Posts by Aki Sugawara

  • Driving the 2015 Ferrari California T: The everyday supercar that's anything but

    Aki Sugawara at Motoramic 8 days ago

    Driving a Ferrari is a bucket-list event — one of those milestones you'd fantasized about back when you could scarely doodle a sports car without trying to eat the red crayon. And after three days with the 2015 Ferrari California T, my list needs a rewrite.

  • Driving the 2015 Porsche Macan Turbo, the crossover hustler

    Aki Sugawara at Motoramic 13 days ago

    The word “sellout” inevitably gets thrown around when a company like Porsche mixes up its lineup beyond the 911. The automaker crossed that red line in the ‘90s after the 993 for the air-cooled purists. Others decry the Cayenne SUV or the Panamera as a mass-market sin, akin to Bono spamming his circa-‘90s rock on iTunes. Still others bristle at the recent shift to electronic-power steering with the latest 911. It’s then easy to blow off the Macan as a shameless jump on the CUV craze, something to bankroll the 918 supercar — or at worst, make a buck off West-LA poseurs who can’t afford a G-Class AMG. That’d be a shame, because the 2015 Porsche Macan Turbo is a brilliant machine. The idea sounds even more blasphemous on paper — the compact SUV is built on the same MLB architecture as a front-wheel-drive-based Audi A4 and Q5 , though power routes to all four wheels through a trick AWD system similar to the Cayenne. It’s smaller than a Range Rover Sport, yet can cost as much or even more if you opt for the Turbo S, which starts at $72,300....

  • Three ways the 2015 Subaru Legacy bests the Outback (and other wagons)

    Aki Sugawara at Motoramic 22 days ago

    Subaru is one of those rare brands where people actually want wagons when it comes to the midsize segment. And that’s a problem for the Legacy sedan — whereas the Outback evokes fantasies of rugged adventure straight out of a North Face catalog, its sedan counterpart is as inspiring as a trip to the local DMV. Not surprisingly, Outback sales outpace the four-door by a factor of more than 2:1. Yet there are three reasons to buy the 2015 Subaru Legacy , as I discovered logging a thousand miles in a week: Smooth ride: While the Outback and Legacy are siblings, the latter is the more pleasurable Subie around town. On normal roads it glides over roads as though they were polished glass, and feels less top-heavy in corners than its five-door counterpart. That said it doesn’t tackle corners as eagerly as a Mazda6 , and when pushed hard the tires get overwhelmed from the body roll. On roads with major ruts — like all of Oakland — it’s not quite as dialed in as an Accord , and there’s some odd jostling in the rear axle over harder bumps. Nonetheless it makes for a great long-hauler, and didn’t get tiresome even after an eight-hour slog driving from Los Angeles to San Jose. That’s also due...

  • Why the automotive industry's good times could end in a crash

    Aki Sugawara at Motoramic 1 mth ago

    It’s seemingly a new golden age for gearheads — between cars like the Ford GT and Acura NSX basking in the spotlight at the 2015 Detroit auto Show, and the 707-horsepower Dodge Challenger Hellcat selling briskly. With the revival of General Motors and Chrysler from the brink (albeit, at an $11 billion cost to taxpayers), the recession in 2008 is fading as a distant memory.

    Yet underneath all the fanfare of a recovery, the automotive industry isn’t as healthy as it seems, and could get a lot worse.


  • Driving the 2015 BMW 4-Series Grand Coupe: The right way to slice

    Aki Sugawara at Motoramic 2 mths ago

    We’ve all been to that birthday bash where a small cake gets cut into wafer-thin wedges to serve all the partygoers. That’s what comes to mind with BMW slicing up the sporty luxury segment into delicate pieces with the 3 and 4 Series; not only you do you have traditional sedan and coupe, but there’s also the endangered wagon, and awkwardly proportioned Gran Turismo, which potentially competes with the bro-mobile X4. Then you get into the different engines, or whether you should get the AWD xDrive. Choosing the right trim sounds daunting, until you realize one’s sweeter than the rest: the 4 Series Gran Coupe. When BMW dropped the car off at our offices, the 435i initially struck me as a 3-Series with a hatch tacked on, with a porthole-sized glass for a rear window. But take in the swept-back silhouette of a high-speed yacht, and it’s clear this is the stunner of the line-up. It felt right at home cruising through the gold-hued hills of Napa Valley for our press junket, passing by the jet-black Mercedes S-Classes and the occasional Bentley in Yontsville (where BMW engorged and pampered journalists with a dinner at French Laundry). The raked greenhouse does cut into rear headroom compared to a standard 3, but the mild compromise is worth the aesthetic payoff. Moreover, it drives like the two-door coupe instead of the emotionally detached sedan. The venerable 3-Series saloon has gotten soft over the years, like a long-time boxing champ starting to take it easy in training. It’s to the point where a Cadillac trumps it as the better driver’s car with the ATS. The 3-Series GT is even less engaging. Fortunately, the 4-Series Coupe addressed much of those wrongs, even if the mechanical differences between the sedan are minor; the ride height is lower, suspension geometry is tweaked, and it uses the same electronic-power steering system. Yet the coupe has a livelier steering and chassis, and communicates the changes in grip more clearly. Since the 4 Series Gran Coupe is more closely related to the 4-Series Coupe (the front clip is the same), it retains all the laudable dynamics of the two-door. The only exception is the xDrive trim, which although feels snappier upon corner exit, loses a lot of the tactile feel of the RWD 428i and 435i.

  • 2015 Jaguar F-Type S Coupe review: When a V-6 is more desirable than a V-8

    Aki Sugawara at Yahoo Autos 3 mths ago

    Usually it’s unthinkable to spring for a V-6 over a V-8, like preferring the Jar-Jar-infested Star Wars prequels to the original trilogy. In the pony-car world, you’re driving grandma’s Mustang if you settle for anything less than a 302. I can’t remember the last time I preferred six cylinders over eight with any car — that is, until Jaguar dropped off a V6 supercharged Jaguar F-Type S Coupe at Yahoo’s doorstep. That’s not dismissing the superlative V-8 version; the supercharged 5.0 burbles, howls, and pops with unbridled aggression, and hits 60 mph from a stop in a scant 4 seconds. Yet the V-6 feels more balanced weight-wise, with a power band that’s more reasonable for driving without brazenly breaking the law at the touch of the throttle — and yet is only 0.8 seconds slower to 60 mph. Although it “only” makes 380 horses in S trim, it’s lively yet composed at the same time, with the same snappy eight-speed ZF transmission as its burlier counterpart. The 19 city / 27 highway mpg is roughly 20 percent more fuel efficient than the R trim, making it a more practical option. Plus, there’s a nostalgic throwback with the exhaust; like the E-Type, the exhaust tips poke out of the center,...

  • 5 reasons why Tesla's new Autopilot could change driving for good

    Aki Sugawara at Yahoo Autos 4 mths ago

    With the Google self-driving caron the horizon and even Hyundai stepping into the autonomous game with the 2015 Genesis, Tesla’s Autopilot feature on the Model S, announced last night, may sound like yesterday’s news. But it’s a potential game changer—and here’s why. 1. It’s in production, not a distant concept. All major automakers know autonomous driving is destined to come. But whereas Audi’s self-parking tech announced at CES this year still isn’t out yet, Tesla’s Autopilot tech will be hitting the streets this December. Mercedes-Benz comes close to self-driving with its Intelligent Drive, but much of the tech only works above 30 mph, and the system disables if the driver's hands are off the wheel for too long. To be fair, that’s not necessarily because the other luxury automakers are slower: Europe has strict regulations on self-driving, whereas the United States has been a bit more ready to experiment. 2. Ultrasonic sonar gives 360 degrees of coverage. The avoidance/detection systems out today, be it Subaru’s camera-based EyeSight, or Audi’s bumper-mounted radar sensors primarily cover the front and rear. Holes in coverage mean the car never has a complete grasp on its surroundings—which isn’t confidence inspiring for autopiloted driving. 3. Cameras, radar, or sonar — the answer? Yes. Whereas other automakers will sell you the virtues of one or maybe two types of detection/avoidance technology, Tesla just integrates them all. For long-range detection and avoidance, it uses radar; to recognize pedestrians and speed limit signs it uses a camera; for any other objects close by it relies on the 360-degree sonar. Plus, that elaborate suite of tech wizardry is nicely hidden, and you don’t notice them sitting inside. 4. Self-parking — and starting. Similar to Audi’s parking tech, the Tesla can parallel park on its own, or even pull into the garage by itself. What’s crazier is that you can set on a calendar to have the Tesla pull up to you at a specified time, with the AC keeping the cabin cooled. Unfortunately, this won’t work if your Tesla is plugged in, but Elon Musk sprung a surprise on the engineers at the unveiling, saying he’d want them self-charging, too. 5. Execution. At least in our closed course on the airstrip, the Tesla performed smoothly, to the point where you’d think a seasoned chauffeur was behind the wheel. Granted, we may see hiccups in Tesla’s system in the real world – lane-keeping systems tend to have trouble with wider interstate lanes, whether it’s a Honda or Porsche.

  • Tesla reveals 691-hp AWD Model S with autopilot, its most powerful model yet

    Aki Sugawara at Motoramic 4 mths ago

    As predicted, Tesla unveiled a new version of the Model S sedan tonight, featuring an additional motor up front to make it a 691-horsepower all-wheel-drive rocket — and one of the fastest sedans on the planet.

    Tesla says the new Model S P85D can hit 60 mph in 3.2 seconds — just slightly slower than the 2015 Dodge Charger Hellcat — and has a range of 275 miles on a full charge, 10 more than before, thanks to being able to recapture more energy from the front wheels. "This car is nuts," said Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk, addressing a massive throng of Tesla owners at Hawthorne Municipal Aiport in Los Angeles, Calif. "It's like having your own roller coaster."

  • 2015 Honda CR-V review: Staying at the top of the game

    Aki Sugawara at Motoramic 5 mths ago

    Even though the Honda CR-V lacks seductive lines and even nuances of excitement, it’s one of my favorite crossover SUVs. Sure, it lacks the agility of the CX-5, or cabin refinement of a Ford Escape; but the engine, chassis and suspension are dialed in to velvet-smooth satisfaction. Top that with everyday practicality, and it’s one of the highlights of Honda’s lineup. Sales figures show that I’m not alone with that sentiment, and it has consistently been the top seller in the segment in spite of the stiffening competition. Escape sales have been creeping closer to the CR-V, even if it’s no immediate threat in taking the sales crown. Yet Honda has recently been aggressive with its mid-cycle refreshes, starting with the 2013 Honda Civic, and when the company invited me to drive the updated 2015 CR-V, it promised a “major minor refresh.” Getting behind the wheel, I didn’t feel a big change, but the biggest improvement was something that didn’t show in the half-day press drive. The highlight of this reworked compact crossover is its 2.4-liter directed-injected four-cylinder, which at first glance isn’t newsworthy considering it makes the same 185 hp as last year’s model. The peak power comes lower though, at 6,400 rpm versus 7,000 rpm, and max torque increases by 18 ft-lb to 181. It’s paired with a “sporty” CVT, which only reveals its true colors when you floor the ute and hear that slurry drone as it hangs in the higher revs. That said, the engine is quieter, a bit more responsive, and the “shifts” are quicker than the old five-speed automatic.