Sport, otherwise the throttle tip-in felt a bit too relaxed for this sort of car. And besides, putting it in Sport opened up the active exhaust’s bypass valves for maximum engine music.

Admittedly, the greater Detroit area isn’t exactly awash in world-class driving roads, but the Aston did its level best to make the most of my favorites, with exceptional mid-corner stability and front-end grip from the 20-inch wheels. Part credit goes to the three-mode adaptive suspension system (double wishbone, coil springs front and rear), with Normal, Sport and Track settings accessed through a button to the left of the steering wheel’s center spoke, and part goes to the stiffer chassis with its lower center of gravity, a new front chassis section that parks the engine around three-quarters of an inch lower than in the DBS, and 50-50 weight distribution. Body roll is well snubbed in any setting, really, but Sport shines nicely for B-road usage. Track mode is too firm to be much good around these parts – on winding roads with virgin paved surfaces, it might have its moments, but otherwise, the back end can get squiffy under power.

2014 Aston Martin Vanquish rear 3/4 view

The Vanquish is likely the GT apogee of what is achievable with these Aston Martin VH + V12 building blocks.

On the spec sheet, the six-speed paddleshift automatic comes across as the Vanquish’s immediate Achilles heel, lacking both the cog count and lightening-quick changes of most modern dual-clutch gearboxes. And indeed, there’s some room for improvement, but the transmission isn’t the black mark you might think it to be. For one thing, it’s quicker to execute manual changeups with the magnesium paddles than you might expect (37-percent quicker than before, in fact), and it has the sort of low-speed driveline refinement that even the best dual-clutch setups lack. The six-speed fits the GT character of this car just fine, but I can’t help but wonder what Aston’s engineers could do if they had enough funding to source a new gearbox with more ratios.

The Vanquish is likely the GT apogee of what is achievable with these Aston Martin VH + V12 building blocks, so the question is, what’s next? Gorgeous though it may be, the brand’s styling language is now a bit too familiar and some of the driveline and convenience technology in this, the company’s most expensive model, has fallen behind the curve. Given the brand’s rather vague funding picture, one has to wonder how many more 175-mph financial squirrels the company can continue to successfully dodge. Of course, Aston has lived the majority of its 100-year existence under tenuous pecuniary conditions and still managed to turn out some marvelous cars. So while we certainly aren’t betting against it, a brand with this much history and cachet deserves to have as firm a monetary footing as those of the clients who regularly purchase its cars. Here’s hoping Aston gets it.

Engine: 5.9L V12

Power: 565 HP / 457 LB-FT

Transmission: 6-Speed Automatic

0-60 Time: 4.2 Seconds

Top Speed: 183 MPH

Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive

Curb Weight: 3,900 LBS (est)

Seating: 2+2 (as tested)

Cargo: 13 CU-FT

MPG: 13 City / 19 HWY

Base Price: $282,820

As-Tested Price: $303,635

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