Back in the day, Nismo meant something. TRD meant something. And, until recently, Gazoo Racing meant something. They all held the deepest level of respect among car enthusiasts as these sub-brands of OEMs went racing. And they won. And these brands were attached to some of the most iconic Japanese supercars of yesteryears – namely, the Nissan GT-R, the Toyota Supra and, most recently, the Toyota TS050 LMP1 Le Mans and WEC champion. So, I ask, why take such respected names and just, well, screw it all up?
Nissan isn’t doing much better either. They’ve managed to slap the Nismo branding onto the 370Z and the Sentra. Neither of the Nismo versions offer any performance advantages over their non-Nismo brethren. It’s all exterior bullshit. Might as well add a bunch of stickers to the non-Nismo versions (don’t forget the “NOS” sticker!) and save some money. The stickers will add as much horsepower as the Nismo versions!
Toyota and Nissan: instead of making these cars “sticker-fast,” why not start making some cars that are actually fast? Yes, the R35 GT-R is a fast car, but it’s a bit long in the tooth (probably an understatement) and the latest additions have made the car about as attractive as Pete Burns, lead singer of an old band who’s had one too much plastic surgeries.
Day 2 at the LA Auto Show gave us a chance to spend more time at the LA Convention Center, take more photos and delve further into automotive offerings for 2011.
BUICK PULLS OFF THE COVERS ON THE NEW REGAL
Normally, we’re not big fans of sheet metal from Detroit but this Buick made us do a double take. We’re waiting for our chance behind the wheel to decide whether the double take was based on just a mirage or some real substance.
FLAT IS IN AT MERCEDES
Yes, it’s the Mercedes AMG CLS 63 hyper sedan that you see before you. But that’s not what we’re showcasing. Look a little closer. Notice the flat paint? No, it’s not a custom job. Rather, it’s a factory option available to you. Frankly, it was novel when car customizers first started giving cars the flat treatment but it’s rather played out at this point.
CADILLAC UNVEILS FUNKY LITTLE CONCEPT FOR THE “URBAN” SET
The Cadillac Urban Luxury Concept (ULC for short) is a small city car designed for urban dwellers that just can’t do without some bling to complement their brownstone in upper east side Manhattan. Powered by a teeny, weeny 1.0L turbocharged 3-cylinder engine, the ULC supposedly generates 56mpg in the city and 65mpg on the highway with a cadre of technology including start-stop and brake energy recovery system (a la Formula 1 KERS?). Call us skeptics but we can’t see this car seeing the light of day unless Cadillac’s intention is to meet the even more stringent average fleet fuel efficiency mandate set by the EPA. There are already city car-type variants out there (the Smart, for one) and wonder if we really need a microcar studded with so much unnecessary bling. Keep it simple, stupid. That’s what we say.
DROP TOP CHEVY CAMARO
Open top version of the Chevy Camaro. Nothing else to say about it, really.
FORD FINALLY BRINGS THE FOCUS ST STATESIDE
We’ve always been big fans of “hot hatches,” but the announced arrival of the Focus ST didn’t quite have the effect Ford may have intended. With us, at least. This car has been in existence in Europe since 2009 (the turbocharged 5-cylinder variant killed off due to Europe V emissions regulations). Yet again, American consumers are left getting a car far later after introduced to the rest of the world. I personally find the front end boring, looking quite a bit like a fish; resembles nothing like the aggressive snub nosed design on the original European Focus ST.
GMC’S FORAY INTO THE SUBCOMPACT SEGMENT
When you think of GMC, what comes to mind? Fun cars? Probably not. Utilitarian trucks, SUVs and vans? Absolutely. Perhaps the make is looking to change all that with the introduction of the GMC Granite concept. The front end is large and aggressive, keeping in line with the GMC lineage, but the rest of the vehicle is sleek. The rear end looks particularly similar to the current gen VW GTI. Not sure if this little compact will ever see production, but if it does, it will be the first to shake things up in the segment since the original Scion xB.
Wow. That’s about most appropriate word we can use to describe the stunning “green” C-X75 concept. With lines not see since the XJ220 hyper car from the Thatcher era, the concept will hopefully bring new excitement over the old English marquee. But what you find under the sheet metal is completely new school. Each wheel is driven by its own electric motor, with a range of 68 miles from a 6-hour charge at home. Once that juice runs out, however, its lithium ion batteries are recharged by micro gas turbines, extending the “theoretical” range to 560 miles.
Did we mention its claimed top speed of 205mph?
KIA EMERGES FROM HYUNDAI’S SHADOWS
New sheet metal, dimensions, interior and more add up to quite the competition for offerings from sister brand Hyundai. Call it a one-two combo, but Honda, Toyota and Nissan have much to fear from Kia (and Hyundai).
LEXUS’ SPORTY HYBRID HATCH
Funny enough, when we spoke with our friends at Lexus PR, they too agreed that the car looks quite a bit like the Mazda3 / Mazdaspeed3. Mind you, that’s not a bad thing, sharing similar lines as one of our favorites in the segment. No MSRP on this 5-door hatch but we’re hoping to get more info and perhaps our dirty mittens behind the wheel in the near future.
MAZDA’S GORGEOUS CONCEPT
The Shinari concept vehicle in Mazda’s booth was epic. No, it was spectacular. It’s kind of what I envisioned the Aston Martin Rapide would look like, expect this design came from a place a little closer to the shinkansen rather than the tres grande vitesse. No matter. There were more curves and organic forms on this concept than ALL cars on the show floor combined. Perhaps it’s a good indication of things to come from Mazda, as rumors are aplenty about the return of the turbo rotary.
Well, that’s it for us from the second and final press day of the 2010 LA Auto Show. This year’s show was particularly notable as we saw more alternative fuel vehicles than ever before (ed – our take on that coming soon) but came away happy to see that the manufacturers aren’t forgetting about style, sizzle and performance in their offerings.
Yes, it’s that time of the year again. Kicking off with the Paris Auto Show, the US rounds made their start today with the opening of the LA Auto Show. Although the general public is not admitted until Friday, November 19, press members – including yours truly – are admitted for a couple of days to check out all the wares from various manufacturers.
Here is what we dug up today on day 1 of the LA Auto Show:
HONDA CR-Z MUGEN EDITION
We welcome back the return of the hatch from Honda. Although the hybrid powertain is not as exciting as that found in the original CRX, this little number definitely looks like something we’d like to check out in person. The Mugen edition here definitely adds a racy flair to the CRZ, but that rear spoiler really has to go. Why a front wheel drive vehicle needs all that excess weight and downforce at the rear is beyond us.
NEW OFFERINGS FROM PORSCHE
(No, this isn’t a new Porsche offering; rather, it’s a mint old school Speedster found at the entry to the Porsche exhibit)
I guess it shouldn’t surprise us that even a “traditional” manufacturer of sportscars (which are also thirsty for petrol) would jump on the bandwagon. The Cayenne Hybrid is already in the offering and they’ve been heavily marketing the innovation through a television commercial featuring the GT3 RS Hybrid as seen below. We don’t know how effective the hybrid system may be, but it’s an absolutely gorgeous piece of machinery.
As an homage to Porsche’s 60 year history, the Stuttgart make is releasing a brand new Speedster. Quite sleek. Quite fast. Quite limited. And… quite expensive.
Finally, as if the GT2 needed any more power, refinement (or a higher price tag), the new GT2 RS is here. With rear wheel drive goodness and an even lighter chassis to match, this car is quite the handful. As a matter of fact, we can’t imagine the average Joe being able to drive this car very fast without killing himself in the process.
SUBARU PULLS OUT SOME REFINEMENT
The Subaru Impreza WRX STi – even though I personally own a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution – has always been a car to be reckoned with. Great power output, good looks and a reasonable price tag have all been the keys to the STi’s popularity. Although the hatchback version of the newest STi has had its fans, it has had an equal share of detractors. Well, Subaru is going to satisfy both parties, as they introduce a 4-door sedan edition. But don’t fret if you had your eyes on the hatch version – Subaru will continue to produce the STi in hatch form.
Subaru also pulled out all the stops in introducing the new Impreza Concept. At first glance, it looks quite a bit like a natural evolution of the existing Subaru Legacy, although those horizontal slats on either side of the front bumper remind me of the front end of the current Honda Civic. Take a look and you decide.
NISSAN’S NEW OFFERINGS
No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. That really is a convertible version of the Nissan Murano. Now, we’re not quite sure from whom this car is intended, as we’ve never heard of anyone actively advocating the creation of a convertible SUV but I’m sure Nissan did their homework before launching this vehicle. We’ll get our hands on one soon and let you know if it’s worth your consideration.
The other shiny object inside the Nissan booth is the Ellure Hybrid concept. I don’t know about you, but the exterior is absolutely gorgeous. I hope they will retain most of the design cues if this car hits production. The interior is certainly very high tech looking as well. We don’t yet have the proposed technical and performance details but will let you know as soon as we know.
Alright, gang. Day 2 awaits us tomorrow. Will have another editorial up by weekend’s time with even more photos and discoveries at the LA Convention Center!
It’s all been said before. Mass media and automotive outlets have eschewed the virtues of the R35 Nissan GT-R. Every superlative has been assigned to the first supercar to arrive from the Land of the Rising Sun in quite a while. Fast. Wicked. Tenacious. Quick. Outlandish. It’s all been said before.
I’m not going to bore you with what the GT-R can do on the track. Let’s face it. Unless you’re pining for a heavy fine and points off your driving record, you’ll never discover the true potential of the GT-R. So the obvious questions beg to be answered: How good is the GT-R under “normal” driving conditions? As good as the GT-R is as a sports car, how civil is it? Well, let’s find out.
In 2008, I was one of the forunate few who got a few days behind the wheels of the first production year GT-R. Having spent some time behind the wheels of all previous generations of Nissan’s halo vehicle – the R32 GT-R, R33 GT-R, R33 GT-R V-Spec, R33 GT-R LM, R34 GT-R V-Spec – the R35 was pure joy.
The 2010 edition isn’t very different from the 2009 model, although launch control has been re-programmed by Nissan to prevent premature transmission failures. The Premium edition model we had was coated in “Super Silver” special metallic paint. Apparently, this is a special paint applied via a multi-step process that provides the ultimate in paint jobs among all color options. With the Premium edition only near-black metallic finish wheels, the car was quite the looker and attracted all sorts of attention from other drivers on the road.
Sure, attention is nice and all but the GT-R tends to attract quite a bit of “negative” as well. All means of cars, from an older M5 to a “fixed” up Honda Civic would rev their engines at stoplights and on the freeway. No thanks, folks. Frankly, the GT-R will blow the doors off your “fast” rides but that doesn’t mean we would be baited into a street race or another. Keep it on the track.
Right. More about the GT-R.
Inside, the interior is fairly straightforward and simple; whereas the trend by many makes has been to overwhelm the driver with every button imaginable, the GT-R’s array of controls is much simpler
The LCD screen in the center console unifies all entertainment, navigation and vehicle sensor interfaces into one, eliminating the need for multiple screens
Speaking of vehicle sensors, the interface allows the driver to customize what he / she sees; considering the complexity and multitude of the systems involved in forward motion for the GT-R, this is a God send
Although the navigation screen isn’t as sharp as that we found in the Hyundai Genesis sedan, it’s a great system and very easy to use
Bluetooth pairing with a mobile phone was a snap
The iPod interface works very well, displaying actual song information including artist, album, etc.; would you believe this isn’t the case in more expensive vehicles, like the Audi R8?
The seats are supportive and offer plenty of adjustment; for me personally, however, I found the seating position a bit high for my 6’3″ frame; even though I was able to find a good seating position, head room left a bit to be desired
Honestly, the rear seats are only good for stowing a briefcase or a duffel bag; we can’t see full grown adults finding it comfortable for more than a 15-minute somewhere
The trunk, by comparison to past GT-Rs, is cavernous – the BNR32 GT-R had a decently-sized trunk but the BCNR33 and BNR34 GT-Rs really had a sorry excuse of a trunk
It swallowed up two rolling carry on bags, 2 computer bags, a camera bag and other assorted items with ease
We would NOT recommend putting any refrigerated or frozen grocery goods in the trunk for any extended period of time, as the gearbox and other mechanical goodies seems to generate an inordinate amount of heat that warmed the trunk to temps resembling a pizza oven… unless you wanted to warm up a pizza back there
The GT-R is a BIG car and you can see its girth in clear detail when parked among other cars
Visibility out the back is lacking and it would have been a nice touch if Nissan added a reverse / backup camera to make parking easier
As we stated before, the GT-R has been thoroughly vetted on the track so we won’t delve too much into its performance aspects.
The GT-R is really easy to drive, with the steering providing very positive feedback
Stoplight-to-stoplight drag races are disposed of with ease; even with the revised launch control system settings, the GT-R roars off the line with a level of impatience seen not more than once, maybe twice, in one’s motoring life
Even when in the GT-R’s automatic shift mode, it still performs quite like the supercar that it is, aka SCARY QUICK and FAST!
Frankly, unless you really want to get into some spirited driving, automatic mode seemed quite adequate for the majority of driving; for long distance highway driving, say, from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back, it’s perfect
Sure, it has “comfort” mode available on the suspension setting, it really doesn’t feel any different than when set in “normal” mode; heck, we really couldn’t notice much difference between “comfort” and “R” mode
Ride quality, as stiff as the suspension may be, was fairly comfortable; mind you, this isn’t a Lexus LS460, but it’s not bad at all
Speaking of suspension, the GT-R has an endless amount of grip; even when we went way too hot into a corner, we didn’t hear a single chirp from the tires
Braking was solid, courtesy of the huge Brembo rotors and multi-piston calipers
Perhaps it’s related to the pizza oven trunk, but the center transmission / driveshaft tunnel also generates a fair amount of heat; this necessitated the air conditioning on full blast to cool things down for occupants
Although the GT-R is fitted with massive tires and 20″ wheels, in-cabin noise level wasn’t bad at all; conversation at normal speaking levels was fine
At speed – and we don’t condone speeding *wink* – the GT-R sounds like a Boeing 747 from the inside; not an overpowering noise, but just a hum of the engine and transmission
We were able to achieve 21MPG on while cruising along on the freeway; more realistically, however, we achieved 16MPG on mixed driving
Some other reviews we read have said that the GT-R is too removed, too automated… almost soul-less. We say… RUBBISH. There isn’t a single car at the GT-R’s price point that comes even close to its performance. But value isn’t why you buy this car. You buy it because it’s so unique in the way it delivers the goods. About the closest thing to the GT-R is a Porsche. No, not a Boxster nor Cayman. We’re talking about a REAL Porsche. Namely, the 911 Turbo. That’s yet another supercar that could be driven day-in, day-out yet put to the pavement insane performance. It’s no wonder that Nissan used the 911 Turbo as the benchmark when developing the GT-R. Porsche purists might be crying foul at this point, but get over it. Really.
As we discovered during our rather 4 short days with the 2010 Nissan GT-R, there is much to love about the car. Road trips? Check. Grocery shopping? Check. A day at the track? Check. Commuting to work? Check. We don’t know of many cars that can say yes to so many things. So WE say yes. Yes, we absolutely LOVE the GT-R.
The Nissan 370Z really needs no introduction. Selected as our pick for our overall best car of 2009, the new Z represents a phenomenal package that any motoring enthusiast can appreciate. But wait. Could Nissan really take things to yet another level with variants of this FM platform? Would the successful formula that is the Z34 be diluted in any way by offering something for the left and right ends of the spectrum?
Nismo 370Z – The “Left End”
Simply put, the Nismo 370Z is the “normal” 370Z’s evil brother. One quick glance at the exterior accrutrements says this particular 370Z is something a little different…
The extended front bumper and deep chin spoiler look very purposeful, perhaps intended to act as a splitter to increase downforce on the front end
The rear is much more tasteful than the previous generation Nismo Z – the previous generation’s rear bumper looked like it was trying too hard to mimic the looks of race-prepped Zs found in Japan’s Super GT racing series
The rear spoiler is aggressive without looking like a “shopping cart” wing; it does, however, hinder visibility out the rear
The forged alloy wheels made by Ray’s Engineering are much more open in design that those found on the “regular,” perhaps emblematic of greater airflow and cooling of the brake system
Frankly, we believe this is the way the Z should come from the factory, Nismo or not. Sure, it has a strong “boy racer” influence in its looks, but you really shouldn’t drive a Z if you don’t understand concepts such as throttle-induced oversteer, opposite lock and trail braking. To not drive this car HARD is a complete and utter injustice.
The interior is a different story. You won’t find anything particularly special. You get a very basic stereo system and not much more. Even the seats are the same as those found in the regular Z, albeit covered in different fabric and “Nismo” sewn into the backrest for good measure. As we’ll discuss in a bit, the Nismo Z needs a different cockpit environment. The handling characteristics of this vehicle require better shoulder and thigh bolstering and firmer seat cushioning to deal with the stiff suspension settings – our rear ends felt as if it was bottoming out.
These niggles aside, the steering wheel position is excellent. Deep footwells also allow the drive to sit comfortable close to the steering wheel while still maintaining enough leg stretch.
Now that you’re inside, what’s next? Push the keyless start button and bring the VQ37VHR engine to a roar. Slipping into first gear is more notchy and mechanical than we’d like. It’s just not as buttery a transmission you’d find inside a Honda. You’re forced to muscle gear shifts a bit and during very spirited driving, missed gears shifts are definitely a possibility. You won’t, however, find any fault with the SynchroRev Match system. It makes any driver a rock start behind the wheel, the ECU automatically blipping the throttle between every downshift. Heel-and-toe downshifting is an art form that takes much practice to master, but the Nissan system eliminates any need for it. We could call it cheating, but it works so well we can’t say anything to detract from it.
The power output, on the other hand, is strong from idle to redline. The VQ simply does not quit in laying down power to the ground. The VQ in the Nismo has a slightly higher rated horsepower rating than the standard Z but this is offset by the added weight of the body kit. No matter. This car is fun to drive. Stoplight to stoplight drag races are disposed of with ease. Is it any wonder that the VQ38DETT found in the GT-R is based on this engine? Absolutely fabulous.
Handling is pure bliss on the Nismo Z. By combining the gummy Bridestone tires, a limited slip diff and properly stiff suspension settings, this rocket holds its line and then some on smooth roads. When the road turns a bit rough, however, you truly realize just how stiff the suspension is. With much more aggressive compression / rebound settings and a very stiff spring, the Nismo Z WILL toss you around when traveling over rough, urban streets. And as mentioned before, better seating accommodations would have come in very handy in this driving situation.
370Z Roadster – The “Right End”
Indeed, if the Nismo 370Z is the tattooed brother, then the Roadster is the pinstripe wearing sibling. The moniker alone implies this car is meant for grand touring. It’s for open top motoring in the country side, with the wind blowing through your hair with an unrushed destination in mind.
On the outside, there’s not a whole lot to distinguish the Roadster from the Coupe until you look at the back half of the car. The antenna mounted smack dab in the middle of the trunk is a dead giveaway that this car is a little different – we think this is a rather poor aesthetic choice. Indeed, looking at the posterior of the Roadster really reminds us how big and wide this car is. While we don’t notice the bulbous rear section on the Nismo and Coupe renditions of the Z – perhaps the lines being broken up by the rear spoilers present on both – the Roadster continued to remind of us of the song “Baby Got Back.”
The fabric convertible top opens and closes in about 25 seconds each way. The operation is a choreography in moving parts, the top and hard tonneau cover adjusting, opening and closing with a degree of precision. Although the action is very smooth – save for the big thunk of the tonneau cover closing or the top sealing itself over the same over when the top is up – we wished it would work a little faster.
Climb inside and you’ll find familiar territory – interior accroutrements are the same as those you find in the coupe.
Seating position is fine save for the tallest of drivers; for my 6’3″ frame, the steering wheel was situated directly in front of my chest, mimicking the kind of steering position found in a touring race car
With the top up, getting in and out of the car required a bit of contortionist-like moves; getting in required the head going in last, while the opposite was required when exiting the vehicle
Speaking of the top, it left very little headroom for yours truly, although I suspect most “normal” sized individuals would have no headroom issues
Legroom was still substantial thanks to the deep footwell design found in all Z34 models
Our tester was equipped with the 7-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters; somehow, the automatic seems more appropriate for this model and we’re guessing that it is probably the more popular option
Firing up the engine and flicking the paddles elicits nearly the same level of acceleration found in the Coupe. Throttle response is excellent, thanks to the throttle-by-wire system. Downshifts are fairly smooth courtesy of rev matching on the down cycle, but when engaging 1st from 2nd under aggressive driving, there is a noticeable amount of shudder and engine braking. We don’t see this as a problem for 99% of prospective Roadster buyers out there as we suspect they are more than happy to let the ECU figure out the downshifts in fully automatic mode. We just can’t see the same owners downshifting with aggressive abandon as they enter a 1st gear corner “hot” and punch it at the apex to generate maximum corner exit speed.
Unlike its sister car under the Infiniti brand – which we would describe as “noodly” over railroad tracks and uneven terrain – the Roadster was firm and displayed none of the cowl shake and noise we’ve noticed in other open top variants. Taking the car to limits of adhesion presented no problems for the Roadster and we were impressed at how hard it would bite the pavement. Tail-out maneuvers were never a surprise, as it was very progressive and didn’t snap out the rear in unpredictable fashion.
With the addition of the Nismo and Roadster models, Nissan has created a powerful trio of sports car options. With a truly ready-to-race Nismo Z, the “civilized” Roadster and the do-everything-well Coupe variant, the 370Z line is a powerful offering like no other on the market today. We can’t think of a common platform line up from any other manufacturer that offers the same level of performance, value and ownership experience that the 370Z brings to the table. It’s truly worth your purchase consideration if you care for a car that inspires you as a driver.
Lexus, a division of Toyota, is launching new cars faster than most of us can keep up. The latest new vehicle, the CT 200h, looks very promising. Our primary gripe about hybrids has always been… the lack of any personality, character or style whatsoever. Let’s face it. The hybrid is designed with mostly function in mind. Sure, you can sing your own praises about gas efficiency and saving the planet but no one is going to grant you any style points.
The new Lexus CT 200h, however, is one hybrid we wouldn’t mind at all. It’s a combination of a number of different looks from different vehicles, mashed together to create a pretty decent looking package. The front fascia is definitely taken from that of the Lexus IS-F, a true barn burner in every respect. The side profile and beltline remind us of the Toyota Matrix, a decent little car, and the rear reminds us of a combination the RX SUV series with a bit of the Subaru WRX thrown in for good measure.
Lexus, a Division of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A
P.O. Box 2991-Mail Drop L201
Torrance, CA 90509-2991
Hit the page jump for the full press release on this new Lexus.
To be frank, I would buy a Lexus / Totoya regardless of recent noise about throttle / brake cables. Perhaps it’s even more timely that Lexus launch a new vehicle to offset some of the media hype.
The Lexus IS series is an attractive one, a true competitor to the Audi A4 and BMW 3-series line ups. To further raise the bar, Lexus announced the introduction of the IS 350C F-Sport Special Edition. What is F-Sport? It’s an in-house performance-oriented aftermarket brand creating a distinct identity for those models that go a step beyond showroom stock – think “LF-A,” “IS-F” and so forth. With an MSRP of $57,500, the 350C F-Sport certainly isn’t your entry level convertible. So what do you get for the extra cash outlay?
Exclusive color offering – Tungsten Pearl or Obsidian (basically, metallic gray and black)
Front and rear brake upgrade for “firmer pedal feel and enhanced fade resistance,” i.e. more aggressive pad material
Unique F-Sport front grill
Lowering springs with specially valved Bilstein dampers – we’re translating this into faster rebound stroke
Firmer sway bars, front and rear
Floor mat and shift knob with F-Sport logo
With only 100 units available across the US, this is a small production run that will most likely sell out very quickly. So if you want a piece of this factory tuned convertible, head out to your local Lexus dealer for more information.
Lexus, a Division of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A
P.O. Box 2991-Mail Drop L201
Torrance, CA 90509-2991