Posts by Brett Berk
Brett Berk at Motoramic 1 mth ago
Spin-offs always seem like sure things right until they're not. Baby Boomer nostalgia pap "Happy Days" was itself spun from "Love, American Style," and begat the successful "Mork and Mindy ," along with the less-than-beloved "Joanie Loves Chachi" and entirely forgotten "Blansky's Beauties." What is the opposite of “Ayyyyyyyyyy!”?
No better example exists of this phenomenon in cars than Mercedes-Benz' second coming of the storied Maybach ultra-luxury brand in 2002. Bloated, baroque, and brazen as a mobster’s master bath, its opulent but outdated product was meant to sell 2,000 editions per year. Instead, it sold about 3,000 — in nine years. No one mourned its passing, least of all Bentley and Rolls-Royce, who were happy to Hoover up its market share. (Rolls sales have quadrupled since 2009.)
After this humiliation, Mercedes vowed never to make another Chachi.
All over New York — and other upscale megalopoli like London and Vancouver — slender residential glass towers sprout, like some pernicious invasive reed. Each one touted as an order of magnitude more expensive than its predecessor, the apartments these buildings contain are outfitted with features so exclusive, the ordinary consumer will not even recognize their significance: book-matched Croatian walnut travertine, hand-polished Ecuadoran bocote, Grand Palais enamel ranges.
They are also empty. Generally devoid of permanent residents, these buildings and the apartments they contain act as transitory housing — pieds-a-terre — for the global one percent, who light upon their $50 million dwellings when the mood or season suits.
This isn’t surprising, because it shares a good deal of its aluminum sub-frame/mid-front engined/rear transaxled underpinnings with that previous model. Though we imagined it in our minds as much smaller and lighter, it also shares much of that outgoing model’s horizontal and gravitational dimensions, coming in at just 3.5 inches shorter and 175 lbs lighter the SLS—that means about 15 feet and 3,500 lbs.
There has long been a functional link between luxurious hotels and fine transportation. Back in the late 19 th century, when train tracks were being laid to link up America’s manifest destinations, the railway companies would often build posh accommodations near the stations at which their locomotives stopped. In order to ferry passengers from one to another, they often maintained a fleet of horse-drawn vehicles — vehicles that came to be known as “station wagons.”
Once the automobile came to prominence in the 20 th century, hotels advanced as well. Factory-built station wagons, often with hardwood frames and bodies, became the norm in shuttle transport, with Ford dominating the market with its Model A Wagon.
This is no simple process. He scours the countryside, consults maps, scans Google Earth, and trawls online motorcycle forums (“Those guys know the best roads.”) Since the pathway is more important than the destination, he has an advantage over other location scouts. “I look for a great road that doesn’t go anywhere,” he tells us. “If you find a road that has no destination attached, chances are there won’t be other people on it.”
Porsche is currently the only company in North America to offer a rear-engine, rear wheel-drive car (let's debate the Smart Fortwo later). It is also the only sport/luxury manufacturer to offer a trio of plug-in hybrids in its current lineup — the Panamera, Cayenne, and 918. And it is (subjectively) the only brand to successfully deliver exquisite road feel with an electrically assisted system. So it should come as no surprise that the stalwarts from Stuttgart should scythe their own path toward an autonomous future.
In fact, the engineers working on this pre-production system, known internally as InnoDrive, insist that it isn’t self-driving at all, maintaining that an autonomous system must relieve the driver of making decisions in either the longitudinal or latitudinal dimension. Not to get all semantic, but here we quibble. Porsche’s system — which we experienced in a hacked first-generation Panamera Turbo — seemingly controls travel in forward motion, and quite effectively and efficiently we might add.
In Germany, as elsewhere in the world, pet parakeets occasionally escape (or are “liberated”) from their cages or from importation quarantine pens. These tropical birds should not be able to survive in the harsh winter, and with their foreign upbringing and acid-green plumage should make excellent prey for local predators. However, somehow, they’ve not only survived, but thrived. On the grounds of a riverfront castle we visited southwest of Frankfurt, flocks of them flapped, squawked, and clustered in the sycamore trees like one of Tippi Hedren’s more vibrant PTSD flashbacks. Anyone who thinks something this colorful cannot be menacing has not spent long enough in the company of clowns. We stood amidst this avian plague in a break from driving the Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid and it occurred to us that the new vehicle — the third plug-in hybrid in the manufacturer’s ever expanding range — was very similar to the feral parrots. It behaves in a way that it shouldn’t, but it succeeds. Also, it has acid-green brake calipers. For those unfamiliar with the mutating nature of the Cayenne lineup, the $76,400 S E-Hybrid slots in, in terms of price, right around that of the $74,100 Cayenne S, meaning that it stickers above the $61,700 Diesel but below the $113,600 Turbo. Interestingly enough, the same pattern follows for performance, with the Diesel at the bottom (0-60 mph in 7.2 seconds), the Turbo at the top (0-60 in 4.2), and the S and SE-Hybrid duking it out between, racing to 60 in a very respectable 5.2 and 5.4 respectively. The Hybrid thus earns the “S” designation in its name. The way it gets to these specs, while delivering (projected) fuel economy that beats the pants off all of its siblings — think combined EPA ratings about 30-percent better than the Cayenne S and 15-percent better than the diesel — is what makes it such an, ahem, odd bird.
As we moved past the insertion station for the acid green-callipered carbon-ceramic brakes at the Porsche 918 assembly plant in Stuttgart, the strains of The Human League’s 1981 hit “Don’t You Want Me” played tinnily from the in-car stereo of one of the partially assembled hyper-cars. This was fitting — not just because of the of the numerological confluence of the date of the tune’s release (all 9s, 1s, and 8s), or because of the fact that we were in a car factory so quiet that the synthetic strains of new wave could be heard readily from a vehicle on the assembly line — but because the answer to the song’s titular question was a resounding Yes!
The dearness of the parts from which the 918 is built is another factor. Everything has been optimized for light weight, tensile strength, and ultimate performance so great care must be taken not to cause damage — nothing scratched will readily buff out. The basic materials costs for a 918 are higher than the retail price of a 911 Turbo. The hand-cut stainless steel exhaust surround on the car’s deck is more expensive than the entire painted body of a Panamera.
When creating a sequel to a blockbuster movie, it is in the producer’s best interest to create a plot, and populate the cast with actors that do not stray too far from the original. Boyishly handsome shrinking violet/subverted rage monster Tobey Maguire is to boyishly handsome shrinking violet/subverted rage monster Andrew Garfield as Doc Ock is to that pulsing cerulean-zombie thing played by Jamie Foxx. Familiarity breeds compensation.
So it is with Rolls-Royce and the follow-up to its hit Ghost sedan. Before the invention of this “entry level” ne plus ultra -luxury cruiser in 2009, the venerable double-R brand was selling just over 1,000 cars a year worldwide, and losing lustre. This year, based in no small part on the success of the Ghost—and its more sporting two-door sort-of variant, the Wraith — it's soaring toward the 4,000-car mark. Spectre breeds specie?
Disclosure: For this article, the writer’s transportation, meals and lodging costs were paid for by one or more subjects of the article. Yahoo does not promise to publish any stories or provide coverage to any individual or entity that paid for some or all of the costs of any of our writers to attend an event.
At first blush, the idea of a four-door Audi TT seems about as likely and useful as a pair of four-legged pants. But if you consider the compulsive proliferation of models spawned from the MQB platform that undergrids the new, less Bauhausian Audi two door two-plus-two seater — starting with the VW Golf and spiraling out from there, almost virally — it almost makes sense. It would be best to think of this nearly foot stretched iteration of one of Audi's formerly most iconic vehicles as a kind of A7-ization — a handsome, stylized, slant hatched version of a staid sedan. Except that the TT is already handsomely slant-hatched, and a coupe, and is already known for style — that is, as they say here in Paris, it's raison d'être . At what point does adding style to style approach platinum-plating a gold ring? Not here, at least not yet. Because the resultant concept is both sporting and attractive, and more practical — a hat trick of sorts (don't try to wear a hat in the back seat, which now represents more than two-plus-two but not quite four. Is two-plus-two-point-two-five a thing? ) Also, it apparently has a 400-hp version of the ubiquitous VW 2.0 liter...
Brett Berk at Motoramic 6 mths ago
Around 100 years ago, as automobile ownership democratized and the number of automakers proliferated, so did the range of be-wheeled product available to consumers. In this growing marketplace, an outrageously broad selection of body styles was offered, including such fanciful categories as Runabouts, Silhouette Broughams, Closed Coupled Sedans, Cabriolets, Town Cars, Speed Wagons, Limousines, Touring Cars, Semi-Touring Cars, Toursedans, and even something called an Extra Special.
All trends are cyclical. About a decade ago, Mercedes-Benz decided to revive this mania, unleashing upon the world the handsome, if slightly aardvark-shaped, CLS sedan, which it brazenly christened a “four-door coupe."
Ten years into this cubist diffraction of the marketplace, we fully expected Mercedes to raise the bar with a crew-cab short-bed S-Class coupe-amino, or a hardtop convertible Sprinter van. Instead, they’ve given us a mid-cycle refresh of their second generation CLS.
Brett Berk at Motoramic 6 mths ago
It's been four years since anyone could write a sentence that began "This is the new Volvo...," but: This is the new Volvo XC90 — a luxury SUV that launches an $11 billion reinvention plan for the Swedish automaker. And after seeing it from all angles at the launch in Stockholm, it looks like Volvo may have a chance to become relevant again.
The XC90 was last updated 12 years ago, or two lifetimes in the world of contemporary automobiles. But Volvo is somewhat deserving of a reprieve—the Swedish manufacturer was orphaned by Ford during the carpocalypse of 2008 and then picked up by the China's Geely in 2010, causing a lag in product development. It’s not that shocking that the marque’s flagship XC90 crossover has been on the market for just about the entirety of the 21 st century. Also, long life cycles could realistically be invoked as part of the brand’s heritage; the 240 was sold in the United States for nearly 20 years.