Reviewed 2015 Audi S5: Four Season Perfection

If you live in a Northern climate, and have to deal with the realities of four true seasons, yet, you want a car that is fun to drive, your options can be limited.  Now add to that you want something that is luxurious, and that list gets smaller yet.
While it’s at the end of it’s lifecycle, the Audi S5 looks like it might be able to handle all of those demands.  We put it to the test in the late Winter of 2015, where it had to deal with snow, ice and sub zero temps.  How did it fare?  That’s what we find out on this edition of Rumblestrip.NET and Ten Minute Test Drive.

 

First Drive: 2014 Lexus IS

Over the last 18 months you can really see Akio Toyoda’s fingerprints on the Lexus brand.  For many years Lexus was considered a brand of fine cars with excellent build quality and a dealer network that set the standard for the industry. However, they were also thought of as bland and emotionless vehicles.  Cars and SUV’s for those that wanted something nice, but didn’t care about cars or want to think about cars.

Akio’s statement was that cars bearing his family’s name WOULD have emotion, would have a connection to the driver, they would NOT be thought of as just a commodity item.

The all new GS was the first real statement along those lines and now with the 2014 Lexus IS, the third generation of the car, Akio has focused Lexus’ efforts into not just drawing event with cars like the BMW 3 Series and the Audi A4, but setting the standard for the small luxury performance segment.

The new IS draws from it’s larger stablemate, the GS, in several areas.  The front end is a further, more aggressive evolution of the spindle grill, the interior continues the horizontal theme dash, and the rear suspension is derived from the GS as well.

The new IS gains 2.5 inches in wheelbase allowing for a further 1.6 inches of rear seat legroom.  The overall length has been extended 3.5 inches, the trunk now has an additional .5 cubic foot of space and the first time offering a 60/40 split folding rear seat for additional cargo capacity.

When the new IS is ordered with Satellite Navigation, it comes loaded with 3D mapping including Street View.  Traffic and weather information are now subscription free, weather is updated every 10 minutes and traffic every 2 minutes.  Traffic also has the addition feature of Predictive Traffic which can forecast ahead 15, 30 and 45 minutes so that you can see what your route may look like, and if you should choose a different way.  Also when you are running low on fuel gas stations will appear as Points Of Interest on the map.

The 2014 IS has all of the safety features you’ve come to expect on a car at this level, 10 air bags, Blind Spot Warning with Cross Traffic, lane departure alert, and Pre Collision Radar cruise control down to 25 miles an hour.

The F-Sport version of the new IS, available on both the IS 250 and the IS 350 is distinguished by a different nose and bumper, different seats, LED daytime running lights, variable adaptive suspension and additional drive modes of Sports S and S+.  Also in the F-Sport is a different gage cluster that draws it’s inspiration from the LFA Supercar.  The center dial slides from the center to the right and alters the information on the LCD gage cluster. 

Optional on all models is the 15 speaker, 835 watt Mark Levinson audio system.  The system features a full digital (Class-D) amplifier, 5.1 channel/7.1 channel surround system, a total of 15 GreenEdge™ ultra-high efficiency speakers and a Lexus-first Auto Volume System,which automatically adjusts volume when changing between sources or radio channels.

The IS 250 and 350 can be had either as Rear Drive or All Wheel Drive.  Power comes from either a 2.5 liter V6 in the IS 250 offering 204 horsepower and 184 lb/ft of torque, or the 3.5 liter V6 in the IS 350 which offers up 306 horsepower and 277 lb/ft of torque.  

Fuel economy is rated in the IS 250 at 21/30/24 (city/highway/combined) for the Rear Drive and 20/27/23 for the All Wheel Drive model.  The IS 350 rates as 19/28/22 for the Rear Drive and 19/26/21 for the All Wheel Drive.  

All IS 250’s, plus the IS 350 AWD will use a six speed automatic transmission, while the Rear Drive IS 350 will use the eight speed automatic from the outgoing IS-F.

On the road the new IS has a very comfortable and controlled ride quality, the cabin is very quiet, as you’d expect.  However, when you put your foot down, there is a very sporty sounding exhaust, and when tossed aggressively into corners, the body stays very flat, and the handling is very neutral, with just a hint of understeer to keep you safe.

Lexus believe you can have your cake and eat it too with the suspension in the new IS.  They have soften the springs at all four corners to make the ride more supple, yet larger anti roll bars allow the handling to be very sporty and controlled without being overly stiff.  When you want a more aggressive suspension you can dial it up with the drive mode selector.  In the standard IS you have a Sport mode, and in the F-Sport there are Sports S and S+ options.  The additional modes will not only change the suspension calibrations, but alter how aggressive the throttle is as well. 

For 30 years the BMW 3 Series has set the benchmark for the small sport luxury segment, and Audi in the last decade has been running neck and neck with BMW with their A4.  Lexus have now gone all in on this segment, and just like when Lexus entered the market with the original LS, the Germans will be may need to re-evaluate their current efforts.

Pricing for the IS 250 begins at $35,950 and $39,465 for the IS 350, All Wheel Drive adds $2,515 to the IS 250 and $2,235 to the IS 350, all models of the new IS will be available mid Summer.

Wednesday’s Words: Thoughts on the “New” Lincoln

 

Lincoln is at the beginning of rebooting it’s brand, and with that the opportunity to position itself to stand out among all the other “premium” car brands.

It would appear that Lincoln is positioning itself to compete against brands like Volvo, Lexus, Acura, and Audi.  We think, to quote Don Adams, the original Maxwell Smart, they are missing it by that much.

“Premium Luxury” is the new black, everyone is doing it.  To stand out in that very crowded demographic, you have to do something different, and what Lincoln is bringing to market isn’t different enough.

Rather than compete against such a crowded field, we believe that Lincoln needs to look further up market, to take on former Premier Auto Group members Jaguar and Land Rover, the reasons are several.  

Number one, there is less to compete against. When there are few competitiors to draw your attention away, it’s much easier to be the point of focus.

Number two, pricing separation.  As it sits right now, Lincoln will continue to have the issue it has had for a number of years, and that is, it’s just a gussied up Ford.  Look at the Ford Fusion in Titanium trim, out the door it’s going to sell for between $34,000 and $36,000.  The new Lincoln MKZ starts at $37,000 and can go out the door, similarly equipped to the Fusion for about $42,000.  That’s not much of a premium.  The same goes across the board when you look at Edge vs. MKX, Taurus vs MKS and Flex vs. MKT.

While there is now more of a difference in both interior and exterior design, it doesn’t take much of a discerning eye to tell they share a common platform.

Number three, in moving further up market, you have much more pricing power and hence profitability, with the added benefit of having the ability to bring unique looks to both the exterior and interior of the vehicles.  The ability to use much higher quality materials in a more top shelf brand also would help distinguish it from it’s parent brand.

Lastly, in reaching to a higher demographic, Lincoln would have the opportunity to truly be an aspirational brand, rather than just another “premium luxury” brand.  They could redefine what an “American Luxury Brand” is.  Rather than some cliche’ from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, American Luxury doesn’t have to be “boulevard smooth” nor does it have to be the the latest in consumer electronics, rather than “custom” it should be “bespoke”  Most anyone can have “custom” few can have “bespoke”.

Lincoln should not get carried away with “gimmick” interiors that are all about the latest in technology.  As we are beginning to see, most interiors that but a focus on the latest in consumer electronics of the moment, are (a) 9-24 months behind the curve to begin with, and (b) don’t age well, both from looks and from function.  Classic and timeless should be the focus when it comes to interiors at Lincoln.  Simplicity is it’s own luxury.

If Lincoln is to be successful in it’s reboot, it will have to be something different than it’s competitors.  Pretty advertising is great for getting people in the door, but the product must, not match expectations, but far exceed them.  In rebooting the brand, Lincoln HAS the opportunity to place itself where it wants, as they try to start with a clean sheet, the question is, are they positioning themselves for success, or just to get lost in the crowd once again.

Reviewed: 2012 Audi A6

You often find that cars the automotive media hype endlessly, never live up to that billing.  Few cars in the last two or three years have been hyped as much as the Audi A6, and, while the car has been out for almost a year now, and few bad things have been said about it to date.  We had the new A6 come in for testing recently and had the opportunity recently to findout for ourselves just how good this car could be.  Have a watch, and enjoy!

Here is the full range of pictures that we shot fo the car.

Too Fast To Race: Group B Rally

As you know we are big fans of Group B Rally, it’s what we grew up with.  In the mid 1980’s when we were in high school, ESPN would show WRC and U.S. Rally Racing, as hard as that seems to believe in this day and age.

The Group B cars were turly monsters in their days, 5-800 horsepower was not unheard of, and much of the technology from the turbo Formula 1 cars made their way in to rally racing.  It came to an end at the end of the 80’s though as the cars became to fast, there were a few to many fatalities of drivers and spectators, so this shining moment of racing came to an end.

We found this series on YouTube and thought we would share it with you, it’s a documentry, broken up into seven sections to show you this history of this great series.

RoundAboutShow #32 The “Grab Bag” Episode

Just like Tom Hanks in that movie from the ‘90s, sometimes you never know what you’re going to get.  Whether you’re a prospector panning for gold, a would-be member of high society scratching off a lottery ticket in hopes of winning big or you’re forced into an office gift exchange during the holidays, the outcome of your efforts, or luck, is never certain.  For lack of a better option, this week on RoundAbout we venture into uncharted territory with an unusually eclectic theme in our first-ever “Grab-Bag” episode.  Submitted for discussion this week, a man in the UK gets busted for drunk driving in  something ridiculous.  We find a C3 Chevy Corvette that’s received some unusual chassis work.  Plus we talk about Audi’s sexy new drop-top when we go In The Garage.  All that and more on this week’s installment of RoundAbout, The ‘Grab Bag’ Episode.  Enjoy!

Play RoundAbout Episode 32

 

 


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Featuring: Joel Feder, Jeffrey Ross, Michelle Naranjo, Zach Bowman, Eric Trytko, Craig Cole and Ben Sanders

RoundAbout records LIVE on Fridays at 6PM ET/3PM PT. Visit RoundAboutShow.com and click Watch Live to watch our webcast and look in on all the antics.

Reviewed: The 2010 Lincoln MKT

 

When we tested the Ford Flex last March, we knew the Lincoln MKT would be arriving on deal lots soon. At the time we wondered if the new Lincoln would be/could be the new “Black Sedan” or maybe have a bit of that private jet feel to it for second row passengers.  Other than the motor in the Flex, the standard 3.5L V-6 which we found just a touch lacking, we loved the Flex, and knew that it would be hard for Lincoln to come up with something better.

Right off the bat the thing that smacks you in the face with the MKT is the styling.  As with most of the rest of the Lincoln line you either like the styling, or you don’t.  We dig Lincoln’s exterior look and have no problems with the execution of the design language here.  Pay attention when we say exterior. 

While the Flex looks like a giant MINI from the rear, you aren’t going to mistake the MKT for anything else.  Not only does it have Lincoln’s strong front facia, it has the kicked up shoulder over the rear wheel that gives it a more muscular look as well.  From there the rear part of the roof begins to slope down into the rear lift gate.  While it doesn’t have the elegance as it could have had if the Ford designers had used more of a French Curve, the rear treatments are for the most part successful. 

A straight-on rear shot does give you an idea of just how large this vehicle is though.  An interesting thing to note with the MKT is what a difference color plays here.  When you see an MKT in black, as our tester was, it appears much more substantial than when you see it in a lighter color.  Normally the fashionistas will tell you that black is slimming, however, on the MKT that’s not the case.

If you have been inside a Lincoln recently, the interior will feel vary familiar, just a little larger in scale.  The materials are very nice, though not quite to the Audi Q7 level.  Then again the MKT checks in about twenty grand less, so there you are.  There are soft touch materials where you would expect them, the center stack is well laid out, and of course you get Ford’s great SYNC system.

The second row of our MKT was equipped with captains chairs and the refrigerator in between.    If you are a mom from Westchester County hauling the boys to hockey practice, and the girls to their equestrian lessons the cooler does a good job of keeping their sodas cold.  If you are an executive using this as your “black sedan” then it does a passable job of keeping that Non Vintage bottle for Krug cold.  Second row passengers not only have plenty of leg room and their own HVAC controls, but also heated and cooled seats as well.       

Row three is where we see the largest difference between the Flex and the MKT.  In the Flex, two full sized adults can fit back there, for a time, and not be uncomfortable.  In the MKT, they can’t.  It isn’t so much the leg room, it’s the lack of head room in the MKT.  The sloping rear section of the roof of the MKT cuts in the cabin a great deal and the result is a serious lack of available headroom.  While at not quite 5’11” I can sit upright and have plenty of room in the third row of the Flex, anyone much over five feet tall won’t be able to sit upright in the Lincoln’s third row.

The major nit that I have to pick with the MKT’s interior is one that I think would be solved by a change in color.  By choosing the Olive Ash wood trim you aren’t forced into the rest of the interior being all black.  With the Olive Ash trim you can get what Lincoln is calling “canyon” which is more like a nice darker tan/camel color.  The other choice for the seating materials and some of the interior trim pieces is “light stone.”  While I would not call the all black interior of our tester oppressive or claustrophobic, it did feel a bit cave-like.  Even with the large double panoramic sunroofs teh cabin lacked the airiness of the Flex we tested almost a year ago, and I believe much of that has to do with the interior color choice.

Have a look at some of the interior pictures of the MKT that our friends over at Autoblog had about the same time we had our tester, and I think you will see the dramatic difference. 

There are a few things we’d like to see in the interior of the MKT in future model years.  First would be a heated steering wheel.  Grabbing the the wheel on some of the cold single digit temps we experienced while the MKT was in our driveway was not the most pleasant thing without gloves on.  Perhaps a switch of materials to Alcantera or some other micro suede would accomplish the same thing and give the Lincoln an even more upscale feel without a bump up in the price tag. 

My second suggestion for Ford’s engineers has to do with the MKT’s remote start function.  How about a system that remembers the last settings for the heating and cooling of the seat and cabin temps?  Again jumping into the MKT during temperature extremes can be unpleasant.  It’s a small thing, but one that would make a big difference in our eyes.  As Ford and Lincoln expand their “My Touch” and open the software for the Sync system to developers, perhaps we can have an app for our iPhones/Crackberries/Android’s that accomplish all of that together.

Under the hood of our Lincoln was the 355 Horsepower 3.5 liter V6 EcoBoost engine.  The added power and torque of the EcoBoost over the standard, non-boosted 262 Horsepower V6, easily solved our largest issue with the Flex, and that was needed just a bit more grunt in passing and merging situations.  Even with the added power of the EcoBoost and the extra drive line losses of MKT being an AWD model the difference in mileage between the two people haulers wasn’t much, maybe one or two MPG at most. That makes the EcoBoost well worth the trade off we think.

As for handling, well, at a curb weight just over 5000lbs, it’s no sports car, but the MKT is more than competent for anything you would ask of it. It handles predictably, there is no real tug from the front wheels in the AWD model when you apply power from low speeds around corners.  And the ride on the highway, even on Michigan’s bomb cratered roads was good.

While we really do like the MKT, we are left with one issue, is it fifteen grand better than the Flex?  Our immediate reaction is no, but then again maybe it depends on what you are looking for. And if it’s something quite peculiar, something shimmering and white, it leads you here, despite your destination, under the milky way tonight.   Where the Flex comes across as the tall wagon with hints of the Woodys of the 40’s and 50’s, the MKT does have a more substantial, more serious presence about it.  You can’t help but feel the interior of the MKT is a serious Hugo Boss suit person, while the Flex is more khakis and polo shirt kind of guy

If what you crave is most of the interior usability of the Flex in a package that projects a more upscale adult feel that the Flex might, then the MKT is for you.  While the interior is not quite up to the Audi Q7 level, it’s fairly close, and as we said earlier a twenty grand difference in price between the Lincoln and the Audi is fairly substantial.  The MKT might not quite be the four wheel Gulfstream G550 we had hoped it could be, but having to fly business class on Emirates Airline isn’t exactly a hardship.

RoundAboutShow #19 NAIAS Post Mortem

Well, the North American International Auto Show–otherwise known as the Detroit Auto Show–has made all the news it’s going to make for this year. It was a rocky year for the Motor City, and in a way, it really showed at Cobo Hall in Detroit. The digs might have been better than last year (Chrysler was a series of unadorned cars on beige carpet in 2009), but the product reveals were notably less exciting. With the patient on the slab, we called in the best team of doctors we know … our … selves. Well, anyway, we’re here with the official RoAb postmortem of NAIAS.

Is the new Cadillac XTS worthy of being the luxury brand’s new flagship? Does the Volkswagen NCC bring anything new and exciting to the German marque? Will the Honda CR-Z finally be a hybrid that’s fun to drive? We debate all these and more. Plus we’ve got another installment of our new Meet Your Roadmates segment, a Stupid Car Trick and the triumphant return of the long lost Psy-car-logy.

Play RoundAbout Episode 19

 
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