Posts by Lawrence Ulrich

  • Driving the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R, the grown-ups Evo

    Lawrence Ulrich at Motoramic 1 mth ago

    If the Volkswagen GTI has been one of America’s best cult cars, then its Golf R and R32 offshoots have been the cult-within-a-cult. These are cars for a wafer-thin slice of the population willing to drop $35,000 and more on a hot hatchback with performance cranked to boiling point. The problem is that, while previous editions of these uber-Golfs have been a blast, they weren’t always blast-y enough to justify spending several thousand dollars beyond the already excellent GTI. The 2015 Golf R changes all that. First, the redesigned, seventh-generation Golf makes an ideal building block for high performance. The Golf GTI captured our 2015 Yahoo Autos Car of the Year award, and both Motor Trend and North American Car of the Year followed suit handing out their trophies to the Golf family a short while later. This hyper-engineered German machine shares its luxury-level platform with the Audi A3 and S3 sedans and upcoming TT sports car. Yet a Golf is affordable, fun and comes in multiple great versions: A gasoline Golf TSI for $18,995 to start; a fuel-frugal TDI diesel at $21,995, and the 210-horsepower GTI at $25,215, with a fully optioned GTI sneaking past $30,000. The all-wheel-drive Golf R is the fourth and most luxurious flavor, a spicy, caviar-topped morsel that’s the fastest Golf in history: A smoking 4.9-second trip to 60 mph and a 155-mph top speed, with 292 horses from an amped-up version of the GTI’s 2.0-liter turbo four. Just don’t choke on the price: $37,415 to start, equipped with the brilliant six-speed, dual-clutch DSG automated gearbox. Where the previous Golf R couldn’t be had with a manual transmission, this 2015 model will lure enthusiasts with an optional stick in the coming months, saving roughly $1,100 in the process. And what a manual: Light, buttery and perfectly mated to a sensitive clutch, it feels as good as any Porsche stick. On our test drive from San Diego to Julian, California – torching the Cleveland National Forest on some of the most adrenaline-pumping roads in the continental U.S. – the stick-and-clutch version proved notably more engaging than the automatic DSG model.

  • 2015 Toyota Sienna review: The family hauler at the head of the class

    Lawrence Ulrich at Motoramic 5 mths ago

    Ah, the minivan. The butt of jokes, the emblem of suburban surrender. This once-proud hauler has been overlooked in the rush to crossover SUVs.

    Yet minivan sales have roughly stabilized after years of decline. Joke all you want, but the minivan remains a smarter and more-efficient way to transport parents and their juice-boxing progeny than most any SUV.

    Toyota has dealt with the issue head-on, with clever ads in which families defiantly reject minivan stereotypes to declare their Sienna the “Swagger Wagon” instead. While the actual swagger quotient might be debatable, one thing is not: In a class invented by Chrysler, and lately ruled by the Honda Odyssey, the Toyota Sienna has grown into a prime contender.

    Under the skin, 142 new spot welds beef up the Sienna’s structure to reduce noise and vibration. Retuned springs and shock absorbers help quiet the ride and deliver more sure-footed control.

  • 2015 Toyota Yaris review: The soft bigotry of low expectations

    Lawrence Ulrich at Motoramic 5 mths ago

    Somewhere, deep inside the Toyota Yaris, there’s a really good car trying to get out.

    Toyota’s scrunchy subcompact hatchback is great at pinching pennies. It enjoys some of the lowest total ownership costs — counting payments, fuel, maintenance, insurance and so on — of any automobile.

    Subtly restyled by Toyota’s European studios and built in France, the 2015 Yaris looks a bit more polished and less utilitarian in either three- or five-door configurations. It’s stiffer, quieter and less Spartan than before, and positively stuffed with safety features for a budget hatch that starts at $15,670.

    Best of all, the Yaris has seriously underrated handling. Lightweight and eager, it’s got the right-now steering response that’s often been missing in Toyota’s lineup.

    But that’s about all the love I can muster for the Yaris.

    Those transmissions are partly responsible for mediocre fuel economy ratings of 30/36 mpg in city and highway for automatic models, with manuals doing 1 mpg better on the highway. The Honda, for one, manages 33/41 mpg with its fuel-saving, continuously variable automatic transmission.

  • Driving — and enjoying — the 2015 Toyota Camry, America's favorite car

    Lawrence Ulrich at Motoramic 6 mths ago

    For America’s favorite car, the Toyota Camry gets more than its share of left-handed compliments, if not outright face slaps.

    Yes, the Camry has been the nation’s best-selling car for 12 straight years, with a 13 th title in its sights. But to people who crave a personality in their family sedan, the Camry has long been overshadowed by its sharper-driving nemesis, the Honda Accord — along with rivals including the Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima, Mazda6 and Volkswagen Passat. Hell, just about everyfamily car comes off sportier or sexier than a Camry.

    Fortunately, there’s also a V-6, the familiar 3.5-liter with 268 horses and 248 lb-ft of torque, available only in XSE and XLE grades.

  • Crossing 660 miles of the Continental Divide in Range Rovers fresh off the lot

    Lawrence Ulrich at Motoramic 6 mths ago

    From London to L.A., the Range Rover’s natural habitat might appear to be swanky boutiques and five-star hotels. But Land Rover likes to remind us city slickers that its proper, six-figure SUV can still get down and dirty like a backwoods moonshiner. We took a long pull of that adventure on The Great Divide Expedition, tackling a grueling 660-mile route along Colorado’s Continental Divide in a caravan of bone-stock Range Rovers. If it’s been a while since your last geography class, the Continental (or Great) Divide spans the length of the Rockies and Andes Mountains, from the westernmost tip of Alaska to the southern tip of South America. On the west side of the divide, watersheds all flow toward the Pacific; to the east, every drop of water flows to the Atlantic. The trip followed portions of Rover’s similarly epic Old West journey in 1989, not long after introducing its original Range Rover to America. (We Yanks had long been denied that Range Rover, which helped pioneer the luxury SUV beginning in 1970 in England and international markets).    Today’s prospectors do need to strike it rich; the 2015 Range Rover starts around $85,000 and peaks at just over $185,000 for the SC Autobiography Black edition. But where Great Divide aptly describes most luxury SUVs – they’re good at one thing, but not the other – the Rover straddles two worlds like nothing in its class. It’s ridiculously more capable than city-only softies like the Cadillac Escalade; yet more luxurious, comfy and sharper handling than military-based clods like the Mercedes G-Class or the defunct Hummer.   That versatility was spotlighted when our Rover convoy departed the hip Beaumont Hotel in Aspen and began climbing the high-altitude passes of the Rocky Mountains. Goodbye to single-batch bourbon, plush beds and flush toilets; hello to boulders, freezing tents and facilities marked by, well, the nearest tree. Our Rovers’ aluminum hoods were adorned with a map of the route from Denver to Telluride, created over months of planning and scouting. Stick to paved highways, and you can knock off that 330-mile run in six hours. Our route, which included 19th-century stagecoach and wagon paths and cliff-hung mining roads laid during Colorado’s gold and silver booms, takes seven days and covers twice the distance.

  • Maserati makes grand plans for revival at its 100th birthday party

    Lawrence Ulrich at Motoramic 7 mths ago

    Slip-sliding around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with Derek Hill in the world’s last Maserati Tipo 151 – a vintage honey that tore through LeMans in the early ‘60s – it’s possible to imagine that Maserati’s glory days were all in the past.

    But seeing the alluring Alfieri concept car unveiled for North America, it’s clear that Maserati has more in mind than being a nostalgia act.

    At the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance – the world’s most prestigious vintage race and classic car show – Maserati finds itself in a historically high gear. Celebrating its 100 th anniversary, the brand was the Honored Marque at both the 64 th annual Pebble Beach event; and the Motorsports Reunion that put a century’s worth of historic race cars through their ripping, romantic paces around Laguna Seca – rather than sitting in a dusty museum.

    For Maserati, those included Faberge-rare Grand Prix or Formula One cars such as the 1939 4CL, 250F’s from the late ‘50s, and a 1960 Tipo (or “Type”) 61.

    Damn — that close.

  • Driving the 2015 Aston Martin Vanquish and Rapide S: Same velvet, more hammer

    Lawrence Ulrich at Motoramic 7 mths ago

    We know that Aston Martin owners are knee-deep in wealth. But now the British carmaker is flush with cash – and it’s beginning to show in cars like the Vanquish and Rapide S.

    Patrolling the Scottish Highlands, the $287,820 Vanquish coupe and $207,820, four-door Rapide S blaze a high-velocity trail on some of Europe’s most spectacular roads. They also show Aston at perhaps the most critical juncture in its history. For 2015, these beauties are faster and stronger, soaring beyond 200 mph. A key to unlock that performance is a new, brilliantly tuned ZF eight-speed transmission that amplifies the power and glory of their 5.9-liter V-12 engine.

     

    “As a small, independent company, that access to technology is vital to us,” said Marek Reichman, Aston’s director of design.

    “We’ve got more investment now than at any time in the past 101 years,” Reichman says.

    Both models also benefit from a reprogrammed adaptive suspension with a noticeably wider range of sensation and control between Comfort and Sport settings.

     

  • Driving the 2015 Lincoln MKC, the fashionably late small SUV

    Lawrence Ulrich at Motoramic 9 mths ago

    Like a certain bearded president, Lincoln has had a rough time of late in the Ford Theater.

    Ford’s once-presidential luxury brand has struggled for sales and relevance. For decades, Ford has played the cold-and-withholding parent: It has failed to grant Lincoln its rightful inheritance, including stand-alone vehicle platforms that could help Lincoln compete against healthier luxury brands.

    But one obstacle to Lincoln’s comeback is that its competitors started down this trail years ago. In Santa Barbara for media drives of the 2015 MKC, Lincoln executives noted how the compact luxury SUV market has grown six-fold in recent years, but didn’t dwell on the fact that Lincoln has had no entry.

    Better late than never, we tested the MKC from the Pacific shores of Santa Barbara to soaring, desolate California canyons. Our test began with the stronger of two turbocharged four-cylinder engines: Ford’s latest Ecoboost, a 2.3-liter, makes its debut in the MKC. All eyes are on this engine, but not for reasons Lincoln might prefer: The 2015 Ford Mustang will offer a pumped-up version of this Ecoboost with roughly 305 hp

  • Peeling out at Octane Academy, the free driving school for Ford ST owners

    Lawrence Ulrich at Motoramic 11 mths ago

    Buyers of Ferraris or Jaguars are used to perks from manufacturers – including racetrack lessons to help master their exotic machines. But for enthusiasts on a tighter budget, the Ford ST Octane Academy  might be the sweetest deal in motoring: Buy a Ford Fiesta ST or Focus ST hatchback, and the reward is a free day of training at one of America’s longest, most-lavish road courses.

    The ST Octane Academy is up and revving at Miller Motorsports Park near Park City, Utah, the $85 million, 511-acre playground created by the late Larry Miller, the owner of the Utah Jazz, auto dealership mogul and vintage car collector.

    Opened in 2006, Miller Motorsports has been ground zero for Ford driver training, including extreme off-roading  in Ford’s near-insane Raptor pickup. Miller’s Boss Track Attack program also highlights the famous loyalty of Mustang fans: 22 percent of people who bought a Boss 302 Mustang, or more than 1,500 students, have made the pilgrimage to Utah to put the Boss through its paces.

  • Taking Mini's Dakar-winning rally car for a dune-jumping ride

    Lawrence Ulrich at Motoramic 1 yr ago

    Who you calling cute?

    Since its hugely successful revival by BMW, the Mini has rightly been known for its pint-sized urban charm. But there’s always been another side of the Mini: More macho than any Mustang, as invincible as a military off-roader.

    The Mini’s rally-racing skills catapulted it to worldwide fame 50 years ago, when the British underdog won the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally. Led by Formula One race builder John Cooper, Mini’s win cemented its image as a cool, sporty machine — not merely a cheap, fuel-sipping economy car. Even the Beatles sent congratulations, and the Fab Four would soon drive their own Minis, including George’s psychedelic-painted version in 1967’s “Magical Mystery Tour.”

    Dakar remains perhaps the most monumental challenge in motorsports, a grueling two-week test of man and machine versus nature. And the coolest thing? I’m about to drive the Mini that bested all comers, a $1.2 million fantasy of carbon fiber, welded steel and diesel grunt.