By Joel Levin
New Jersey Newspaper Group JL@NJNewsGroup.com
2012 performance-oriented cars: so many ways to buy right
If you doubt that we’re in another golden age of automobiledom, this sampling of the new crop of performance-oriented autos will challenge those doubts. It sure makes us wish for the return of another golden age though, the age of $2 gas.
With the seeming unstoppable march of ever-stingier mileage requirements, the 2012 class of fossil-fuel-burners could herald the middle of the end of conveyances that look and sound the way these do. So hurry and grab one now and have something to tell your grandchildren about.
In no particular order, here are brief reports on some of the 2012 model year’s finest. They are all drivers’ cars for men and women who appreciate power and handling. Try them all on and see which personality best meshes with yours and which seat best fits your seat.
Chrysler 300C SRT 8 When the new 300 series was introduced for 2005, following the extremes of Chrysler’s “cabin forward” designs, it was like a big hard punch to sublety of expression. The simple bulk of unrelieved slab sides, high gunwhales, and just plain mass comprised the new motif thrust upon consumers. But consumers embraced the horizontal refrigerator look bigtime, an easy –but immodest – way to say “size is everything.”
The two-oh-one-two 300 gets a slimmer torso, new headlight treatment, and a few angles of less than 90 degrees. The interior has been improved, too. A powerful base V-6 will satisfy the urge for urge in most buyers, but in the model we tested, the SRT 8, a big honkin’ hemi-head 6.4-liter V-8 was transformative.
Buy it for the quickness at all speeds, buy it for its dragstrip 4.5-second 0-60 time, buy it for the tamed animal roar of the engine. Buy it for its better-than-decent handling in what looks like an overweight package.
It’s rough on full-power upshifts, but that glorious duet of engine snarl and exhaust note can help distract you from the outdated transmission, a five-speed shiftable automatic. Lower-powered models get an eight-speed; the SRT 8 is expected to have one in maybe a year. Base price of the SRT including delivery is about $50K, but plan on dropping a well-spent five grand more on helpful electronic assists. The Feds estimate 16/25 mpg.
Dodge Charger SRT 8 looks smaller but is really a 300 wearing a more casual, more evil-looking suit. Performance is similar to that of the 300 SRT 8.
BMW Z4 sDrive 28i convertible The news about this test car is that it had the new 2.8 liter four-cylinder making 240hp and 260lb ft of torque.
I’m guessing that the company has reverted to an available 4 to boost its corporate mpg, but this motor performs better than last year’s base 6 and has more torque which comes in at much lower revs. That translates to more passing power on tap at lower road speeds, and less need to shift.
For the incurably power-hungry, two 3.5-liter six-cylinder models are available, from $6K to $15K more. The 35i yields 300 hp; the 35is 335 hp.
This is the traditional luxuriously-appointed rear-wheel-drive 2-seat sports car with a long hood symbolizing power. Ours had mellow yellow paint and an outrageous interior of high-contrast yellow-and-black leather and suede, drawing “yellow jacket” and “bumblebee” comments from pedestrians. Not for conservative dressers.
Underway, it made nice sounds from the super-smooth engine, but even with the $3900 M Sport option, drove more like a GT than an all-out sports car. Mind you that we’re comparing this with the best of Bavarian offerings; it’s still a very comportable ride and not an all-out softy. For twice the price of a Miata, you get much more oomph, creature coddling, and a big trunk. Its price is close to 50 big ones, with ours carrying another 9K worth of options.
BMW 1 Series M Wow, wow, wow! Here we have an enthusiast’s car with a capital M: supercar performance in a compact four-seat coupe where no one has to contort nor compromise to use those grippy seats. The twin-turbocharged straight-six pumps out 335 horses.
This M is a purpose-built car, and being a BMW, it’s made to turn and stop, and not just go fast in a straight line. Through some Bavarian ergonomic magic, driver and auto have a connection as deep and intimate as that of Timmie and Lassie, a rare thing. The Lotus in this article provides a similar symbiosis wherein pilot can make vehicle follow every command crisply.
Its flared wheel arches distinguish it from the less-potent plain-vanilla 135. With tough coupe styling rather than traditional sportscar looks, it is every bit a sports car. Its raison d’etre is speed but it has a permanent hard top, a usable back seat, and space for luggage.
It has the charming character trait of feeling like a wild animal on a leash, eager to bite through the restraint and take off. And this 1M possesses the world’s absolute best manual shifter with perfect weighting, buffering, and slick precision. Try it and you – as a friend of mine did – will exclaim “Now I get BMW.”
Corvette Grand Sport Centennial Edition convertible Here’s the latest Vette to carry the Grand Sport name, a designation originally earned by the limited run of cars built as Cobra killers in the ‘60s.
The Centennial model goes one up on the straight GS, with special trim denoting Chevrolet’s 100th anniversary. The embellishments don’t make it go faster, but compared with the base Corvette, you get uprated shocks, springs, wheels, etc. The run-flat tires are so wide, the stability and handling are like riding on rubber steamroller cylinders.
Priced from $50-60 K, you have a 430-hp machine that will hit 60 in under four seconds and top out at 190. The point of all this is not where you can go that fast (your ranch in South Dakota?), but how terrific it feels at more earthbound speeds at a fraction the cost and complexity of the rarefied Italian cars whose names all end in “i.”
It’s practical, too: you can get your Vette repaired at thousands of dealers and shops around the US and around the world.
The GS convertible goes upwards of $60K; the removable-top coupe starts at $56K. That’s not much for a comfy ultra-performance luxurious sports car that gets 26 mpg highway.
Lotus Evora S Just the sound of the name evokes the glory of tiny, flyweight sports racers and Formula cars of the ’60s and ’70s. The late patriarch Colin Chapman reveled in showing nonbelievers that a car didn’t have to be a bloated Buick to “hug the road;” smart chassis design and lightweight materials (fiberglass, aluminum, glue instead of rivets, etc.) gave racing Loti a string of international wins.
For more than four decades, Lotus has also been a micromanufacturer of distinctive, sometimes masochistic, seriously sporting passenger cars all beginning with the letter “E.” Elan, Esprit, and Eclat led to Elise, Exige, Evora, and Etende. The one name we’ll never see is “Enormous,” although the line (five new models by 2013) is growing in size and weight and creature comforts.
Like Sara Lee, nobody doesn’t like the unique mid-engine-dictated profile of the Evora. Until the advent of this model, Lotus fans had to strap on an Elise or Exige. The Elise, its nearest progenitor, is a roller skate with a roof when compared with the longer, wider Evora, but Evorans actually have wiggle room and a useful range of seat adjustment in the new model, thanks to the added inches. Having a shoe width greater than D, though, requires some fancy footwork on the pedals.
Speaking of size, if you have a convince a recalcitrant spouse of the need for an $80,000 toy, opt for the 2+2 version and just explain that the included back seat will hold two nine-year-olds and that the trunk has a 6-cubic-foot capacity. Minus the kids, the space behind the front seats s 23 cubic feet, making packing for weekend excursions quite feasible. Oh yeah, to appeal to your partner’s frugality, claim that you want one for its highway mpg rating of 26 mpg.
Not so frugal? There's a tempting list of safety, cosmetic, entertainment, tire/wheel, etc. options.
Lotus has always specked engines from other manufacturers and tweaked them. It’s been a good strategy. To keep costs down, the company has powered The S with a highly-tuned Camry engine. The base model’s 276 horsepower gets a big bump-up in the S and a sportier soundtrack from the addition of a supercharger, giving the S-car 345 very potent but manageable hp.
The Evora, evolved from the Elise, adds length, and width, and now stands proudly at a full four feet. Most importantly, the Evora has grown 10 inches in wheelbase (the distance between front and rear axles) and has a wider track, or stance (the right-to-left space between wheels on the same axle). Both parameters contribute to legendary Lotus surefootedness.
This larger footprint produces a more secure-feeling ride while still yielding world-class handling and showing its racing roots. It’s not twitchy or pitchy, but it’s responsive. Bottom line: You’ll never get scared in real-world driving, but, – please, only if you know what you’re doing – you can slide it around and scare your uninitiated passenger.
The 0-60 time of 4.3 seconds and top speed of 172 place the Evora S in Corvette and 911 territory, so how does one choose? The Vette is a big, rumbling thing and feels fabulous. Porsches are for Porschefiles. The Lotus feels more like a loud fine watch and your neighbors will not have one unless your garage has a racetrack address. You can’t beat Lotus for distinction.
Porsche Cayman R I don’t want to go into the ubercar company’s marketing pros’ reasons for giving their 911, Boxster, and Cayman such similar performance characteristics, but I will say that a Cayman buyer is one who has thoughtfully evaluated all those choices. By doing so, he or she risks having the snarky neighbors think it’s a matter of not understanding or not being able to afford a “proper” 911.
This buyer might prefer the security of having an engine mounted amidships instead of hanging out the rear. Instinctually, that choice offers more peace of mind, especially when recalling the tales of older 911s following their tails and spinning out in inconvenient locales.
911s have earned their following honestly, but the above buyer with a finely-tuned seat of the pants will simply prefer the leaner, quicker feel of the Cayman.
The one I tested was the Cayman R, with ten more horsepower than the sans-suffix car, and some weight-saving mods, including pull-straps in place of solid door handles.
Jaguar XK-R If you like your performance to come packed in elegant leather, aluminium, and lots of chromium, you won’t go wrong with this quick cat. The engine whispurrs at low speeds, but sings a fabulous mellow baritone when hustling. It’s positively addictive. The ride is smooth and forgiving, and if you must bring down speed quickly, the brakes are astounding.
Cadillac CTS-V coupe, sedan, and wagon Nine years ago, Cadillac took the bold step of re-identifying its lineup to emphasize performance and sharp-edged looks. When they stuffed the engine bay of the CTS-V model with a Corvette engine, their world changed. Your world will change, too, if you’re fortunate enough to house one in your garage.
The chassis has been strengthened in all the right places, shocks and spring rates retuned, and all the right stuff was done. The result, full-size vehicles for full-size people who want the family car that can go a couple of ticks faster(!) than a Corvette.
This is no joke. The V-line is no one’s father’s Cadillac. It’s today. The serious, race-style seating, the instruments, and the crouching-tiger attitude bespeak real performance. Your father’s and grandfather’s mushmobile is no longer a wallowing turnpike cruiser; it’s now a contender. Actually, it’s a classy winner of its class.
Best of all, you can choose among a sedan, an eye-turning coupe, and the wolf-in-sheep’s-skin wagon. Now, that last one will fool the fuzz. 556 supercharged Corvette-bred horses in a vehicle that can carry all your landscaping tools and fleamarket booty. The series’ pricing starts at about 60K. Caddy can again call itself “the standard of the world.”
The nicest surprise: In addition to the expected six-speed auto trans, the V line is available in an honest-to-goodness six-speed manual transmission. It works.
Rolls-Royce Ghost Performance car? Sort of – in the sense that two-and-half-tons of 21st-century motorcar is generations beyond the Rollers of the past that proceeded down Cotswold lanes in a dignified manner (because if they attempted to take a curve quickly, they would slew around in a very undignified manner).
Silent, yes. Stealthy, no. There’s just no way to hide a $330,000 two-and-a-half-ton automobile since it draws crowds of teenagers, police, and other motorists. But then, its buyers belong to a stratum well-acquainted with conspicuous consumption. At every restaurant or store we stopped at, we were rewarded with prime parking spaces. Get used to the attention, a small price to pay for exclusivity.
It’s not a stupid purchase; the neighbors will not mock your choice. The Ghost is smaller than the Spirit, but quite sizeable. Yes, it’s a conveyance with four wheels, an engine, windows, and a roof, same as a basic $16,000 sedan – but the automobile delivers much more than utility. The only question is whether the distinctions between cars of mere mortals and the choice of royals are worth an additional $300K.
Do you enjoy being pampered? Are you a comfort lover? Do you like knowing that you’re one of only several thousand in a world of seven billion to have the refined taste to claim ownership of a rolling customized yacht? Do you appreciate the way almost 600 quiet horsepower can propel a leather-and wood living room down a highway?
A distant hum when the gas pedal is floored tells you that the twin-tubo 6.6 litre mill is working, but the 12 cylinders have so much reserve power that it is usually just loafing. Ask it to run away from almost any normal vehicle and en route to the contest to unreal speeds, she will hit 60 in the mid-four-second area.
It never hopped over bumps, never shuddered over the roughest portions of potholed NJ Routes 22 and 46. When it was stationary, we were given the best and most protected parking spaces available.
The last couple of years of evolution have refined the silliness out of the face by redesigning the headlamps. Bargain hunters can find one under 300 grand. Mpg? If you have to ask…….
The options list has so many permutations that you could call the Ghost a truly bespoke motorcar. A couple of my favorites are long-nap woolen carpeting that invites barefoot driving, and polished-wood drop-down picnic tables for rear-seat guests. Grey Poupon stains on the $4000 carpet option, anyone?
Lexus IS 350 AWD This short report will be followed by a more intensive one. We spent a limited amount of time and miles in the IS, but enough to testify to its comfort, solidity, and surefootedness. This is a midrange Lexus, no doubt a luxury car at heart, but more compact than the LS and GS series.
For part of the test, we put her on a high-speed racetrack with ups and downs and curves of varying tightness. We didn’t check our lap times, but must say that the full-time all-wheel-drive inspired us to push this wonder to the edge of our own driving skills. The fact that this produced no fear is a tribute to the superior traction of the available AWD system.
The IS sedan and convertible are serious considerations in the under-50-thousand starting range. They are all-Lexus and all-luxury.
Mazdaspeed 3 How is a sub-$25K vehicle a luxury car? You have the luxury of choosing anything. If you’re going to keep a stable of cars, one should be a zoomy compact for casual excursions, so try on this faster sister of the Mazda 3.
The Speed3 is a stealthy little bomb in a near-perfect five-door hatchback package. The important numbers are 2.3 liters, four turbocharged, intercooled cylinders, 263hp, and 280 lb-ft of torque. Mid-twenties mpg is a possibility, but remember why the Mazda slogan is “zoom-zoom.”
Those numbers speak for themselves, and the performance speaks for the numbers. Even though she’s somewhat chubby at 3200 or so pounds, this girl can sprint and handle, proving again that it ain’t the meat; it’s the motion.
Almost as fast but with reactions more nervous and more sudden than a couple of our favorites, the Subaru WRX and STI, the Speed3 wears much more modest dress, with only a few subtle styling cues differentiating it from the more subdued base Mazda3.
Those departures include 18-inch five-spoke wheels and a hood scoop. Its looks will fool cops until they get close enough to discern that scoop and the twin exhausts.
Part of the Speed’s stealthiness is owed to its plain-Jane design, kind of like a squatting toad with angles, edges, and creases. It has a ridiculous overly-large blacked-out “smile” grille. That feature is not a love-it-or-hate-it feature; it’s a tolerate-it-or-hate-it thing.
No one, though, buys a Speed3 for its looks. It’s a fat sports car in disguise. It happens to seat four comfortably and has a huge carrying capacity when the rear seats are down.
You’ll love the smooth buildup of speed even in sixth gear, but a big drawback is the twitchy torque steer in most of the gears under full throttle. The way Speedy pulls right and left when stomping on the right-hand pedal will make it too much of a handful for drivers who are work-averse and concentration-challenged.
Real-world handling is close to that of the Super Subarus, but the Subies’ all-wheel-drive eliminates torque steer, although at the expense of a less-nimble personality.
It wasn’t until the passenger was asleep that I came close to fully exploiting the capabilities of the metallic red bullet. Only slumber spared the stomach and fear center of the lady in the passenger seat.
The impractical, tiny and faraway nav screen is a joke, more Dick Tracy than Star Trek. These last two quibbles are our only real complaints, so as recommended earlier, try on a Mazdaspeed3.
© November 2011 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.