PLUS:THE 500+ HP CLUB - C3

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PLUS:THE 500+ HP CLUB - C3
Mazdaspeed 6
vs. Jetta GLI
Cadillac XLR
MX-5 vs. Solstice
Audi A3
WINDING ROAD MAGAZINE / ISSUE NO. 7 / JAN – FEB 2006
PLUS: THE 500+ HP CLUB
BUGATTI VEYRON
BMW M5
FORD GT
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COVER STORY
WINDING ROAD
34
/
Contents
ISSUE NO. 7 / JANUARY–FEBRUARY 2006
Corvette Z06: World Beater
Fast, yes. Fun, sure. But if you're considering the Z06 -- and it's not about the
money -- might we also suggest the Ferrari F430, Dodge Viper SRT10, Porsche
Carrera S and Mitsubishi Evo IX MR. Now which would you choose?
Departments
06
08
Features
16
50
28
58
Cover photography by Andrew Yates
05
From the Editor
06
From the Readers
08
Update:
15
Why I Hate NASCAR This Month
16
DRIVEN: Cadillac XLR
20
COMPARISON:
Mazdaspeed 6 v Jetta GLI
25
DRIVEN: Audi A3
Downmarket, my foot. The A3 is as great as an Audi gets.
28
Bugatti Veyron 16.4
The biggest power output, the highest top speed and
the most enormous price tag of any road car yet.
40
BMW M5
Quite possibly the greatest car in the world.
44
COMPARISON:
VW Passat/ Infiniti G35/ BMW 530i/ Audi A6
Surprising similarities despite different price points.
50
COMPARISON:
Mazda MX-5 v Pontiac Solstice
In a great roadster, it's the little things that count.
58
Storming Europe with 1000 HP
A dream-trip come true. We take the Ford GT and the Dodge Viper on a
seven-day tour through Le Mans country — they love us over there.
66
EXOTICA: Wiesmann GT
Great concept, better execution from this low-volume maker.
71
WORLD CLASS: Honda Gold Wing
The road sofa, reinvented. Honda makes it cool again.
75
LAST PAGE
Save the SUV.
You and your issues.
Tokyo Auto Show highlights, hot add-ons from SEMA, more.
Consider the 100-hp car.
Slicing and dicing in not-your-daddy's Caddy.
What does an F430 have on these hot sedans?
(Okay, a lot. But less than you think.)
WINDING ROAD /
03
From the EDITOR
Editorial correspondence to
[email protected]
Editor
WINDING ROAD
4544 South Lamar
Building G-300
Austin, TX 78745
Editor-in-Chief Bill Campbell
Features Editor Tom Martin
Senior Editor Chris Martens
Contributing Editor Herb Harris
Managing Editor Monica Williams
Editorial Assistant Lauren Smith Ford
Contributing Writers Greg Brown,
Richard Chiariavalli, Cindy-Lou Dale, Mike Duff,
Robert Harley, Brooks Holden, Chris Jackson,
Dave Kelley, Nick Kurczewski, T.B. Martin,
Harry Metcalfe, Rich Truesdell
Creative Director Jeff Neely
Art Directors Megan Berryman, William
Blacklock, Torquil Dewar, Matt Jurgenmeyer,
Kevin Léger, John Livingston, David Steinert
Contributing Photographers Greg Gregory,
Achim Hartmann, Kevin C. Limjoco, Kenneth
Quintal, Rich Truesdell, Andrew Yates, John Yost
Chief Technologist Bill Parkes
Technical Design Jennifer Gray
Production Assistant Collin Kennedy-Puthoff
Fleet Manager Scott Pettit
Absolute Multimedia, Inc.
CEO/Publisher T.B. Martin
Publishing Director Anita Erickson
Strategy Advisors Mark Fisher, John Ellett,
Atul Kanagat
Fleet Manager Scott Pettit
Legal Michael Metteauer, Fulbright & Jaworski
Circulation Josiah Sternfeld, Stefanie Nelson,
Lauren Virr
Advertising Director
Ben Malkin
Death to the SUV, Long Live the SUV
Some members of the staff didn’t want me to write this piece. But some things just have to be
said, and then followed to their logical conclusions. One of these is that a considerable number of
SUVs are more interesting to drive than sedans, wagons and minivans in the same price range.
This might seem an unexceptionable statement, and it certainly ranks as no great violation of
conventional wisdom, at least as measured by U.S. buying patterns in the past decade. But, if you
think about it for a minute, a sentence that starts “SUVs drive better” should raise some eyebrows.
After all, when we’re talking about driving in this magazine, we’re talking about things related to
handling, acceleration and the like. And in these areas, the SUV starts with a severe handicap.
Weight, of course, is the first of these handicaps. A typical SUV weighs about 500-pounds more
than a minivan, and about 800-pounds more than a wagon or sedan. That’s a 10-to 20-percent
burden that impacts acceleration and road-holding in a material way. Add to that the increased ride
height that is endemic to the SUV package, and carmakers have to do some serious battling with
the laws of physics to get decent vehicle dynamics. As a simple demonstration of this, drive a
Porsche Boxster S and a Cayenne Turbo back to back. Sure, the Cayenne is amazing for an SUV, but
even mighty Porsche can’t alter those pesky laws, and you know it within a minute of switching
between these vehicles. SUVs don’t drive better than most sports cars.
And then there’s the impact of all this weight on fuel economy, not to mention emissions and the
way ride height affects safety. But, lest this seem like SUV bashing when SUVs are already down on
the mat, let me reiterate that my point is different. My point is that SUVs shouldn’t drive better than
cars, but that they often do.
The reasons for this are complex. In simplified form, SUVs were historically built on truck chassis.
Illsuited to the refinement that unibody cars could offer, the industry chose to make SUVs sporting.
That was a wise choice from an image standpoint as well. Sport most overtly meant off-road capability. But the stiff suspensions and beefy anti-roll systems that were necessary to tame the ugly
physics of the beast off-road meant that some SUVs were entertaining to drive on-road as well, at
least if you didn’t push them too hard – and most people don’t.
What I’d like to encourage is that some of this effort at sporting suspensions be applied to vehicles more fundamentally suited to the sporting idea. Let’s have a bevy of sporting wagons, minivans, crossovers and other new breed concepts. Of course, these cars have to be cool. And with
SUVs becoming decidedly uncool, there is a gap that must be filled. We already have the Dodge
Magnum SRT-8 and the Audi S4 Avant, but that isn’t enough. Let’s start at the top by having BMW
bring in the M5 Touring (recently spied, by the way). Then Audi can unleash the S6 with a V-8 turbodiesel and DSG. Cadillac can bring out an SRX V-series that is three-inches lower than the base
car. Then Infiniti can unveil a lightweight crossover with three rows of seats and an F1-style transmission. And this can all be followed by the Mazdaspeed 5.
The key is to drop the assumption that everything other than SUVs and sportscars must have
so-called luxury and isolation as key attributes. Or, think of it the other way: Drop the assumption
that SUVs must have off-road pretensions, with the resulting high ride height and high weight. That
would put real driving back into the sport utility equation. Where it should be.
(805) 444- 5016
[email protected]
© Copyright 2005/2006 Absolute Multimedia, Inc.
Bill Campbell
Editor-in-Chief
WINDING ROAD /
05
From the READERS
Automatic Issues
BACK
ISSUES
AVAILABLE.
TRAVEL THE BACK ROADS.
Click here, to tell a friend
about the FREE subscription
to Winding Road magazine.
I strongly disagree with
the letter-writer who
states that, because it’s an
automatic, the Aston
Martin DB9 is useless on
the track. (Readers, Issue 6) I happen to be
fortunate enough to own a DB9 Coupe, and
though it can be driven as an automatic
(which I rarely do), it is most fun when driven with the F1 paddle shifters. The six-speed
ZF gearbox is the world’s finest, period. I
have driven the Ferrari 360 and owned a
Maserati Cambiocorsa, and the Aston’s gearbox is far superior. One can, in fact, accelerate in first to maximum revs, and the car will
change to second if you don’t, to save damaging the engine. Changing down from
fourth to third and third to second using the
paddle shifter causes the engine to rev up as
if you had a clutch and were double
declutching. Awesome!
Michael R. Adler
Where’s your sense of fun? Why let reality get in the way of deeply held beliefs?
-Editor
I loathe the constant bashing that comes
from auto magazines like Winding Road
about the non-existence of manual transmissions in some cars, particularly from
Mercedes (and periodically Lexus, BMW and
Jaguar). The fact remains that, despite the
sporting intentions of auto journalists, manual transmissions are inefficient reminders
of the old days. Automatics are quicker, more
relaxing and easier to live with in daily driving situations in the real world, where almost
every car is driven. Yes, you can harp about
the supposed benefits of manuals being
“more involved” for the spirited driver and
other related enthusiast fluff, but a. “car
guys” are the small minority and b. you only
have to look at the BMW M5 to see where a
manual transmission coupled with needless
over-engineering contributes to a car that is
not only ugly to look at, but rather infuriating
to drive legally in urban contexts (note the
word “legally”). When we shift our minds
from the racing track to reality, automatics
make the most sense.
On another note, it’s also disturbing to read
reviews in Winding Road that fail to make
any mention of fuel efficiency, particularly
with rising fuel prices. It’s almost pointless
to commend the brutal power and performance of Chrysler and Dodge’s model line-up
(All Hemi, All the Time, Issue 6), when it
costs an arm and leg to fill their gas tanks
after you’ve driven them with an adventurous right foot. American cars consistently
lag behind other auto makers in fuel efficiency, especially with their heavy V-8s, even the
touted Hemi engine emerges in the “overhyped” heap when it produces fuel consumption figures as paltry as 17 mpg. It’s
about time a magazine garners the courage
to objectively write about such issues.
Robert Candelori
We’re with you on the real world driving
bit. And, in the real world, we have no
beef with automatics per se, it’s just that
we’ve rarely met a torque converter we
could love.
As for fluff, again, no argument: If you
don’t enjoy driving, automatics make the
most sense. Though, come to think of it,
if you don’t enjoy driving, a bus makes
the most sense.
As regards our stance on fuel economy,
we’ll just assume you haven’t read our
material on diesels. Or power-to-weight
ratios. Or SUVs.
-Editor
Chick Issues
So obviously, Tom Martin is a really, really
sensitive male. (WIHNTM, Issue 6) Let’s put
him in the Porsche Boxster (automatic, of
course) with a chick and push all three of
them over a cliff ... there’s my contribution
to the human condition for the day.
Craig Fay
We had a nagging suspicion that the
human condition was getting worse.
Now we know why. Thanks.
-Editor
Just had to respond to the absolutely ridiculous comments of Scott Marshall, specifically
his comment about the Porsche Boxster and
Volkswagen Beetle being chick cars. (Readers,
Issue 6) I own a new Mercedes 55 AMG, a
newer customized BMW 325 Ci and my favorite
car, the Porsche Boxster Speedster. My Boxster
is a beautiful car and has some custom parts,
but for the most part it’s stock. Most of the
time I see guys driving great little cars like
these, but yes, sometimes I do see a hot little
babe driving one as well; that’s always nice
because that means these girls have great
taste in cars, too.
I have owned over 50 cars in my time and even
though the Mercedes AMG 55 is one of the
fastest and most luxurious cars I’ve owned,
nothing handles or is as fun as the Porsche
Boxster. You ranked the Corvette C6 where it
should be because it’s not all about how fast a
car goes from 0-60 — no, it’s a lot more than
that. The Boxster is dang fast though, and I do
get more looks from the babes in the Porsche
than any other car I ever owned.
To the Winding Road staff, thanks for your awesome magazine, and keep up the great work.
RD
able to corner well, have outstanding braking
and inspire those that drive it. My 2005
Boxster S (six-speed manual) evokes a performance passion that few other cars within
its price range can. Those who have driven a
Boxster S know this, and those who have not
must posture to support their stance.
I propose we coin another term: “Bar Car.” This
is the term I would give to Mr. Hatin’ and his
Vette. We all know the type: They never really
“drive” the car, they simply do stop-light runs
to the local watering hole then brag about the
all of the rice racers they blew away.
By the way, 60 percent of 2005 Corvettes
were ordered with automatic transmissions. So
does that make it a “Bar Car?” “Boy Racer”
car? Old man’s “Viagra Car?” “Hair Club for Men
Car?” No, I think “Bigot Car” works best.
childish, valueless rants? It’s not good
for anyone.
Bobby Baker
Thanks for the rant. We feel better now.
-Editor
Missing Back Issues
The oddest thing happened when I did search
for the new Mustang GT. I
came across your article
in the current issue of
Winding Road (Pretty or
Smart?, Issue 5), comparing the Mustang GT with the Nissan 350Z
and the Mini Cooper S. Those are precisely the
three cars I am interested in buying!
David Martin
It’s obvious that Scott Marshall (Letters, Issue
6) knows very little of cars — except how to
find his way to his local Chevy dealer to buy
his Vette. That alone, I am sure in his mind,
makes him a “real man.” It’s too bad that you
even publish this kind of ignorance.
Yes, I own a Porsche 987S, and it is a six-speed
manual — what else?
First, I would like to say thanks for lending
some sanity in these 0-60 performance runs.
The vast majority of us don’t do four-grand
drop starts in our sports cars. We seem to
have gotten over that when we graduated
from high school.
Yes, it cost more than a Vette, it handles infinitely better than a Vette, it is classier than a
Vette, etc. But, you haven’t received a letter
from me “shouting” that Vettes are most often
driven by gold-chain wearing, greasy hair
thugs or strippers, have you? And you won’t.
Second, a true sports car does more than just
It’s just so childish for Marshall to conjure up
run fast in a straight line. It must be balanced,
such crap on what has
been universally praised
as one of the best sports
Correspondence
cars ever, the Porsche
Send your love notes, accolades, insights, questions,
987S, and that is by far
quibbles and hate mail to: [email protected]
not my opinion alone.
or
Editor
WINDING ROAD
4544 South Lamar Blvd.
Building G-300
Austin, Texas 78745
What makes matters
worse is that you saw
fit to print this stuff.
Please, in the future,
will you eliminate the
As you stated in your article, they are so different that you wouldn’t normally think of them
together. But, I must admit that I have looked
at the three for just that reason. Now I have to
decide on which one I am going to settle on.
Your article gave me some great insight into
each of the vehicles, and it’s time for me to
test them for myself.
This is my first exposure to your magazine,
and I must say I am impressed: very well written and great pictures. I will have to look at the
back issues to see what I have been missing.
Jim Lee
WINDING ROAD /
07
UPDATE
Edited by Chris Jackson & Tom Martin
Audi’s New Practical Sportscar
TOKYO
SHOW
2005
E
veryone loves sportscar handling, but if golf clubs or tube amps don’t
fit in the back, “fun to drive” may not be enough. The solution seems
a fairly self-evident idea—a sort of hybrid between a wagon and a
sportscar—and Audi has created exactly that with the Shooting Brake
Concept. The car is named for the upscale two-door wagons occasionally
seen roaming European country-sides, usually with the custom-built
coachwork on a Jaguar or Aston Martin chassis. It‘s a pretty typical Audi
dream car, with an evolution of Audi's
signature styling, real-world applicable
innovations to the interior, their lovely 3.2
and quattro all-wheel drive.
The familiar Audi deep-dish grille is
there, but the vertical bars are chromed for
a toothy, modern-Buick look that's not as
tacky as it sounds. The body is stocky and
athletic, with a cargo-friendly hatch at the
back. Big wheels and a low roof give the
Shooting Brake Concept a purposeful,
fresh look. Inside, the car is decorated in
decisive gray and silver, with red and blue
08 / WINDING ROAD
gauges the only spots of color. It's a pleasantly futuristic interpretation of
Audi's current elegant/functional interior design, and man, would it look
nice in the next-generation TT (which some say will be a Shooting Brake).
Though possibly the coolest of the bunch, the Shooting Brake Concept
is not the only practical-but-fun car in the works. It seems the idea of a
hatchback sportscar is the next big thing. With the Porsche Cayman
already on the streets with a hatchback, BMW jumped into the
ring at Frankfurt with the Z4 Coupe,
which, though not quite as funky
or practical as its predecessor, also
sports a hatch. Rumors also abound
that Lotus is preparing an Elisebased Cayman-fighting GT coupe and
Mercedes has an SLK shooting brake
in the works. Performance and
practicality are perfectly feasible
partners and hopefully these
sportscars will be followed by a group of
larger practical supercars like the M5
touring and RS6 Avant.
Audi’s
New
V-10
AUDI ALSO UNVEILED THE NEW S8 AT TOKYO ENDOWING THE A8 RANGE WITH A
second high-power motor: the W-12 that has been out for a year or so and now
the 5.2-liter, Gallardo-derived, direct injection V-10 of the S8. However the A8
has always been a bit of an uninspiring drive and it is difficult to get excited
about the S8 in spite of the engine and a slightly firmer suspension.
The real subject of interest is the installation of the Gallardo motor,
detuned as it is, in an Audi that all but confirms the theory that
it would show up in the new RS6. And with the competition (i.e. M5)
weighing in with 500 hp, we can only assume the V-10 will
be retuned for the RS6. That makes all this S8 business much
more exciting.
Nissan GT-R in America?
FOR DECADES THE APPARENTLY BRILLIANT ALL-WHEEL-DRIVE NISSAN
Skyline GT-R reigned in Japan and Europe as the ultimate Japanese
supercar. It became such a cult icon that even Americans, who were
never able to buy it, worshiped the GT-R.
Well, ironically enough, at the Tokyo show Nissan let everyone
know they were giving us what we want. The GT-R Proto is still just
a concept car, but Nissan says the design is at least 80 percent true
to the production version. Staying true to the original, it will still
probably draw power from a six-cylinder—most likely a
turbocharged version of the 3.5 V-6 found in various other Nissans
including the 350Z. Rumors put power somewhere between 400
and 500 hp. The show car however, has no engine so no
one can be sure.
As for handling, Lotus Engineering has chipped in with
some chassis work, although the Z shows us that Nissan
is perfectly competent in that area. With all-wheel-drive,
grip and handling balance should be phenomenal, making
it a high-end Evo alternative of sorts. Unfortunately the
production version is still a few years away, but
considering how long previous versions were dangled in front of
American eyes, I think we can wait a few more years.
TOKYO
SHOW
2005
Italdesign’s Tribute Ferrari
Evo Concept X
CREATORS OF CHARMINGLY BIZARRE AND
occasionally brilliant show cars as well as the
efficient, but tame street cars, Italdesign, have
created the Ferrari GG 50 to celebrate the 50th
anniversary of their founder, Giorgetto Giugiaro,
beginning his career as a designer. The GG 50 may
not be any better looking than the 612 Scaglietti on
which it is based, but that’s never really seemed to
be the point at Italdesign and its Giugiaro-signature
cues make it a fitting tribute to a singular designer.
AFTER YEARS OF CAREFUL TWEAKING OF THE LANCER EVOLUTION,
Mitsubishi unveiled the Concept X at Tokyo. Though only a little different
from the Concept Sportback first seen at Frankfurt, the X in the title
marks it squarely as the Evo X.
The X will still run a good old 2.0 turbo, now with over 300 hp thanks
to MIVEC variable valve timing and lift, but an all-new chassis, a decent
interior, a paddle-shift sequential manual, and an underbody diffuser are
all additions to the X that should hit production lines as a 2008 model.
WINDING ROAD /
09
UPDATE
SEMA
SHOW
2005
Civic
City
I
t should come as no surprise that Honda thought it was a great idea
to launch the new Civic Si (bottom right) at SEMA. After all, the huge
aftermarket modification scene owes a great deal to the West Coast
hot rodders who cut their teeth hopping-up front-wheel drive Civics a
decade ago. Honda remains a mainstay of the street-custom scene.
In addition to displaying the resurrected Civic Si coupe (the
hardpoints: 197-hp, 2.0-liter i-VTEC, six-speed manual, limited slip
differential), Honda allowed numerous tuners free reign to modify a
warehouse full of new Civic coupes, just to whet the appetites of those
anxious to have the first slammed and winged Civic Si in town. Nineteen
modified Civics were shown, tweaked by everyone from Neuspeed to
Hot Wheels.
Manufacturers like Neuspeed and Skunk2 Racing (above left & right)
concentrated mainly on showcasing their upcoming Civic offerings.
Others, like Temple of VTEC and Motegi/Crossfire/Turn3, took a more
typical tuner's approach and built balanced, race-ready cars. Hot Wheels
(middle right) and Gran Turismo 4 did fun, flight-of-fancy custom jobs
that will likely see car-show tent duty for the rest of the year.
10 / WINDING ROAD
More Tuned
OF COURSE, THE IMPORT-TUNER SCENE HAS
graduated way beyond Civics and old-school
Integras, and SEMA did a good job of representing all
aspects of the hobby. We'd be lax if we didn't show a
few non-Civic custom jobs as well. In addition to the
new Civics, Honda gave out a bunch of Ridgelines for
customization as well (right: Street Sport Concept).
Ford showed off a slick melding of old and new in the
40 GT (below right), a combination of 1940 Ford
body and 2005 Ford GT underpinnings. Not to be
outdone by Honda, Mitsubishi had three modified
Eclipses on hand. Most interesting among the
Diamond-Stars was the Ralliart Eclipse (below left),
with its familiar name and a 400-hp turbocharged
4G63 engine under the hood.
Acura TSX A-Spec Concept
AT ACURA, THE TITLE "CONCEPT" IS A RARE, BUT
often good, thing. And so we present for your
approval the Acura TSX A-Spec Concept (right:
RealTime Racing version), unveiled at SEMA.
Beefed up with wide fenders and 19-inch wheels,
the TSX A-Spec seems to be acutely aware that the
new Lexus IS350 is packing some serious heat.
The TSX A-Spec is a wild one, with Kevlar
underbody air-management aids and dual centermounted exhaust. The suspension has been
tweaked with Acura A-Spec springs and shocks,
and if you look carefully, you'll see Brembo brakes
behind those big wheels.
Acura also showed updated RSX, TL and RL ASpec Concepts, and talked at length about their
representing the "next level" in Acura
performance. We say that's all good, now give us
the crazy TSX already, and with more of a
horsepower boost than the track-ready but not so
muscular production version RSX A-Spec.
SEMA
SHOW
2005
WINDING ROAD /
11
UPDATE
Bentley Still Faster
Than a Train
Corvette 625HP Blue Devil?
WE ALL KNOW IT'S BAD FORM TO
speculate and gossip, but some things
are just too tasty to hold for confirmation.
Besides, when Bob Lutz hints at
something, there's got to be at least a
shred of possibility, right? The latest
unsubstantiated rumors about the "Blue
Devil" super Corvette that may or may
not be in the works are tales of
Nürburgring testing. We hear talk of
carbon-fiber
body
panels,
a
supercharged 7.0-liter V-8 and horsepower estimates between 600 and 625,
making the stunning new Z06 seem
almost inadequate. If it happens, the Blue
Devil is expected to cost $100,000 or so
and to give serious headaches to the
affordable-exotic Ford GT.
12 / WINDING ROAD
SEEING BENTLEY ENSLAVED BY VW HAS BEEN A SAD
sight occasionally, but thankfully they’re still milking the
good old Arnage from the Rolls days. The latest iteration of
this Bentley Boy badness is the Arnage Blue Train limited
edition. Commemorating Le Mans winner Woolf Barnato's
crazy (and successful) attempt to beat the famous Blue
Train across France in 1930, this special Arnage features
unique trim inside, cool dual exhaust and gills in the front
fenders. Best of all, it gets Bentley’s signature 450-hp
twin-turbo V-8 from the Arnage T under the hood, but has
the tauter suspension setup used in the R. Unique wheels
and bumpers complete the look. The price is $249,900,
and every single one of them is spoken for.
Stephenson gets Bangled
THE PARALLELS CONTINUE BETWEEN THE CAREERS OF CHRIS
Bangle and Frank Stephenson. Stephenson had spent time in
the BMW family, drawing up Minis. And Bangle is, of course,
still in Bavaria and infamously ruining the company’s once
classy, understated design ethos. Stephenson had since
moved on to become chief of design at Ferrari. Though he has
yet to receive quite as much flack for his work at Ferrari, there
is still a feeling that cars like the 430 and 612 are a bit
awkward in comparison to stunners like the 275 and 512TR.
So it's notable that Stephenson has been promoted to head up
the Fiat group’s design center. As you might remember, Bangle was promoted from design chief
at BMW cars to that of the BMW group — a move which some speculated was a way of relieving
him of his specific duties while not relenting in the face of criticism. Could Stephenson be getting
the same treatment?
His replacement at Ferrari is Donato Coco, a
native Italian who began his styling career in
1983 with Citroen. Ferrari says that Coco will
use Pininfarina as a historical source for
inspiration. There will, of course, be a sizeable
wait before we’ll know just what that means
since the 575 replacement’s design is all but
final already.
Ford GT:
Genaddi’s
Version
IT DOESN'T MATTER IF IT'S FRONT-, REAR- OR
mid-engined; in the world of exotic cars, it's
only a matter of time before someone saws
the roof off of one. The latest to receive this
treatment is the Ford GT.
Granted, it's not as though an open-air GT is
a concept that comes out of nowhere; the illstarred topless GT40 X1 scored a Sebring win
in 1966, after all. As the GT is a reinterpretation
of the classic Le Mans GT40, so the GTX1
is a recreation of the GT40 X1, sporting a
unique four-piece removable hardtop. It's the
brainchild of Ford SVT engineering supervisor
Kip Ewing, and it's not just a prototype. The
GTX1 will be for sale through the Genaddi
Design Group – just buy your GT from Ford, and
Genaddi will do the rest.
The hardtop panels can be used to make the
GTX1 a hardtop, T-top or a convertible, and they
can open to a vent position as well. In case of
unexpected inclement weather, they store
inside the car. At the rear, two buttresses flow
backward from the seats, replacing the rear
window and preserving the all-important view
into the engine bay. The GT's 5.4-liter
supercharged powerplant remains the same,
of course.
Porsche Boosts the Turbo
IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE INVENTION OF THE TURBOCHARGER,
Porsche has announced a new technology for the imminent 997 Turbo called Variable Turbine
Geometry. Though technically only new on a gasoline engine—VTG has been used in diesels for
about ten years—it is said to improve powerband flexibility by continually adjusting the angle of
the compressor’s turbine blades, lessening the Turbo’s infamous warp-drive boost lag.
WINDING ROAD /
13
Why I hate
Charmingly Slow
NASCAR
By Tom Martin
THIS MONTH
hopelessly underpowered car.
And just as the Veyron was named
after a racing driver, so should we
name the anti-supercar. Now, pipe
down in the back: Despite the
obvious parallels with this wheezing, underachieving snail of a car,
we will not be calling the antisupercar “Little E.” After all, it will
be an endearing, characterful car
with go-kart handling, not a selfabsorbed prima donna who reeks of Old Spice.
The namesake driver should be slow, but charmingly so.
Karthikeyan it is then – but what’s in name? The key to
the Karthikeyan’s success will be its handling. The purpose of
limiting its horsepower to 54 is to allow our chief engineer,
Eddie Jordan, to focus all the energy he would have spent creating an engine with the power output of Three-Mile Island toward
engineering the most entertaining chassis possible.
Accelerating like John
Force on a bad day is all fine
AND, YES, I KNOW WHAT TO DO.
and good, but then why not
just buy a used funny car?
The sportscar was created to turn, but there are very few
we’ll all end up in barely-recognizable heaps of overpriced
corners in the world that can be negotiated at 252 mph.
two-tone bodywork.
With 35-piston calipers and cross-drilled rotors bigger than the
Something must be done! And yes, as you might expect,
spinners on 50 Cent’s ‘Sclade, 252 to 52 mph is probably a toeI know what to do. What the automotive world needs is a
squeeze on the middle—sorry, left—peddle away, but half
the fun of driving fast is the satisfaction that comes from
using actual driving skill to do so. The Veyron’s clinical,
Germanic handling no doubt will render it easy enough to
drive quickly, and with a numb, characterless VW chassis,
it will also be easy to drive too quickly. Impossible as it
seems, the resulting ditch/Bugatti tussle will prove your
$1.2 million to be even more of a waste.
The Karthikeyan’s extruded aluminum chassis will
probably make it the most expensive under-100 hp car
ever; nonetheless, it couldn’t be more than $24K.
Coincidentally, that means you could purchase exactly 50
Karthikeyans for the price of a single Veyron. If that’s not
your style, $1.2 million will also buy the first eighteen
cars in the Winding Road Top 50. Little boys, go ahead
and dream about the Veyron, but no 4300-pound car
should ever squeeze seven figures from your wallet.
hese past few months every car-loving boy will have
been dreaming of 250 mph, and yes, the Bugatti Veyron,
because every car magazine has “exclusive” coverage of
all 41 cylinders, each of the 17 turbos and its nine-wheel drive.
Naturally, the smart little boys will be reading Winding Road’s
coverage of the supercar (see page 28).
Alas, the outlook is dim for the little boys who read Banked
Circular Road, seeing as their idols can’t even drive circles in
a car with half the Veyron’s cylinders without butchering a
decal-infested chassis every Sunday. Yet, if the trend to pile on
horsepower continues, supercars will be so powerful that even
people with brains will be littering the hedges with carbon fiber.
Look at the supercar’s two-wheeled counterpart, the superbike.
It is common knowledge that riding one, especially the Japanese
variety, is about as safe as juggling chainsaws.
Superbikes however, are a relatively controlled problem —
those who don’t wish to be impaled on a set of handlebars
simply drive a car. But if cars become as hazardous as bikes,
T
SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!
”
”
Narain Karthikeyan: Fastest Indian in the World.
WINDING ROAD /
15
DRIVEN
Cadillac XLR
Razor Sharp
By Dave Kelley
16 / WINDING ROAD
hen Cadillac introduced the XLR roadster in 2004, it was the first really
cool Cadillac in a long time — one
that could make every head turn and pedestrians walk into things, like that perfect 1959
Eldorado convertible with the giant fins. Some
decent Caddies had rolled off the production
line in the interim, and the new generation,
the CTS and STS, show promise, but for the
most part, Cadillac’s reputation was that of a
company whose best days were long past.
W
The XLR changes all that. It is like nothing
anyone ever expected from Cadillac. Two
years in, the XLR looks the same as it did
when it made its first appearance as a
production piece. This is a good thing. That
hyper-aggressive, angular styling that is
reminiscent of its fleet mates, the CTS, STS,
and even the Escalade, might turn some
people off, but I like the fact that the XLR
stands apart visually from competitors like
the Mercedes-Benz SL500 and the Porsche
DRIVEN CADILLAC XLR
Boxster. The stance is wide and low, and some
people actually think the XLR looks better with
the top raised. (I disagree.)
Visually, the XLR is a stiletto, inside and out,
compared to the clenched fist of a Boxster or
the elegant draping of the SL. And since a
stiletto is designed to slice cleanly, I knew the
car would make short work of the the hilly,
twisty roads around Winding Road headquarters.
If it can carve there, it can carve anywhere.
A high power-to-weight ratio can be a beautiful thing. Here’s an example. Take a car –
let’s say it’s a two-seat roadster, with a
curb weight of 3647 pounds. Now, under
the hood of that car, let’s wedge, oh, how
about a 4.6L Northstar V-8 VVT that cranks out
320 hp and 310 pound-feet of torque. That
works out to 175 hp per ton and 169 poundfoot per ton of torque. For comparison, the
Mercedes-Benz SL500 comes in at 148 hp per
ton and 166 pound-foot per ton of torque; the
standard Boxster measures at 169 hp per ton
and 139 pound-foot per ton. The XLR compares
very well on paper.
It compares well on the road, too. Did I
mention that the XLR has a proper rear-wheel
drive architecture? I should have, because it’s
important. Jam the throttle and the acceleration
is hard and sweet, and thanks to that rearwheel drive, there’s not the least hint of torque
steer. Just big time, straight-line acceleration.
Hills are no match for the XLR , the Northstar
and me, and neither are slow-moving farm
equipment, slightly faster moving 18-wheelers,
rather speedy SUVs and sedans. If I need to
pass, I just hit it, and I’m gone. There’s a little
bit of a flat spot in the 20 to 25 mph range, but
from a standing start or highway cruising
speed, the XLR has the kind of acceleration that can rack up a file cabinet full of
tickets if you’re not careful.
WINDING ROAD /
17
DRIVEN CADILLAC XLR
The XLR also has one of the
most irritating bits of technology
on the road right now – the
dreaded adaptive cruise control.
Granted, cruise control itself is
anathema to serious driving, but
when I’m on the highway, and I
want to avoid racking up
unneeded speeding tickets, I like
the way the cruise keeps me
within the realm of the law-abiding. The XLR's bloody adaptive
system doesn’t just maintain
speed, though; it tries to maintain
a set following distance from the
car in front of you. Fine in theory,
but if a car drops into the slot in
front of you, the XLR practically
slams on the brakes in an effort
to keep the gap. Fortunately,
you can simply blow off the
cruise completely, which I did.
(You can also, thankfully, disengage the adaptive setting and
cruise properly.)
Getting off a major five-lane
road and onto some rural roads
means no more messing with the
cruise control (or fiddling with the
now-standard XM Satellite Radio).
It was time to get down to driving.
First things first. While I appreciate a smooth automatic transmission when
dealing with traffic, a car that wants to be considered a world-class roadster had better at
least offer a manual option. The XLR does not.
You’ll take the five-speed Hydra-Matic automatic and you’ll like it, or you’ll just do without.
For what it’s worth, the Hydra-Matic is a pretty
amazing transmission, with algorithms that do
a pretty good job of shifting for you even in
aggressive situations. And there is the nowubiquitous driver shift control. But as with
most of these manual overrides, the shifts
seem overly laggy.
In reality, the XLR driver shifts really aren’t
any slower than a manual with clutch would
be, but because you’re just tapping your thumb
18 / WINDING ROAD
rather than pumping a pedal and throwing a
stick, the shift seems a hell of a lot slower.
And perception, as we all know is reality.
Throwing the XLR through turns is a nearly
religious experience. The rear-mounted transmission gives the car a nearly 50/50 weight
balance between front and rear, and the
Magnetic Ride Control (the same electronically
controlled, magnetic-fluid based, real-time
suspension damping system found on the
Corvette) works with this balance to deliver
a ride that’s softer than expected on the
highway, but stiff and precisely responsive
when you get aggressive in the twists and
turns. When I push the XLR as hard as any car
I’ve tested, it impresses.
Drive-by-wire steering is something that
I’ve had to spend some time getting used to,
but now I’m dealing it with pretty well. I’ll
probably always miss the feel (even if it’s
purely a product of my imagination) of my
hands being more or less directly connected
to the front wheels via the steering wheel.
That mental block aside, the XLR’s steering is
elegant – feather-light at low speeds and
instantly responsive when you’re at pace.
It’s a steering system that quite literally
gives back exactly what you put in. If you’re
engaged and active, so is the steering, with
a good sense of loading up as you turn. If you’re
detached and leisurely, you can easily keep the
XLR reined in with a single finger on the wheel.
DRIVEN CADILLAC XLR
SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer
Model
U.S. Base Price
Price as Tested
The final leg of the cruise is through
the gloaming and into the night, so in
consideration of limited visibility and a
large, active deer population, I take it
easy. The XLR makes an easy transition
from monster to mannered, enveloping
me in comfort as a result of my easygoing driving style. And as a bonus, the
XLR’s adaptive headlamps, which really
do adjust in conjunction with the turning of the front wheels to do a brilliant
job of illuminating upcoming curves and
corners. It’s not really a performance
feature, but it’s improved safety and a
touch that goes a long way toward living
up to the luxury label.
It’s a stretch to try and connect
the yacht-like '59 Eldorado and the
road-borne stiletto that is the '06
XLR, but I’ll try. Both Cadillacs are
dramatic, both stylistically and in
terms of performance. They both
advanced my expectations. They’re
both convertibles. And they’re both
major milestones in the Cadillac
story, with the XLR marking a welcome return to the forefront, or at
least among the avant garde, of
design and most importantly,
driving exuberance. Attention Euros:
The Yanks are coming, and they’re
coming hard and fast.
Cadillac
XLR
$77,295
$77, 295 (all-inclusive, no options available)
ENGINE:
Type
Displacement
Valvetrain
Max Power
Max Torque
Power:Weight
Torque:Weight
V-8
4.6 L
DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
320 hp @ 6400 rpm
310 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
175 hp/ton
169 lb-ft/ton
CHASSIS:
Drivetrain Layout
Transmission
Steering
Brakes
Tires
front engine, RWD
5-speed automatic
power assisted rack & pinion
disc, ABS
P235/50R18
DIMENSIONS:
Wheelbase
Length
Width
Height
Passenger Config
Curb Weight
105.7 in
177.7 in
72.3 in
50.4 in
2 passenger
3647 lb
PERFORMANCE:
0–60
EPA City Mileage
EPA Hwy Mileage
5.8 sec
17 mpg
25 mpg
WINDING ROAD /
19
Volkswagen Jetta GLI
vs. Mazdaspeed 6
Great, Little-Known Wonders.
by Richard Chiariavalli
lmost four decades ago, David E. Davis
Jr., then editor-in-chief of Car and
Driver, wrote a fascinating article about
a little known sports sedan called the BMW
2002. His point, roughly, was that the BMW
was among the best cars in the world, not
because it was really fast, but because it was
so involving to drive on the street. Davis
knew that he had to stress this point because
the little BMW was so unprepossessing: from
a little known company with slightly weird,
understated styling, sporting a reasonable
price and unimpressive track numbers. I
don’t want to say that BMW became one of
the great automotive brands because of this
one article, but people understood what
David E. was saying, and the article helped
set the brand on a strong upward trajectory.
Fast forward 35 years, and the automotive landscape is entirely different. Detroit no
longer rules the earth, and Japanese and
European makes are now the strong, wellknown brands. But, one thing hasn’t changed
completely. There are still unprepossessing
cars, that can stand shoulder to shoulder
with the best cars around. At least if you look
at them from the right perspective.
A
20 / WINDING ROAD
The new Volkswagen Jetta GLI and the
equally new Mazdaspeed6 fit into this mold.
Sure, these brands are completely familiar,
but very few folks are slapping back a cold
one with a few friends while imagining how
great the next VW or Mazda sedan might be.
Mix that anonymous vibe with slightly conservative styling, add in performance parts
and a very reasonable price, and you can
easily see the resemblance between these
sports sedans and The Little BMW That
Could.
But the big question is whether this
resemblance is more than skin deep. We set
out on some twisty, undulating mountain
roads to find out.
Impressive balance and grunt
We jumped in the Mazda, curious about
the changes the engineers had wrought on
the fine but relatively bland Mazda 6 sedan.
And, technically, the changes are pretty
extensive. Mazda has developed a new
2.3-liter turbocharged four that puts out
274 hp. This is mated to a six-speed manual
gearbox and an all-wheel drive system with
limited slip and active torque split. If this
sounds a little bit like the recipe behind the
Subaru WRX STI and the Mitsubishi Evo, it is.
And, like those cars, Mazda has made other
significant changes to make this a very
complete package. The chassis has been
extensively reinforced to increase torsional
rigidity by a whopping 50 percent. Springs,
stabilizer bars and brakes have all jumped
in size as well.
Mazda has also revised the bodywork of
the Mazdaspeed 6, and when you look at
the car, you begin to appreciate that
Mazda’s aim was quite different than
Mitsubishi’s with the Evo or Subaru’s with
the STI. Mazda is trying to do a sophisticated sports sedan, not an extroverted
street-going rally car.
Winding through a long series of turns,
both sweepers and tight switchbacks,
reveals that all this work has delivered an
impressively balanced car. Dive into a corner, and both roll and understeer are minimal. Squeeze the throttle a bit, and the rear
end comes around nicely. Regardless of
bumps or left/right transitions, the chassis
always seems under control and stable.
Given this level of control, the ride is on
the firm side though nicely damped rather
than harsh.
JETTA GLI VS. MAZDASPEED 6
“
The Mazda team
worked hard to get
a flat torque curve,
and it shows.
The engine demonstrates careful engineering as well. The Mazda team worked
hard to get a flat torque curve starting at
2000 rpm, and it shows. In normal driving,
cracking open the throttle immediately
brings a smooth and quite linear grunt. Sure,
there is a tiny bit of turbo lag, but the Mazda
2.3-liter has almost none of the wild power
surge above 3000 rpm, and the accompanying dearth of power below that level, that
you’ll find on the Evo or STI. Don’t be confused, the Mazda motor is plenty powerful.
Pull is strong, in fact significantly stronger
than on the GLI, though the added weight
that the Mazdaspeed 6 carries makes it feel
a tad slower than an STI. But remember, the
STI is one seriously fast car.
The Mazda’s steering isn’t quite up to the
fine standard set by the drivetrain and suspension. While pleasantly light, it has a dead
spot on center and doesn’t provide much
feedback. The shift linkage is average as
well, though a bigger problem for some in
the target market will be that the
Mazdaspeed 6 is hard to
drive really smoothly. It shares this attribute
with the Audi S4. This mainly shows up when
running through the gears at moderate
speeds, where it is hard to get a nearly continuous flow of power.
Those quibbles aside, the Mazdaspeed 6
offers immense capability at a very reasonable price. If you’re looking for pace and competence, in a refined but slightly muscular
package, you need look no further.
Amazingly fun
If your interests are tilted more in the
direction of involvement and refinement
than pure speed, the Jetta GLI should get
your attention. After thrashing a new Jetta
GLI (with the 2.0-liter turbomotor and DSG
sequential manual transmission) across a
variety of mountain back roads, I have to
report that this is one seriously fun ride.
Since the GLI stickers for under $25,000
”
that statement needs a little context. Do I
mean that the Jetta was fun “for the price,”
or do I mean that the Jetta was fun, period?
Well, before and after driving the Jetta, I
drove a Miata, a WRX STI, a Porsche Boxster, a
Cadillac XLR, a Mercedes CLS55 AMG, a BMW
645Ci and a Ferrari F430, as well as the
Mazdaspeed 6. The Jetta was as fun to drive
as any of these cars. Okay, the Ferrari was
more fun, but after that the Jetta was not
only competitive, I’d also prefer driving it
day-to-day to most of those other cars.
The reasons aren’t hard to understand.
First off, the Jetta has a superb chassis. In
GLI form, at least, the VW engineers have
produced a near-perfect blend of compliance
and roll stiffness. The compliance is there, in
part, to smooth out the ride, which it does.
But the car handles really well, too. You’ll find
that the Jetta feels a little tippy at first, but
like the new BMW 330i, the roll is very
WINDING ROAD /
21
JETTA GLI VS. MAZDASPEED 6
controlled. The other great thing is that the
front end feels amazingly planted, which is
confidence inspiring. You know what is
going on up there (and in a VW the front end
does a lot of the work), and the tires seem
to be tracking the road beautifully. One
advantage of using a slightly softer suspension than you’d find on a typical sports car
“
together with the moderate weighting, this
makes small adjustments easy to execute.
When you do this, you’ll feel the chassis
respond. The secret of the Jetta is that the
chassis isn’t set up in the F1 ground effects,
absolutely flat style. Instead, the chassis
allows the cabin to move around a bit, even
at moderate speeds. So, at those speeds, the
The Jetta GLI is one
seriously fun ride.
is that the planted front end stays that way
on a variety of surfaces. In the real world,
this helps tremendously with the bumps
and ripples of the average road.
The balance of the car is excellent, too.
Despite being a front-driver, the car feels
pretty neutral up to eight-tenths or so,
though when you really push you know
where the lump of iron sits. Such neutrality,
combined with the Jetta’s short wheelbase
and relatively low weight, makes it feel
quite agile.
Thankfully, the steering is set up to
make this balance and agility easy to
exploit. The ratio is on the quick side
without being nervous, and
22 / WINDING ROAD
”
thrill lies in making the car flow. It is a blast
to pull off subtle adjustments and get interesting, well-controlled moves from the chassis. All of this means that you can place the
car precisely, but that you’ll want to work the
car actively through twisty sections.
The other marvel of the GLI is the DSG
transmission coupled with the turbo, 2-liter
VW engine. The engine itself is on the low
side of interesting power and torque levels,
pumping out 200 hp and 207 pound-foot of
torque. That, combined with low weight, puts
the GLI roughly in a category with the
Porsche Boxster and BMW 330i. Nothing
amazing, certainly, though sufficient and all
the more so because the torque starts at
lowish rpms. With that solid platform to
build on, what sets the GLI driving experience apart is DSG.
DSG brings a whole host of strengths to
the party, and as is often the case, the
whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Still, the parts are pretty good. Because DSG
has no torque converter, power is applied
immediately. You can, of course, say that
about any manual transmission. With DSG,
however, you get the ability to quickly grab
a gear with just the pull of a paddle. There
will always be debates about whether this
is better than using a good old clutch-andgear lever, but if smoothness is a goal, DSG
will win hands down. Ditto for speedy shifts.
Another big difference with DSG is that it
offers manual transmission immediacy in
automatic mode. If you live in an urban
area, that could be a big deal, since you’ll
want to use auto mode at least some of the
time. Likewise, if you share your ride with
someone who can’t or won't drive a manual,
it helps that the VW automatic mode is at
least as good as the best automatics – no
JETTA GLI VS. MAZDASPEED 6
compromise there, miraculously. Not only
that, VW’s predictive programming for DSG
means it frequently will pre-select the right
gear, making it faster and smoother on the
uptake than almost any automatic as you
weave throught the twisties. This translates
into a genuinely fun-to-drive automatic for
the first time in my memory. On a really
tight road or in light urban traffic, there
is an argument to be made that DSG in
“Auto” is the most fun.
To fully comprehend the greatness of the
GLI, it helps to understand how refined the
car feels. Controlled noise, vibration and
harshness is mostly the stuff of cars twice
the Jetta’s price, though the weight of the
car probably means that noise is a little
higher than in bigger sedans. Even more
important, the dynamics of the car are
refined, but spirited. The smoothness of the
suspension and transmission, the linearity
of the engine, the muted but ultimately wellbred sound of the drivetrain, the high quality materials and simple controls all add up
to a kind of character that you don’t expect
at this price. At the same time, most cars
with this kind of refinement, but with higher
prices, lack the sense of willingness and
directness that the Jetta delivers.
Impressively, the Jetta is also pretty
practical. The trunk is huge, and the rear
seats can be folded down for even more
cargo-carrying capacity. Those same seats
when upright will comfortably hold a sixfooter, with ample head and leg-room. And
the EPA numbers for the car should come in
around 24 city and 32 highway. That isn’t
diesel or hybrid territory, but it isn’t SUVland either.
So, you can see that we liked the
Mazdaspeed 6 and the Jetta GLI a lot. Their
charms are certainly subtle compared with
those of a Z06 Vette or a WRX STI. But the
charms are real, and they’re amazingly
complete. That’s more than you can say
about many cars, even good ones.
Is either car a modern successor to the
BMW 2002? The Mazdaspeed 6 is closer to
the mold of a recent M3, but at half the
price. That’s a good thing too, particularly if
you like to go fast without being noticed.
But for a successor to the 2002, we’d
nominate the Jetta GLI with its refinement,
interesting handling, breakthrough transmission and moderate but useful power. You can’t
help but smile when you drive it, and it feels different from most other cars in a wonderful way.
Just like the “original.”
SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer
Model
U.S. Base Price
Priced as Tested
Mazda
Volkswagen
Mazdaspeed 6
Jetta GLI
Price $27,995
$24,665
Same
$27,865 (Package #2, includes power
sunroof, satellite radio, cold weather
package)
ENGINE:
Type
Displacement
Valvetrain
Max power
Max torque
Power:Weight
Torque:Weight
CHASSIS:
Drivetrain Layout
Transmission
I-4 Turbocharged
I-4 turbocharged
2.3 L
2.0 L
DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
274 hp @ 5500 rpm
200 hp @ 5500-6000 rpm
280 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
207 lb-ft @ 1800-4700 rpm
152 hp/ton
118 hp/ton
156 lb-ft/ton
122 lb-ft/ton
front-engine, AWD
front engine, FWD
6-speed manual w/overdrive
DSG sequential manual transmission,
automatic mode
electromechanical with speed-
Steering
rack & pinion with variable assist
Brakes
Tires
4-wheel power assist, vented, ABS, EBD, TCS
power assisted, ESP, EBD, ABS, EDL
P215/45R 18 93 Y
225/45 R 17 Y
105.3 in
101.5 in
186.8 in
179.3 in
70.1 in
70.1 in
56.3 in
57.4 in
5 passenger
5 passenger
3589 lb
3308 lb
6 sec
7.1 sec
20 mpg
24 mpg
26 mpg
32 mpg
dependent power assistance
DIMENSIONS:
Wheelbase
Length
Width
Height
Passenger Config
Curb Weight
PERFORMANCE:
0–60
EPA City Mileage
EPA Hwy Mileage
WINDING ROAD /
23
DRIVEN
Audi A3
Audi Nails It
By Brooks Holden
very once in a while, a car comes along
that feels like a genuine discovery.
I’m talking about the kind of car that
isn’t necessarily impressive on paper, but is
so well executed that it deserves special
attention. In years gone by, the BMW 3-Series
was certainly in that camp, along with the
original Volkswagen Golf GTI and the last
generation Mazda RX-7. These aren’t supercars, like the Ferrari F430 or the Corvette Z06,
which everyone expects to be impressive
and significant. They are just well balanced,
E
fun to drive and relatively affordable. Cars
like these tend to surprise because there
isn’t anything obviously outstanding about
them on paper. But, behind the wheel, it is
a different story.
I’m here to say that the new Audi A3 is in
this camp. While it isn’t quite the step forward
that these other cars were, the A3 brings
together such a complete set of driver-friendly
qualities that it rates as a must-try car for
anyone looking for something under $30K
with more than two seats.
WINDING ROAD /
25
DRIVEN AUDI A3
After driving the A3 with the 2.0T fourcylinder engine, sport suspension and Direct
Shift Gearbox (DSG), I wasn’t surprised to
find that its 200 hp and 207 pound-feet of
torque place it right at what many on the
Winding Road staff have come to view as the
“magic minimum.” The magic minimum is
around 120 pound-foot per ton, and 130 hp
per ton. The A3 has slightly more torque
than this and slightly less power, but we’re
splitting hairs. The better context for understanding this idea may be some of the
other excellent cars right around the magic
minimum: the Porsche Boxster, the Mini
Cooper S and the BMW 330i.
Cars like these seem to have enough
punch to be interesting in a wide variety of
situations. Coming out of a corner in the A3,
you get acceleration that feels firm and
satisfying, though it isn’t amazingly fast. The
thrill lies in running through the gears without
endangering everything in your path. Below
this minimum torque and power level, you
“
the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII is
missing. I’m sure some folks enjoy the blast of
torque reached around 3500 rpm that some
heavily boosted cars provide. If you’re one of
those, the A3 won’t be for you. The A3’s turbo
set up feels more like a normally aspirated
motor with larger displacement.
tle extra burst of acceleration you get as you
let out the clutch on each shift. In other words,
your best shift will never be as smooth as what
DSG does with its two clutches, but that very
lack of smooth shifting can feel a little faster.
The question of DSG superiority is much
simpler if your point of comparison is an auto-
THE A3 HAS ENOUGH PUNCH TO BE INTERESTING IN A WIDE VARIETY OF SITUATIONS.
always feel like you want more grunt. Going
above the minimum is better to a point, but also
expensive. After all, almost regardless of your
budget, there is such a thing as diminishing
return on investment.
The A3 engine’s torque curve is fun to exploit,
in part because it is pretty flat. You get good
pull from 2000 rpm on up, and the nonlinearity
of some turbo cars, like the Porsche 911 and
26 / WINDING ROAD
Running through the twisties is a blast in
the A3. The flat torque curve is part of the deal,
but the DSG transmission helps as well. The
DSG shifting is amazingly smooth – smoother
than most automatics. It’s also fast. This paired
with the paddle shifters makes it easy to
whip across a country road, doing your best
Schumacher imitation. With just a pull on the
paddles or the floor lever, the transmission
snaps upshifts and downshifts at will. And, because
there’s no torque converter
as you’d have in an automatic, getting on the power
provides an immediate
response. Certainly, you
could have just as much fun
with a regular manual. The
A3, which is also available
with a six-speed manual,
might feel faster in that configuration because of the lit-
”
matic. There is no doubt in my mind that DSG
does what an autobox does, only better. DSG’s
automatic shifts are smoother than most and
equal to the best autoboxes, and with DSG, the
car feels more responsive. On top of which, no
autobox can shift as immediately and
smoothly as DSG in manual mode. The Aston
Martin DB9, which has the best automatic in
my experience when manually shifted, is very
close to DSG. Pretty much all other automatics,
when shifted manually by paddles or stick,
have an annoying delay between your hand
motion and executing the shift. My point here
is that if you, like a huge percentage of U.S.
drivers, live in an urban area where a manual is
a pain in traffic and/or you have a significant
other who shares the car and won’t drive a
manual, DSG is the answer to your prayers. It
isn’t simply “pretty good” at auto mode and
“pretty good” at manual mode, leaving you
compromised all the time. Rather, it is state-ofthe-art at both.
DRIVEN AUDI A3
The A3 sport suspension helps in the
twisties too. Roll stiffness is good, so cornering
is enjoyably flat. At the same time, the car isn’t
so stiff that you get hammered by every little
bump. As you push the car harder, it will roll a
bit, and you’ll begin to sense that there is a
slight bias toward understeer. This is a front
driver after all, but a very well balanced one.
The steering helps make this exercise enjoyable, as it is quick and very smooth. Like most
Audis in recent memory, you don’t get much of
a feeling that the tires are loading up, which
would be nice. Still, the steering is linear rather
than vague on center, and overall the A3 is
great fun to wheel around. Generally, if I have
to choose between vagueness and isolated
feel, I’ll take the latter.
Despite all this praise, you have to
approach the A3 with an understanding that its
character is understated, refined and progressive, rather than sporty and wild (see the Evo
IX for that). No surprise given that the A3
comes from
hatchback layout of the A3 gives it an edge
Germany,
over larger sedans for carrying certain loads,
not Italy or
though with four passengers on board, the
Britain. The
sedans will have the advantage.
suspension
So, if the Mini Cooper S caught your eye,
is well conbut you found it too small or too cute, or you
trolled and
can’t live with a manual transmission, Audi has
doesn’t serve up the interesting surprises read your mind and made a really interesting
of some sports cars. In keeping with this, the
alternative. Likewise, if you wanted a BMW
sound of the car is rather reserved as well. I’m
325i or 330i with SMG, but couldn’t afford it,
not clear why everyone has such a fascination
the A3 could be your car. Finally, I’d rate the
with masking all engine sound in sporting cars, Mazda RX-8 an intriguing competitor to the A3.
but I’d rate it a bad notion, even though it fits in If you don’t cotton to the RX-8’s styling, or the
well with the rest of the car in this case.
rear compartment is a trifle claustrophobic or
Still, those quibbles aside (and they’re
if it has the manual gearbox that stopped you,
quibbles we’ve raised about the Ferrari F430
it is easy to recommend the A3. Audi keeps
among others), the A3 is a deeply impressive
making more well-rounded cars, and the A3
car. I’m sure my feelings were amplified by the
may be their best effort yet. Can’t wait to try
general practicality of the smallest Audi. The
the A3 with the 3.2-liter V-6 and DSG.
back seat, for example, is quite
SPECIFICATIONS
roomy. I’d rank it just ahead of
Manufacturer
Audi
the BMW 330i and the Audi
Model
A3
A4/S4. Because of the roofline,
U.S. Base Price
$26,220
the rear doors can be longer,
Price as Tested
$29,370; sport package $1800,
cold weather package $700
and there is ample space for
your feet between the B-pillar
ENGINE:
and the seat. Headroom is
Type
I-4 turbocharged
acceptable and on par with the
Displacement
2.0L
Valvetrain
DOHC, 2 valves per cylinder
next class of Euro sports
Max Power
200 hp @ 5100 rpm
sedans. Not only that, the
Max Torque
Power:Weight
Torque:Weight
CHASSIS:
Drivetrain Layout
Transmission
Steering
Brakes
Tires
DIMENSIONS:
Wheelbase
Length
Width
Height
Passenger Config
Curb Weight
PERFORMANCE:
0–60
EPA City Mileage
EPA Hwy Mileage
207 lb-ft @ 1800-5000 rpm
118 hp/ton
122 lb-ft/ton
front engine, FWD
6-speed DSG, sequential manual/automatic mode
rack & pinion, variable power assist
hydraulic, ABS, EBD
225/45
101.4 in
168.7 in
77.1 in
56.0 in
5 passenger
3329 lb
6.7 sec
25 mpg
31 mpg
WINDING ROAD /
27
BUGATTI VEYRON 16.4
WHAT'LL SHE
DO, MISTER?
253
,
APPARENTLY.
28 / WINDING ROAD
But, what’s the
Veyron like to drive?
by Harry Metcalfe
photography by Greg Gregory and Achim Hartmann
his car is already the stuff of legend. In the early days of its development,
so one of the stories goes, the engineers were struggling to get the needed power
from the engine. So they asked for a meeting with Dr. Ferdinan Piech of parent company
VW/Audi and suggested it might be easier to launch the Veyron with 700 to 800 hp and work up to
1000 hp with later derivatives, once they'd figured out how to do it. Piech fixed them with the famous deathrays, dismissed their suggestion and ordered them out, telling them not to return until the power figure started
with a one.
But the horsepower isn't the only extraordinary statistic, of course. On the evening before our test drive, we'd only been in
Sicily for a couple of hours, and I was already suffering from number fatigue.
Take the Veyron's official top speed of 253 mph. The Veyron is actually capable of pushing on past 257 mph, with each further 1 mph
beyond 248 mph requiring an additional 8 hp to overcome air resistance. At maximum speed, the 8-liter W-16 engine is consuming fuel at a rate
of 2.3 mpg, meaning the 22-gallon tank would run dry after just 12 minutes (or 51 miles) of flat-out motoring.
T
WINDING ROAD /
29
BUGATTI VEYRON 16.4
Should you need to stop in a hurry, the
Veyron will go from 250 mph to standstill in
just 9.8 seconds, the vast Michelin tires
needing just 1500 feet of tarmac to grapple
with. That's bordering on surreal, but then
so are the acceleration times. According to
Bugatti, 0-60 mph takes under 2.5 seconds,
0-125 mph 7.3 seconds, 0-186 mph 16.7
seconds and 0-250 mph 55.6. To put it in
perspective, if a fully wound-up McLaren F1
went past a poised, stationary Veyron at
100 mph and the Veyron driver gave it the
gun as the F1 passed, the Bugatti would
still reach 200 mph just before the
McLaren did. Head spinning, I retired to
bed. Tomorrow was going to be a big day.
This was it then, and it was a beautiful
morning. Only three of the five Veyrons that
were brought to Sicily for the launch were
being used, but there they were, lined up
outside the hotel, engines warmed, ready
for our departure. It was quite a sight.
The Veyron is a truly beautiful car; the
signature Bugatti horseshoe grille and the
subtle curves looked timeless in this early
morning light. Yet the twin alloy air intakes
peeking over the roofline leave the onlooker
in no doubt that this is something
immensely powerful, almost dragster-like,
an impression reinforced by the huge,
30 / WINDING ROAD
naked engine externals that lie between the
highly polished intakes. The only jarring element is the front bonnet, which sits proud
of the front wings, making it appear as if it
isn't closed properly.
The door opened wide and although
there was a wide sill, getting into the large,
airy cabin was easy. It was a wonderful
place to be. The roof, pillars and dash were
covered in a mix of leather and Alcantara
that looked beautifully classy, especially
juxtaposed with the machined alloy center
console. The steering wheel is a work of art
in itself, with its aluminum spokes and perfectly shaped rim. Behind the horizontal
spokes are the two aluminum paddles for
manually controlling the seven-speed DSG
gearbox (left for changing down, right for
changing up).
The dash itself is less successful, the
binnacle dominated by a needlessly huge
rev-counter, redlined at 6500 rpm, flanked
by a smaller speedo (calibrated to 280 mph
on our car) to the right and the intriguing
"power" dial (calibrated to 1001 hp) on the
left. Above these are tiny fuel and water
temperature gauges, almost too small to
read, their legibility not helped by the redon-black markings.
Starting the mighty engine involved
inserting a generic Audi-style key into the
dash and hitting the start button that sits
behind the gear selector. There was a
beguiling, multi-cylinder whirl as the
starter, located just behind me, whisked the
W-16 into life, then a wall of mechanical
sound reached the cabin before the giant
settled to a busy tickover, the mighty gearbox chattering discreetly beside me within
the center console. There was an acute
sense of being close to the action. The noise
emanating from the engine was just that,
though, a busy noise granted, but not a particularly tuneful one - blipping the throttle
seemed only to raise the noise level, rather
than bring the 16 cylinders into some sort
of harmonic order. (From the outside, it was
significantly better; there's a classy, deep
and purposeful rumble to an idling Veyron.)
To move off, you can either nudge the
central gear selector into drive or tap the
right-hand paddle to manually select the tall
BUGATTI VEYRON 16.4
first gear. As you release the foot-brake
the car starts to inch forward thanks to the
clever DSG gearbox having a helpful degree
of "creep" built into it.
By the time we finally nosed out of the
parking lot, it was rammed with onlookers
and it was a relief to be out on the fantastic,
winding roads of Sicily. I seemed to be sitting quite low, but as the sports seats don't
adjust for height I had to lump it. Visibility
was good directly to the front and rear, but
not as good to the sides. The huge A-pillars
and mirrors created a worryingly large
blind-spot when maneuvering, an activity
that is further hindered by simply a huge
turning circle.
We found a terrific coastal road for
some photography, which means seriously extending the Veyron would have
to wait a while. So far, I had only the
briefest opportunity to wake the power
dial from its slumber, but the DSG gearbox had already made a big impression
for its sheer usability. Having wrestled
recently with the carbon clutch on a Carrera
GT and the notchy 'box of a Pagani Zonda F,
this was a revelation. The seven gears
slipped home with no hint of lost momentum yet without suffering from that slightly
disconnected feel you get with a manually
operated auto 'box (or even an automated
manual, for that matter).
Far from being a huge challenge to drive,
the 1000 hp Bugatti was so far proving to be
a very friendly device. The ride was firm but
cosseting, and the steering was outstanding. Considering the size of the front tires,
the weighting at the steering wheel was
extraordinarily good, and there was a constant chatter of information coming via the
leather rimmed wheel. Turning either side of
dead center simply required a linear
increase in effort, gently building as lock
increased. It's easily the best steering I've
encountered on any car from the VW Group,
and it kept reinforcing the reassuring feeling of connectedness.
Time was tight if we were going to do
more than take pictures, so I headed in the
direction of the nearest autostrada, perched
above on 650-foot-high pillars and hugging
the northern coastline. A winding access
road took me onto the slip-road, and I
surged onto the highway. Finally, I got the
chance to give the throttle a bit more
than a tickle.
There was a slight pause, as if the
mighty engine had to clear its throat before
erupting into action. Then, the power dial
started to swing into action as first 500,
then 600 hp were brought into play. There
was no time to think — the car simply rocketed into the blackness of a tunnel. I caught
sight of 140 mph on the tiny speedo; this
was insane. Short seconds later, I burst
back into the sunlight, and a touch on the
right paddle slipped yet another cog into
play without any pause in the action; I
couldn't help but think that all other supercar transmissions were going to feel very
crude after this. We swung through a series
of curves that joined the tunnels together,
and thumps echoed through the cabin as
we crossed expansion joints — inevitable
with such massive tires and the carbon
fiber body.
WINDING ROAD /
31
BUGATTI VEYRON 16.4
I was cruising at 130 mph in fourth, with
barely 200 hp being called on, according to
the power indicator. The Metcalfe brain computed that this meant there's around 800
hp waiting in the wings. Introducing the
throttle to the carpet again seemed the only
sensible option.
Whoah! As the tach swung past 4500
rpm, we were leaving the relative sanity of
Ferrari Enzo levels of power and entering
the exclusive Veyron zone: 700 hp rapidly
became 800, the engine note grew menacingly deeper, more gravelly as the revs rose
ever higher, the acceleration hit, intensifying beyond hurricane force as the needle
stormed through 900 hp and lunged for the
final 1001-hp marker. This was an entirely
new dimension of accelerative excess, four
32 / WINDING ROAD
turbos whistled behind me as the red line
approached, and my eyes were fixed on a
previously non-existent corner that was fast
approaching. Another gear slipped home
just as I started to ease off for the corner at
190 mph.
Outside, the dramatic rear spoiler was
brought into play. Normally it lies flush with
the bodywork, but it rose on its hydraulically powered struts once the speed
exceeded 138 mph. It also functions as an
air brake, tilting upwards in just 0.4 seconds
to add up to 0.6 g to the braking effort, as
well as increasing downforce over the rear
axle.
The Veyron was clearly in its element on
the autostrada, but how would all this power
translate to the twistier sections of the
BUGATTI VEYRON 16.4
Targa Florio course? We pulled off at the next
junction and joined part of the historic roadrace route. With "handling" mode engaged (the
ride height dropped 1.7 inches at the front and
1.2 inches at the rear, while the rear spoiler
was permanently raised), we were immediately into a rhythm as the road flowed gracefully up the hillside in a series of constantradius curves. The Veyron seemed to control
roll exceptionally well (the super-wide track
must have helped), while the tireless brakes
(eight-pot calipers on 15.7-inch carbon discs at
the front, six pots and 15-inch discs at the
rear) were so good you never notice how hard
you're making them work. The pedal pressure
remained constant while they refused to
grumble (a common problem with carbon
brakes) despite the massive weight they were
having to slow.
Information about the changing grip at the
road surface kept flowing to my fingertips. I
could also sense when the rear tires started to
get overloaded with torque; just as I thought it
was about time I eased off the power, the electronically controlled rear diff shuffled the
excess power to the front.
I was surprised at the amount of turbo lag
the Veyron seemed to suffer, though.
Extracting over 1000 hp from an eight-liter
engine that revs to 6500 rpm still required relatively high boost pressures (1.2 bar in the
Veyron's case) and the four turbos, which all
come into play simultaneously, took time to
spool up. When I went into an overtake in toohigh a gear, there was an uncomfortable
moment when there didn't seem to be anything happening, followed by a sudden,
almighty rush.
The car's weight, though, was becoming
increasingly noticeable the harder I pushed.
There's amazing traction on offer, but with typically slippery Italian tarmac under tire, I soon
felt the weight at the rear starting to get the
quality is such that it simply feels it will last
upper hand. A front/rear weight balance of
forever. It's also one of the best looking cars on
45/55 sounded pretty good, but according to
the planet.
Bugatti, the quoted 4153-pound weight was in
In previous decades, Piech's magnificent
fact a dry weight. To get a truer figure, you
obsessions have brought us the all-conquering
need to allow for 25 gallons of fuel, 10.5 galPorsche 917 and Audi Quattro. Today, we have
lons of water for engine cooling, four gallons of another masterpiece, the 1000-hp Bugatti
water for the twin chargecooler circuit, five gal- Veyron 16.4. Whatever its detractors would like
lons of engine oil, a further six gallons for the
us to think, the world is a better place because
gearbox and another four gallons for
of it.
hydraulics, brakes, etc. That puts
the weight closer to 4620 pounds.
Bugatti says the figure was a lot
higher, but they've taken nearly
450 pounds out of the car since
2003. Still, there's 2541 pounds
over the rear axle, and that's over
28 pounds more than the total
weight of a McLaren F1.
So it's no Elise (or F1). But,
while the weight works against it
on these roads, that's not to say it
feels unwieldy or difficult. In fact, it
handles amazingly well, and having
1000 hp to play with on these
roads was an absolute blast.
The problem for Bugatti is that,
Bugatti
Manufacturer
in creating a mid-engined supercar,
Veyron 16.4
Model
it is inviting comparisons with
$1,250,000
U.S. Base Price
same
Price as Tested
other mid-engined cars that are
bound to be lighter and, therefore,
ENGINE:
more nimble. Cars like the Carrera
W-16
Type
GT and Zonda F. Choosing the
8L
Displacement
DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
Valvetrain
Veyron over these rivals is to admit
987hp @ 6000 rpm
Max power
that you're more likely to get your
922 lb-ft @ 2200-5500 rpm
Max torque
kicks from the Bugatti's pulverising
472 hp/ton
Power:Weight
acceleration on the straights, rather
441 lb-ft/ton
Torque:Weight
than enjoying race-car dynamics
CHASSIS:
through the curves.
mid engine, AWD
Drivetrain Layout
None of which should stop
six-speed manual
Transmission
us from celebrating the
7-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox
Steering
rack & pinion
Veyron's existence. It is a true
carbon-ceramic discs, ABS, ESP
Brakes
engineering marvel, and some
256-680 front, 365-710 rear
Tires
of the world's greatest engineers have worked long years
DIMENSIONS:
106.3 in
Wheelbase
to turn Ferdinand Piech's
175.8 in
Length
vision of the world's first 100078.7 in
Width
hp supercar into reality. That
47.5 in
Height
seven-speed DSG gearbox is
2 passeneger
Passenger Config
4162 lb
Curb Weight
one of the finest pieces of
engineering I've ever sampled
PERFORMANCE:
in a car, period. The ride is
2.9 sec
0–60
superbly judged, as are the steer10 mpg
EPA City Mileage
12 mpg
EPA Hwy Mileage
ing and the brakes. In fact, the ease
of driving this 250 mph-plus car
was extraordinary, while the build
© 2006 EVO magazine
WINDING ROAD /
33
34 / WINDING ROAD
by Bill Campbell
photography by Andrew Yates
o doubt about it, 505 horsepower
gets your attention, though in the
fast-paced world of horsepower
wars over the last 24 months, this simple
specification has started to sound slightly
more commonplace. But when you think
about 505 horsepower in a $65,000 car
that weighs only 3200 pounds, you start
to get whipped up again. Let’s face it, the
Corvette Z06 isn’t just sorta kinda impressive if you’d like to actually drive a supercar
rather than just read about it; no, the Z06 is
completely and utterly amazing.
In case you’re harboring some lingering
doubt, let’s put a little perspective on this
milestone accomplishment of the Chevrolet
Motor Division: The only production cars to
top the Z06 in Winding Road’s power-toweight and torque-to-weight tabulation are
the Mercedes-McLaren SLR and the Bugatti
Veyron (for more on the Veyron, see page
28.) These cars cost 10 to 20 times the
price of the Z06. Sure, there are two additional cars that are ahead on one spec and
slightly behind the Z06 on another, the
Porsche Carrera GT and the Dodge Viper.
The Porsche, of course, is another megadollar supercar. The Viper, on the other hand
has only about 10-percent less power-toweight and costs about $20K more.
Not bad, but even so, you have to say that
the Z06 ranks as a major step toward
affordable supercars.
Oh, by the way, if you still aren’t fully
convinced, you may want to consider that
the Z06 has 50 percent higher torque-toweight than the BMW M5, which is about
the same relative difference as the one
between the M5 and the Honda Accord
Hybrid. Need more? The Z06 has 40 percent more torque-to-weight than the Ferrari
F430, and 30 percent more power-toweight and torque-to-weight than the
Porsche 911 Turbo (996).
N
AMERICATHE
VS.
WORLD
WINDING ROAD /
35
CORVETTE ZO6: AMERICA VS. THE WORLD
Actually, if you have doubts about the
Z06, they won’t come from the spec sheet.
The question you’ll be asking – the question you should be asking – is whether this
is a great car, or just a big engine all
dressed up with no place to go?
To find out, we followed our standard
practice and aimed a freshly minted black
Z06 straight for our favorite roads in the
Texas Hill Country. We also pitted the Z06
against a bevy of competitive cars – the
aforementioned Dodge Viper and Ferrari
F430, as well as the Porsche 997 Carrera S
and Mitsubishi Evo IX MR. If Chevy wants to
claim it has a world class car, we figured
that it needed to take on the best the world
has to offer. (See sidebars.)
Right off the bat, the Z06 revealed a
very strong family resemblance to the C6
Coupe. Same well isolated suspension.
Similar lack of impact harshness compared
with other sportscars. Same slightly dead
steering feel. Same flat cornering. And, of
course, the same command-console-ofthe- Millennium-Falcon view over the hood.
None of that is really bad, but I couldn’t
help but be slightly disappointed with my
first impression. Despite a 7-liter engine
replacing the 6-liter standard motor,
special aluminum chassis parts, and carbon fiber bits here and there, this is a
Corvette through and through. And despite
the extra $15,000 or so that you pay,
essentially the only apparent design
changes are a few small scoops and vents
on the exterior, and red stitching and Z06
logos on the interior. Not a bad value, but
the emotional pot probably could have
been stirred further.
As the miles rolled by, and we got
deeper into the Hill Country twisties, a new
view began to emerge. It seems everything
that is good has an element of subtlety to
it, and the Z06 is no different. Starting in
the most obvious place, comparing the
Z06’s LS7 427 (liters be damned!) with the
base 400 hp LS2, was instructive. On the
street, driving around town or on the
highway, I’m pretty sure that if I could
blindfold you and still have you drive, you’d
say the LS2 is the bigger motor, which is to
say, the Z06 engine. That’s because the
36 / WINDING ROAD
Z06 vs. Ferrari F430
We got a few complaints the last time we
did a comparison of the Corvette and a
“lesser” car, in that case the Porsche
Boxster. So, this time we brought along
what many would regard as the heavy hitter among 500-hp cars, the Ferrari F430.
The comparison might be unfair, but it
certainly is enlightening.
In one sense, the cars are surprisingly
similar, and this helps benchmark Chevrolet’s achievement. As you would expect, both
cars are fast, seemingly born to execute explosive passing maneuvers on two lane blacktop. Both cars feel solid and seem well planted as speed rises, as if their capabilities were
so high that 100 mph was nothing. And both cars feel great at .7g on long sweepers.
But, of course, Ferrari isn’t Ferrari without good reason, and so it is that the F430 is a
world apart from the Z06 when it comes to tactile qualities and sensory input. It starts
with the sound of the engines. The Corvette is interesting and thumpy, but muted. The
Ferrari is muted for a Ferrari, but by comparison is snarly and symphonic. Similarly, the
moves of the chassis are simply more clearly conveyed through the steering and seat of
the F430. And as you press on, the Ferrari seems much happier near the limit. Still, I can
think of lots of things to do with the $120,000 you’d save by going with the Z06. And
the Z06 is amazing enough that you’d probably never look back.
— Brooks Holden
6-liter LS2 feels a little stronger than the
LS7 in the 2000 to 3500 rpm range where
you so often find yourself on the street.
Whether it is because the LS2 torque peak
is slightly lower or because the Z06 has
taller gearing doesn’t really matter. Let’s
get this straight, the LS2 is one of the great
engines of all time for practical street level
torque, and the LS7 in the Z06 delivers
about 95 percent of the feel of the LS2,
but potential buyers, particularly those
with C6 experience, should be prepared.
That said, I prefer the Z06 engine. One
reason is because the horsepower curve
on the LS7 rises with revs in a way that
makes the Z06 feel more like it just wants
to run and run. As I kept the hammer down,
the LS7 just felt more willing and more able
to devour the road, whereas the LS2 in the
C6 feels a little stressed as you stay on the
throttle. Not only that, but I thought the
sound of the Z06 engine and exhaust was
more interesting and refined. Not that it
sounds like an overhead cam engine, or
anything but a V-8, but compared with
the base engine, the LS7 sounds more
spirited and more potent. Having been
to LeMans this summer and heard the
amazing sounds of the C6-R’s 427, I
found myself wishing for a bit more
exhaust sound. At least I could still hear
a version of the amazing C6-R exhaust
thump each time I stood on it.
Out on the road, the Z06 engine did a
lot of what I expected. It made it very easy
to bump the tail of the car out, the traction
control being on the lenient side. Passing
maneuvers were child’s play. Even simple
suburban traffic was fun because I could
easily adjust the position of the car with
tiny movements of the throttle. And when
you really get into it, the Z06 just inhales
the tarmac. Runs from 30 to 80 mph only
took a few seconds, and the sensation was
that acceleration just kept increasing as if
the Z06 were a nuclear reactor with the
control rods pulled out.
CORVETTE ZO6: AMERICA VS. THE WORLD
One thing I really came to love about
the power of the Z06, strange as it might
sound, is that things didn’t happen too
quickly. Compared with some turbo cars,
where the acceleration on boost is more
dramatic, the Z06 wound out in a way that
I could savor it, while still being scary fast.
The Z06 just has phenomenal midrange
acceleration, but because the engine is so
linear, pulling very strongly from 2000 rpm
on up, you can just drink in the thrill ride.
The other wonderful element of the Z06
drivetrain is that it is amazingly easy to
drive smoothly. The shift linkage is on the
heavy side, requiring deliberate motion,
Z06 vs. Dodge
Viper SRT10
The Z06 is defined by its engine, which
offers explosive midrange power and
torque and a vigorous top-end rush. This
great engine makes the Z06 feel quicker
than the Viper, which it is, but it also
makes it feel twitchier. Tip into the Z06’s
throttle too briskly in lower gears and its
back end snaps loose quicker than you can say, “Watch out for that tree!” The Z06
has high cornering limits, but those limits are tricky to explore because the car’s
firm suspension and steering feel strangely elastic, making it difficult to read the messages the tires are sending.
By contrast, Dodge’s Viper SRT10 — whose motor also commands serious respect
and self-restraint — responds more linearly to driver inputs, and is a more communicative handler. Like the Corvette, the Viper is capable of throttle-induced wheelspin, but its breakaway is gradual and easily modulated — not the abrupt,
all-or-nothing snap of the Z06. And the Viper’s well-damped steering is delightfully
direct, providing unambiguous, two-way communications between the driver
and the front tires. The Viper doesn’t suffer fools gladly, but its no-surprises honesty
and no-vices handling allow careful drivers to probe its performance envelope without getting snakebitten.
— Chris Martens
WINDING ROAD /
37
Z06 vs. Carrera S
With the Z06, Chevrolet has yet again built an exceptional car with an unearthly
amount of power. Unfortunately those pesky Germans are still hanging around with
their perfect little sportscars. Can the Corvette finally thwart Ferdinand’s empire with
its mighty 505-bhp 427?
Porsche does seem to understand that 505 is just one, relatively unimportant number.
They ask over $16K more for their prize fighter, the Carrera S, despite its modest
355-hp spec. The S, you see, has much more than an engine. It has smooth, solid steering with only the thinnest layer of isolation and a talkative chassis that dances playfully
on the limit while still transmitting intimate details at any pace.
Granted, the Z06 does pack an epic punch. Mashing the long-travel throttle produces stunning acceleration and the previouslysilent V-8 erupts into an earthquake of sound. The 911’s motor wins the finesse war, however, with a more elastic power delivery
and a wail that is opera to the Vette’s heavy metal. The Carrera also generates a stout pace, but even with a superior shifter, it’s
no match for massive American cubes.
Unfortunately, a massive motor is about all the Corvette has. Though its chassis and steering are competent and supercar-bothering grip is on tap, by comparison with the Carrera the Z06’s complete lack of feel seems terribly uninvolving. The Z06
is for engine people, the Carrera for chassis people, but in the end, for me, Porsche still makes the more coherent package.
— Tom Martin
but somehow the car maintains momentum during shifts. Lots of high powered
cars don’t do this, with the result that
even three-quarter throttle acceleration is
a rather herky-jerky affair. The Z06 makes
the driver look good and feel even better
because smoothness happens naturally.
Acceleration ramps up in a giant surge,
then there is a soft pause while you shift,
and the surge begins again.
Interestingly, the engine improvements
are matched by handling improvements,
accomplished with a few chassis tweaks
to the car. The Z06 engineering team obviously stiffened the suspension up a notch,
particularly at the rear. The result is that
you get a much greater sense of the car
following the road, and you have a better
sense of what the road surface is like.
This approach leaves you a much happier
driver because the feedback from the
chassis is significantly more interesting.
38 / WINDING ROAD
Of course, we can say that partially
because the chassis of the C6 didn’t quite
deliver the goods. The C6 chassis just
plain isolates the driver from the road.
Giving the driver a better connection
with the road, which the Z06 does, isn’t
the same as saying the Z06 has better
road holding. On a few occasions, the
Z06 seemed twitchier than the C6, which
as we’ve pointed out before, feels a little
less planted at the rear than most
other high end sports cars. Part of this
sensation may stem from the location
of the driver so close to the rear wheels.
You sit way back in a Corvette, and that
certainly amplifies your sense of what is
going on back there. In a mid-engine car,
you sit closer to the center of rotation,
which calms things down a bit. Still, the
Z06 has very high limits, it’s just that the
somewhat isolated feel of the chassis,
combined with similarly isolated steering,
can leave you wondering where you are
vis a vis the limits of the car.
So, the Z06 is genuinely fun to drive,
amazingly fast and almost certainly the
best Corvette ever. But it creates a
conundrum. On one hand, the chassis
and steering lack the directness that
some competitive cars – heck, some less
expensive cars – can deliver, and you
can’t help but wish for a bit more of the
tactile input that such cars provide. On
the other hand, the same isolation that
makes the Z06 at times seem one small
click removed from driving greatness
makes the car relaxing to drive day in
and day out, mile after mile.
In the past, we’ve argued that the
911 is a benchmark sports car because
its heritage and speed give it a claim on
greatness. It is hugely involving to drive
in the real world, and it is loaded with
practical features — reasonable approach
CORVETTE ZO6: AMERICA VS. THE WORLD
angles, easy ingress/egress, good
sightlines, practical luggage space, long
distance comfort — that mean you can
enjoy that driving pleasure daily rather
than once in a while. The Corvette is a
car like that. It too is a benchmark car
because it has the specs and history to
make you salivate, and it is entertaining
at rational speeds. To top it off, like the
911, the Z06 is a real world car: It is
comfortable, not too hard to enter and
exit, reasonably tolerant of potholes and
parking lot entrances and offers usable
storage space. By the way, it gets 26
mpg on the highway. Those seem like
minor things until you realize how few
really fast and involving cars achieve
them. And until you realize how they
improve the prospect of ownership.
The difference between these two
greats is that the 911 is built on the sports
car model, while the Z06 feels more like
a GT. Within the GT construct, which trades
of some agility for reduced harshness,
we think the Z06 could be even better,
but then so could the 911. The Z06 in
particular could have more steering feedback, and it would be a better GT than it is.
None of this critique should take away
from Chevrolet’s achievement with the
Z06. The car delivers on the promise of
being extremely fast. Even better, Chevy
has made the car involving enough that
the prospect of boredom after a few
months no longer looms on the horizon.
None of this has reduced the daily driver
practicality of the Corvette at all. Given
the price, it could be the world’s best all
around two-passenger car.
SPECIFICATIONS
Z06 vs. Mitsubishi Evo IX MR
Huh? Compare the mighty Z06 to the pipsqueak Mitsu Evo? Are we nuts?
Sure we are, but remember that the prior generation Evo finished at #5 in
the Winding Road Top 50, just ahead of the C6 Corvette.
Driving the Z06 and the Evo back to back is an eye opener to say the least.
The first thing you learn is that getting the power down coming off a corner
is one of the keys to going really quickly, and in that department, the Evo
feels like it has it all over the Z06.
The Evo’s AWD and center diff,
combined with responsive but
not explosive power, mean you
can really launch the little
Mitsubishi out of tight corners.
And while the weight of the cars
isn’t far apart, the Evo feels much
lighter and more agile, aided by
really quick steering and firmer
suspension settings.
On the street, there are also
times when you’d swear the Evo accelerates faster. This is clearly an illusion brought about by the advent of big boost around 3200 rpm. A longer
driving session reveals that the 2.0-liter motor really can’t keep up, of
course. More important than raw speed is the way the Z06 gives you the
sense of complete ease during hard acceleration as if there were much
more power available by simply dipping further into the throttle. For fun,
you could call it a tossup, but the Z06 is definitely more impressive in the
way it goes about its business.
— T.B. Martin
Manufacturer
Model
U.S. Base Price
Price as Tested
ENGINE:
Type
Displacement
Valvetrain
Max power
Max torque
Power:Weight
Torque:Weight
CHASSIS:
Drivetrain Layout
Transmission
Steering
Brakes
Tires
DIMENSIONS:
Wheelbase
Length
Width
Height
Passenger Config
Curb Weight
PERFORMANCE:
0–60
Chevrolet
Z06 Corvette
$65,800
No options
V-8
7.0 L
pushrod, 2 valves/cylinder
505 hp @ 6300 rpm
470 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
337 hp/ton
313 lb-ft/ton
front engine, RWD
6-speed manual
power-assisted, speed-sensitive, magnetic,
rack & pinion
disc, ABS
275/35ZR-18 front, 325/30ZR-19 rear
105.7 in
175.6 in
75.9 in
49.0 in
2 passenger
3132 lb
4.9 sec
EPA City Mileage
16 mpg
EPA Hwy Mileage
26 mpg
WINDING ROAD /
39
With a 500-hp V-10 and 279 driving modes, the new M5
may be the most accomplished sedan in the world.
But what’s it like against a hurricane?
by Greg N. Brown
40 / WINDING ROAD
BMW M5
awn skies spilled gray sheets of windwhipped rain. Hurricane Wilma had spiraled
up the Atlantic coast after savaging Florida
and then courted and captured some little
bogtrotter of a weather system from the Ohio
Valley. Their brief but tempestuous liaison had
spawned the elements of a perfect storm, and it
now raged over a huge swath of the northeast.
Even the swordfish fleet was staying at home.
I, however, had only one day to try out the new M5, and that meant
venturing into a vicious storm and onto narrow and unknown roads slick
with fallen autumn leaves. More ominously, later in the day I would be
lapping the M5 at Lime Rock Park, the tricky little road circuit tucked into
the green hills of northwestern Connecticut. Fun, yes? Well, maybe not.
The forecast called for heavy rain well into the evening.
Grumpy from the foul weather and a twitchy night on a hotel mattress,
I envisioned a day of learning a lot about the 4000-pound sedan’s
dynamic stability control and the wet grip of the bespoke Continental
Sport Contact 2 tires, but little about the outer edges of M performance,
about the F1-inspired launch control, 0-60 mph times of less than five
seconds, at-the-limit handling or top-speed stability at a buck fifty-five.
No Weather Channel prediction was ever more accurate.
Even in the half light, the M5’s styling distinctions were discernible:
19-inch running gear tucked tightly under wider wheel arches, revised
front and rear aprons and side sills, larger front
air intakes (no fog lamps) and the distinctive Mstyle mirrors, quad tailpipes and side gills on
view with every M car. In the charged atmosphere of the passing thunderstorms, the M5’s
coachwork seemed taut with coiled muscle, and
my eye traveled over the contours in the same
way a toned physique invites admiration.
The complex of cockpit controls, on the other
hand, invited confusion, at least to this firsttime driver. Most of the switchgear and functions was familiar 5 Series territory and
presented no problem, but the M5 also offers
the driver 279 combinations of dynamic control
settings, and that was a bit complicated on a
cold morning. Still, the tech geek in me thought
D
it was all very cool, and, given enough time, I’m sure I’d find delight in discovering the adjustable parameters for three levels of engine power and
throttle response; SMG transmission shift-programs; dynamic stability
control modes and de-activation; comfort, normal and sport levels of
electronic damping control with related comfort or sport steering modes;
and optional head-up display and active seat backrests. In fact, the M5
would appear to be the first car to offer the personalization of a virtual
racing game, though it would take a real high-speed race track to explore
this computer-rich muscle car properly.
Settling into the excellent, deeply contoured sports bucket seat, I
shoved the keyless fob into its slot on the steering column, applied the
brake pedal, pushed the start button, and the 5.0-liter V-10 whirred to life,
quietly throbbing with a subcurrent of leashed energy. In start-up mode,
it delivers 400 hp; a push of the “Power” button raises maximum output
to 500 hp and 383 pound-foot of torque, up from the previous 4.9-liter V8’s 394 hp and 368 pound-foot of torque. A third push initiates a Sport
mode and extra-sharp throttle response to the half a thousand horses.
Wilma’s sloppy conditions convinced BMW to pre-program moderate
settings before the fleet set sail, so “only” 400 hp was underfoot as I
began the day’s drive. Though I felt invited to explore more aggressive
calibrations as I became familiar with the car, the severity of the storm,
and an agreement with my co-driver to return him safely to his wife and
kids, argued against any rash move in that direction.
The naturally aspirated 10-cylinder engine and seven-speed sequential
The M takes typical 5-Series luxury to the next level with a smaller,
sportier steering wheel and enhanced iDrive settings.
WINDING ROAD /
41
BMW M5
transmission are both firsts for any production car, but there is much
more to the M5 than the impressive powertrain. Elevating this flagship
performance sedan beyond a standard 5 Series required a number of
modifications, and there was no better place to start than with huge
brakes. The compound cross-ventilated units from Teves are the largest
ever used on a BMW production car, and they worked as well in the wet as
any brakes I’ve experienced, but I still wondered why cast-iron instead of
composite ceramic rotors? The answer is weight savings and, of course,
cost. A ceramic rotor requires a much larger, and heavier, caliper because it
can’t absorb as much heat as a conventional
rotor, and BMW discovered it could save weight
and cost and provide sufficient stopping power
with the traditional, though massive, cast-iron
rotors and two-piston calipers.
Additional sub-surface changes include a
stronger subframe, more rigid suspension
bushings, a wider front track, a narrower rear
track to accommodate the larger rear tires, hollow axle halfshafts, and recalibrated springs
and shocks. The new M5 is also the first M
model to be fitted with Electronic Damping
Control, and its Servotronic steering system is different; it’s quicker and
feels much more precise than the system used in the normal 5 Series
models. There’s no better accolade for a steering system than to say the
car goes where it’s pointed; the M5 goes where it’s pointed. Turn-in points
and apex arcs are bull’s-eyed in this car, aided by an ideally tuned rack
unhampered by numbness or artificial input.
The suspension is based on the 5 Series but is retuned for the
enhanced performance, and the running gear is staggered in classic reardrive performance fashion. Up front are 244/40ZR-19s on 8.5 x 19-inch
wheels; the working pair are 285/35ZR-19s on 9.5 x 19-inch alloys.
Handling balance is at the discretion of the driver. In normal modes, the
M5 is a comfortable, long-range cruiser. Program it for performance, how-
ever, and the balance eagerly shifts to the rear. The big 19s then come into
full play as both power conduits and steering aids, leaving it only to the
driver to choose how wide a sweep to make with the tail through the
bends.
The M5’s specially tuned variable differential lock, also offered in the
M3, was particularly useful during the soggy day as the rear wheels
searched for grip. It works by measuring speed differential between the
rear wheel. Any time a difference is detected, a shear pump in the system
develops pressure on a multi-disc clutch and thus transfers driving torque
to the wheel with the better grip. It’s a transparent operation, and it worked in perfect tandem
with the car’s Dynamic Stability Control to keep
the M5 on a consistently even keel. If there had
been a dry road around, I could have switched to
a more aggressive DSC setting or even turned it
off altogether, but those thrills would have to wait
for another time.
Even in comfort mode, the M5 felt plenty stiff
as I weaved through the rolling hills on the flanks
of the Catskills. When the suspension was
cranked to full sport, body lean disappeared
entirely and the big sedan tracked through the corners with almost supernatural aplomb. Broken road hardly upset the car’s amazing tranquility,
and a bit more tire rumble was the only indication that the suspension
was working hard.
Over the next five hours, I snaked over so many twisting back roads
that my sense of direction was completely befuddled, but I had learned
quite a bit about the M5’s usefulness as an all-weather vehicle.
First, the drivetrain delivers its power in a linear, smooth manner, welcome when the pavement is slippery. BMW’s philosophy is that the driver
can more closely control a high-powered car’s progress through a responsive, elastic powerband than by having to manage massive gushes of
torque. You need only to drive the M5 and Dodge Viper back to back to
The M5 proves itself to be
fully comfortable with its
4012-pound heft. Its
dynamic response to the
road is what separates
BMW’s M cars from all
pretenders.
42 / WINDING ROAD
BMW M5
understand the felicitous consequences of BMW’s approach. Though the
12’s torque rating is not much more than the V-8’s, and its peak output of
383 pound-foot comes at a relatively high 6100 rpm, there’s never a lack
of yank at the press of the fast pedal. The Bimmer’s lightweight 12-cylinder (it weighs almost the same as the outgoing V-8) shows complete
enthusiasm when reaching for the 8250-rpm redline, and the close-ratio
gearbox ensures optimum power is available when needed. There is no
trade-off of low-end grunt for the exhilaration of high-rpm horsepower.
Sure, the engine can lope along leisurely, but, when fully unleashed, it can
also spin the tires through the first three gears and terrify every civilian
within earshot of the assertive rasps from the quad-pipe exhaust. The
sound is a leonine yowl that informs the knowing ear of something special
under the hood.
Blessed with the latest generation of SMG gearbox, the M5 is unhampered by the balky, imprecise feel of earlier SMGs. Left to its own devices,
SMG is commuter friendly, but the auto-manual is
most fully appreciated when the driver uses it to
exploit the magnificent reserves of power. Crisp
upshifts, rev-matching downshifts, and a tangible
connection to the engine’s copious flow of power
are immediate rewards for an active use of the paddles or gearshift lever, but it can also be used effectively in stop and go traffic and the urban crawl.
Purists will welcome the news that BMW will offer
a fully manual six-speed transmission for the M5 is
the near future, but only for North America. It seems
Europeans have fully accepted SMG’s benefits and
consider a clutch pedal to be superfluous.
Far from superfluous, though, is the M5’s 500 horsepower, and it actually was helpful when smooth and predictable power delivery was
required, such as on the super-slick surfaces encountered at Lime Rock.
The track was so wet that the correct “line” was to stay off the dry line,
which was liberally coated with oil and included short sections of slick
concrete. Front-straight speeds reached about 130 mph, but most of the
session was spent feeling my way through the
awkward apexes. Only once did the M5 wiggle when I exited a corner with
a bit too much throttle, as it was very easy to read the big car’s weight
transfer and moments of inertia. Car control, especially on a race track, is
all about weight control, and the M5 proved itself to be fully comfortable
with its 4012-pound heft. It’s in these dynamic responses to the road that
separates BMW’s M cars, and this new M5, from all pretenders.
BMW engineered the M5 to be a civilized urbanite in a power suit as well
as a snarling, large-caliber rubber-wrecker for track days (or periods of
temporary insanity), but the M5’s personality is more than just bi-polar.
Depending on driver choice, adjustments alter the car’s behavior across
those 279 different variations of mild to wild in nearly seamless fashion,
absent of mechanical hitch or electronic hiccup. The result looks to be the
most useable supercar in the world, though I’d need to drive Audi’s RS6
and Mercedes’ E55 AMG back to back with the M5 on
dry roads before turning that conjecture into a firm
belief.
At just $81,200, the M5’s base price is entirely
reasonable. For about the same price as an equally
involving Porsche Carrera S, the M5 offers seating
for five, a full-size trunk and enough luxury to
satisfy anyone’s sybaritic lifestyle.
BMW M5 SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer
Model
U.S. Base Price
ENGINE
Engine Type
Displacement
Max Power
Max Torque
Power: weight
Torque: weight
CHASSIS
Drivetrain Layout
Transmission
Steering
Brakes
DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase
Length
Width
Height
Passengers
Weight
PERFORMANCE
0-60 mph
EPA City Mileage
EPA Hwy Mileage
BMW
M5
$81,200
V-10
5.0L
500 hp @ 7750 rpm
383 lb-ft @ 6100 rpm
249 hp/ton
191 lb-ft/ton
front engine, RWD
7-speed SMG
variable assist power
vacuum assisted ventilated, ABS
255/40ZR-19 front, 285/35ZR-19
rear
113.7 in
191.1 in
72.7 in
57.8 in
5 passenger
4012 lb
4.5 sec
TBD
TBD
(top) Top speed is electronically limited to 150 mph. (middle) Want to
ogle the V-10? You’ll have to pry off the clinical casing. (bottom) Any
sports-car driver would proudly display this sedan in their garage.
WINDING ROAD /
43
A Question of
Value
VW Passat
Infiniti G35 Sedan
Audi A6 3.2
BMW 530i
Similar sizes, different prices, but who’s king of the road?
by Brooks Holden
hile the automotive industry is
what is known in business parlance as a “mature” industry —
which is supposed to mean that it changes
slowly — recent events don’t fit this
description at all. The SUV, once the hot
ticket to profits, now looks more like an
albatross. General Motors, only months ago
the world's largest automaker, faces serious
financial problems and is likely to lose its
top spot to Toyota. Little Porsche, only a few
years ago thought to be at risk of acquisition, recently acquired 20 percent of
Volkswagen, the world’s fifth largest car
maker. And Mercedes-Benz, formerly
synonymous with quality, now is buried in
the depths of the J.D. Power rankings.
W
44 / WINDING ROAD
With all this change, born of high stakes
competition, automakers are increasingly
prone to break old rules and invade one
another’s turf. A little more than a decade
ago, the role of insurgent was played by the
Japanese, most notably Lexus and Acura.
Recently, Volkswagen has been auditioning
for the part of the party crasher. The Phaeton
is VW's least subtle move in this direction to
date — it being an apparent faux pas for the
People’s Car company to build a full-on hedonistic luxo-barge priced right up there with
the Mercedes S Class and the BMW 7-Series.
In reality, VW has been working on moving
upscale for a long time, both with its own
brand and the Audi brand. Nor have the
Japanese stopped playing in this arena.
We’re all so familiar with Lexus’ success
that we’re unimpressed that Infiniti is
finally making new headway at higher
prices now that Carlos Ghosn has forged a
resurgence within Nissan.
How are these competitive dynamics
playing out in the mainstream, mid-sized
sedan market? We gathered four representatives of the breed, with six-cylinder
engines and similar specs. Two are genuine
insurgents: the Infiniti G35 sedan and the
new Volkswagen Passat. Next, we added the
Audi A6, which rates as a quasi-insurgent,
given that Audi would love to have BMW’s
brand strength and pricing. And, of course,
we brought along the standard of the class,
the BMW 530i.
SEDAN COMPARISION
To better understand what interesting
questions these cars raise, consider just a
few basic specifications. (See “A Quick
Glance at Specs,” this page)
The obvious question is, “What do you
get for your $15,000 or so when you
choose the A6 or the 530i over the G35 or
the Passat?” Sure, you’re getting a more
exclusive nameplate, but we're interested in
how the driving experience changes as you
spend more. The significance of this question is magnified when you consider that
the less expensive cars in this group have
the most power.
Passat’s interior surprise
Starting out in the Passat, I immediately
noticed a level of refinement that would be
hard for the others to top. In fact, it upset
my assumptions to find that the lowest
priced car in this group had noise and vibration levels equal to the best of the other
three. When it comes to interior materials,
all four are tightly grouped as well. Once
again, the Passat surprises with a classical,
yet stylish interior design. The A6’s design
is probably even better, balancing tradition
with some fresh elements. Both cars use
high quality materials, and seem to cut few
corners. For example, VW put essentially the
same gas and water temperature gauges in
the Passat as they put the in $160,000
Bentley Continental GT (a car that has
widely, if a bit too effusively, been praised
as a paragon of interior design). By contrast, I didn’t find the designs by Infiniti or
BMW to be as well executed. The G35 is let
down by too many low cost materials,
particularly in switchgear. The 530i
certainly has some design flair, but the predominance of the iDrive screen and some
cheap plastics made me wonder if an owner
would feel some remorse down the road.
Once out on the road, I was pleasantly
surprised by the ride quality of the four
cars. All hew to a similar model: firm
springs and dampers, but with enough
compliance that expansion joints and the
like are smoothed over. Still, if ride quality
is important to you, I think you’d be
A QUICK GLANCE AT SPECS
MODEL
Wheelbase
Horsepower
Weight
MSRP
VW Passat
Infiniti G35
Audi A6
BMW 530i
106.7 in
280 hp
3576 lb
$29,950
112.2 in
280 hp
3468 lb
$31,300
111.9 in
255 hp
4012 lb
$44,690
113.7 in
255 hp
3494 lb
$47,495
happiest with the A6, followed by the G35.
Both do an admirable job of balancing
control with compliance.
The 530i we tested had the optional
sport suspension, which brings with it a bit
of increased impact harshness. If you live in
the northeastern United States, for example,
“
cars delivers the smoothest ride possible.
That's because all four cars are set up to
achieve a blend of ride and handling. This
became obvious once I set out on our soonto-be-infamous handling loop in the G35.
I was impressed. This car feels beautifully
balanced, with both the front and the rear
The success of the Passat’s motor comes
from its eager pull exactly in the middle of
the powerband, where you need it.
the 530i Sport is not the car for ride quality,
though the base suspension might suit you
perfectly. The Passat is admirably smooth,
though like the 530i, it has some trouble
with frost heaves and potholes.
Different approaches to handling
All those small distinctions aside, a
crucial observation is that none of these
”
tires doing their fair share of the work.
Ultimately, the G35 understeers, but at
realistic street speeds it just feels light and
agile. The G35 rolls moderately, but the roll
is nicely controlled. The automatic transmission shifts smoothly and responsively
as you go from corner to corner, allowing
the enthusiastic V-6 to do its job. This is a
car you can really enjoy on the twisties.
WINDING ROAD /
45
SEDAN COMPARISION
Next, I switched to the A6. As much as I
enjoyed the G35, I’d have to say the A6 is
generally excellent where the G35 is good.
The A6 outdoes the G35 by being a little
flatter on turn-in and having less feeling of
rubber isolation in the suspension. The A6’s
autobox is also impressively smooth and
responsive — at least on a par with the best
autobox we know, the Mercedes 7Gtronic.
The G35 has its advantages too, though. In
particular, the A6 does feel heavier than the
G35, and when pushed, it understeers
resolutely. When all is said and done, there
are plenty of differences between the A6
and the G35, but overall they are surprisingly close in terms of fun-to-drive quotient.
The 530i feels quite different than either
the A6 or the G35. Whether that difference is
your cup of tea or not is another question.
With the active sport suspension, the 530i is
resolutely flat. In fact, it virtually eliminates
rolls compared with even the excellent roll
control of the A6. The 530i has very quick
steering to go along with this suspension,
46 / WINDING ROAD
and the whole package mixes together
beautifully. You turn, and the car moves with
an unflappable ease. The result is that the
530i feels more like a sports car than any of
the other cars here; in fact its suspension is set
up more like a sports car’s than almost any
other sedan. That might sound wonderful,
and it is, but add a possible caveat that the
530i feels a trifle stiff as it goes about its
business, thanks to relatively little interesting feedback from either the suspension or
the steering. The 530i feels more like modern Scandinavian furniture, whereas the G35
and the A6 are more 18th century English.
Switching from the 530i to the Passat is
not the dramatic shift you might expect. The
Passat, even with the base rather than the
sport suspension, handles rather nicely.
Roll control is good, perhaps on a par with
the Infiniti. The balance isn't bad either,
though the Passat is tilted more towards
understeer than the other cars in this group.
Still, compared with the old Passat, this one
is a marvel. It’s just that by comparison with
SEDAN COMPARISION
three excellent suspensions, this one is
merely good. If the ride quality made up for
the slight give in the suspension tuning, it
would be easier to understand the Passat,
but really the ride is no better than the G35
and a little less smooth than the A6.
Power in the right place
The Passat almost covers its small suspension limitations with a great engine. I
know that the spec differences between
these cars seem minimal, and they are, but
the new 3.6-liter VW powerplant is the winner in this group of fine sixes. As you get
above 3000 rpm, the Passat just takes off.
The success of this motor comes from its
eager pull exactly in the middle of the
powerband, which is just where you need it.
Combine that with a small but welcome
amount of engine sound wafting into the
cabin, and you can't help but enjoy this
engine. The only limitation is the dreadfully
clunky and slow autobox that VW has
strapped to the 3.6. In first gear, it feels like
the traction control is choking the engine,
even at modest throttle settings. And the
delay, and accompanying deceleration
when downshifting, is annoying.
These problems seem particularly
unnecessary when you drive the A6, whose
tranny has strengths where the VW box has
weaknesses. But the A6 has the old 3.2-liter
motor, not the new 3.6. That and 500
pounds of extra weight mean that the A6
feels the slowest of these cars by far. The
3.2 makes a lovely sound when wound out,
and it isn't slow, but it isn’t fast either. This
car needs the 3.6 ASAP.
Between these two, the 530i and G35
have potent engines that are only a shade
off the pull of the Passat. The Infiniti engine
seems a trifle stronger, but the new BMW
powerplant is excellent once the revs rise
and could make you forget the specification
difference between the two cars. Honestly,
a more noticeable difference lies in the
sound character of these engines. The
Infiniti engine is more guttural sounding,
with some genetic connection with a V-8
soundtrack. In contrast, the BMW inline six lets
more valvetrain whir into the interior, though to
my ears it never sounds as healthy as the G35
motor. The autoboxes that accompany these
engines aren’t as smooth as the Audi box, and
they occasionally defy your wishes, but as
automatics go, they’re pretty good.
In the end, I was surprised that the lower
priced cars in this group held their own. On
size, features and refinement there isn’t
much to choose between any of these
sedans. In fact, given that BMW’s iDrive and
Audi’s MMI are part of the deal with the more
expensive cars, I’d actually rate the G35 and
the Passat ahead on features and functions.
When you get behind the wheel, it is a
slightly different story. I can see why a
rational person would pay the extra freight
for the driving coherence of the A6 or the
530i. But make no mistake, the Passat and
G35 aren’t far behind, and if power trumps
handling in your book, you could save some
serious coin.
WINDING ROAD /
47
SEDAN COMPARISION
SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer
Model
U.S. Base Price
ENGINE:
Type
Displacement
Max power
Max torque
Power:Weight
Torque:Weight
CHASSIS:
Drivetrain Layout
Transmission
VW
Audi
Infiniti
BMW
Passat Sedan
A6 3.2
G35
530i
$22,950
$43,970
$31,300
$46,800
V-6
V-6
V-6
I-6
3.6 L
3132 cc
3.5 L
3.0L
280 [email protected] rpm
255 [email protected] rpm
280 [email protected] rpm
[email protected] rpm
265 [email protected] rpm
243 [email protected] rpm
270 [email protected] rpm
220 [email protected] rpm
156 hp/ton
128 hp/ton
165 hp/ton
150 hp/ton
147 lb-ft/ton
122 lb-ft/ton
159 lb-ft/ton
129 lb-ft/ton
front engine, FWD
front engine, AWD
front engine, RWD
front engine, RWD
6-speed automatic
with Tiptronic
6-speed automatic
with Tiptronic
5-speed automatic with
manual shift mode
6-speed automatic,
Steptronic manual mode
106.7 in
111.9 in
112.2 in
113.7 in
5 passenger
5 passenger
5 passenger
5 passenger
3576 lb
4012 lb
3449 lb
3494 lb
6.6 sec
7.1 sec
n/a
6.6 sec
19 mpg
19 mpg
18 mpg
21 mpg
28 mpg
26 mpg
25 mpg
29 mpg
DIMENSIONS:
Wheelbase
Passenger Config
Curb Weight
PERFORMANCE:
0–60
EPA City Mileage
EPA Hwy Mileage
48 / WINDING ROAD
by Dave Kelley
photography by Andrew Yates
’ll admit that it wasn’t a battle as eagerly anticipated as
Ali-Frazier or Hagler-Hearns, or even (and more on point)
Corvette C6-Porsche Boxster, but from the first time I saw
the Pontiac Solstice as a concept, I was really looking forward
to seeing how it measured up against the reigning and all-time
champion of the two-seat roadster class, the Mazda MX-5, a.k.a.
The Ragtop Formerly Known As Miata (or TRFKAM, pronounced
“turf-cam”). I’ve been unnaturally fond of two-seaters for as
long as I can remember, especially those on the affordable
end of the scale, like the MX-5 and the Solstice.
See, back in my boyhood racer days, the lion’s share
of my automotive budget went to adding horsepower to a
drag-racing ’69 Mustang, and whatever was left went to the
I
50 / WINDING ROAD
care and feeding of a ’74 MGB. (The rest of my meager funds,
of course, were earmarked for beer.) My friends pretty much
did the same. So I grew up around the usual assortment of
American muscle cars, but also with the classic British roadsters, the MGs and the Triumphs, the Alfas and Fiats from Italy,
even a couple of Datsun 1600s that carried the Japanese flag.
I’m not saying I have anything but the most fierce of
unbridled lusts toward the exotic roadsters – Benzes,
Porsches, etc. – but my heart will always belong to the
working-class ragtops. Even when, as was the case with
the original Miata, those ragtops seem to have been designed
to accessorize your kid’s Malibu Stacy rather than kick-start
your heart.
MX-5
VS
SOLSTICE
WINDING ROAD /
51
MX-5
VS
SOLSTICE
The ’06 version of the MX-5, still carries the
Miata name tag, but that’s being ditched in
favor of the more manly “MX-5” moniker only
the ditching’s not going to happen all at once
so as not to confuse the sort of people who are
easily confused, and for Pete’s sake, why do
car makers put us through these ridiculous
contortions when we try to describe their
cars? Seriously. Pick a name already ...
Anyway, the MX-5 no longer looks like something designed and built by Mattel. To these
eyes, it’s much more reminiscent of the great
British roadsters of the 1960s and early ’70s,
with maybe even a hint or two of old-school
Aston Martin in the lines. (Considering that
Ford now owns both Mazda and Aston Martin,
this isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound.)
Put it this way: The MX-5 looks like a car
you’d drive if you have a houndstooth driving
cap, stovepipe trousers and an iPod full of
Franz Ferdinand and early Kinks.
The Solstice, on the other hand, is, well,
sexy as all get-out. Curvy and muscular all at
once, with spiffy trunk ridges that flare off the
hood rests and look like jet turbines; it’s a car
that’s going to get you noticed – in a good
way. Clay Dean, the Solstice’s design director
says, “The clean lines and perfect stance
are reinforced with a classic proportion that
everyone identifies as a true sports car.”
He’s right. Look at the Solstice, and you see
cues from the legendary MGA, from the
Porsche Boxster and from just about everything in between.
If your idea of driving gear is a pair of wraparound (or oversized) sunglasses, sandals
and an iPod loaded with Teenage Fanclub and
Raveonettes, then you’re my idea of the archetypal Solstice driver.
So, being about as shallow as a guy can be,
I naturally found myself lusting after the
Solstice, at least until I actually slid behind the
wheels and spent a week driving each car.
By the end of those two weeks, what had been
a beauty contest became a no-holds-barred
death match.
Okay, so maybe it was more like a bout of
midget wrestling than a clash of the titans,
but you get the idea. While both the MX-5 and
the Solstice are serious cuties, they’re both
surprisingly fun to drive and more evenly
matched than I ever expected.
52 / WINDING ROAD
MX-5
“
VS
SOLSTICE
MY SOLSTICE LUST BECAME
A DEEP AND MEANINGFUL
LOVE ON ONE OF MY
FAVORITE ROADS.
”
The lowered expectations were a direct
result of the Solstice’s heritage. Fact is, there
hasn’t been a decent American roadster – the
Corvette withstanding – in just about forever,
maybe not since the ’57 T-Bird. And, it’s a hard
truth that since the heyday of the GTO back in
the ’60s, Pontiac’s had a pretty crummy track
record when it comes to building cool cars.
(Anybody remember the Fiero fiasco?)
The Solstice is all new and all hot on the
outside, but it’s a bit of a Frankencar under
the skin. To keep the base MSRP below $20,000
(a non-negotiable goal from the project’s conception), Pontiac had to fully exploit the
GM parts bin. It shares its 2.4L Ecotec fourbanger with another Pontiac, the G6, as well
as Chevy’s HHR and Saturn’s ION. The transmission, a five-speed manual, is also found on
a pair of pickups, GMC’s Canyon and Chevy’s
Colorado, even the Hummer H3 made a donation – the A/C controls and round vents.
For the most part, it works. The interior is a
bit Spartan, but that’s to be expected from a
roadster with a sticker under $20K. There are
some problems, though. The cup holders are in
a tray that slides out of a console between the
seat backs, so your elbow bangs into either
tray or beverage every time you shift gears.
That’s a penalty. And those of us taller than six
feet could use at least four more inches of
legroom. Even with the seat fully back, I felt as
though I could rest my chin on my knees.
The convertible top and trunk are going to
frustrate some people. Having the top disappear completely under the trunk lid (which is a
cool, reverse clamshell design) is a great
touch, but it means you have to get out of the
car and open the trunk any time you want to
put the top up or down. And whether the top’s
up or down, there’s virtually no trunk space at
all. Pontiac swears you can fit a set of golf
clubs in the Solstice, but the only way my
clubs fit in the car was if they rode shotgun.
WINDING ROAD /
53
MX-5
VS
SOLSTICE
Realistically, you can fit a toothbrush and a pair
of sandals back there, and that’s about it. (You
can use the money you save buying the
Solstice on some new clothes when you get
wherever you’re going.)
All was forgiven, though, when I fired up
that little Ecotec and revved it hard. It wasn't
really a throaty rumble, but definitely a roar
that got better when I jammed it into gear and
headed out into the hills to see just how the
Solstice handled.
Rule One of small roadsters is to keep those
revs up, and the Solstice is a prime example.
The torque is okay at the low end of the tach,
but if you want real responsiveness, keep it up
around 4000 rpm or so. Do that, and there’s
excellent throttle response and the sort of
grunty acceleration that keeps you smiling.
My Solstice lust became a deep and meaningful love on one of my favorite roads west of
54 / WINDING ROAD
Austin. It’s a twisty little road that makes
35 mph seem dangerous. I came into a hard
left, a curve of probably 110 degrees or so, and
I came in hot. Downshift to second, no brake.
The Ecotec squealed in delight, and the front
tires never hesitated. But the back end (and
yes, it’s a proper rear-wheel drive architecture)
came loose for just a split-second or so, then
the tires found tractions and powered me out.
Rally stuff. Beautiful. So I did it again. And
again. And before long, I was gearjamming and
sliding around my secret little road’s twists and
turns like I was Juan Fangio himself.
It’s easy to fall in love with the Solstice. The
weight is perfectly balanced, 50-50 front-rear.
The suspension is just this side of being too
hard for comfort, so you get loads of road feel
when you’re pushing, but it’s still tolerable for
longer road tripping. The seats lend themselves
to driving, with excellent side bolsters that
encourage you to push each turn a little bit
harder than the one before.
The Solstice does feel a bit light on its
feet though, and if you’re not careful, that
pleasurable sliding through turns can quickly
become ungainly fishtailing. This is a car that
will quickly show you your – and its – limitations if you give into temptation and get a little
too aggressive.
Thing is, with the Solstice, you know you’re
being goaded into wildness. It’s like being on a
bender with Pamela Sue Anderson. All of a
sudden, you’re out on the ragged edge, you
don’t even know how you got there, and you
know there’ll be hell to pay when you get
home – but you love every minute of it.
The MX-5 is more like being seduced by
Elizabeth Hurley. The reason for the love is
the zippy new 2.0L four-cylinder under the
hood, matched with a silky six-speed manual
MX-5
“
VS
SOLSTICE
I’M NOT SAYING THE MX-5 IS TOO WELL BEHAVED.
IT’S JUST MORE MANNERLY ON SMOOTH ROADS
THAN THE ALL-AMERICAN SOLSTICE.
transmission (there’s a five-speed manual and
a six-speed automatic with sport paddles
available, but the six-speed stick is the only way
to go). The MX-5 motor is actually slightly less
powerful than the Solstice’s Ecotec (170 hp/140
pound-foot versus 177 hp/166 pound-foot), but
the MX-5 is definitely the peppier of the two
cars. But it’s a smooth peppiness, not nearly as
non-linear as the Solstice, which can sometimes act as if it has a turbocharger under the
hood. The MX-5 is a thoroughbred, sneaky
quick, with a fat torque curve that cuts you
some slack if you let the revs drop a bit too low.
Even though the MX-5 is almost 400-pounds
lighter than the Solstice, it feels heavier and
smoother on the open road, with a slightly
softer, more road-trip friendly suspension. Still,
because Mazda uses less rubber to isolate the
suspension, there’s all the road feel you could
ever want coming up through the steering
wheel, seat and floorboards. In fact, the Mazda
is the more lively car, but on the interstate,
the MX-5 felt decidedly smoother.
Like the Solstice, the MX-5 is perfectly
balanced, but where I was able and actually
felt encouraged to slip and slide the Solstice
through the S-curves, the MX-5 seemed glued
to the road like a slot car. The steering seemed
ever so slightly more responsive, and I just
about had to apply the E-brake to get the rear
end to misbehave in the least.
”
I’m not saying the MX-5 is
too well behaved. It’s just more
mannerly on smooth roads
than the all-American Solstice,
and that’s not a bad thing. Out
on my secret road, I took the
MX-5 hard and hot into corners,
where the bigger brakes
(11.4-inch diameter front/
11.0-inch rear) and increased
rigidity (22 percent better in
bending and 47 percent better
torsionally, compared to the
’05) combined to keep the car
and me flat and controlled, even when
the loose gravel tried to make things interesting.
From a driving perspective, I’d probably
give the edge – and it’s a slight one – to the
MX-5. As much as I like the wild-child aspect
of the Solstice, the MX-5’s coolly aggressive
acceleration and responsiveness carry the day.
I’d be happy driving either, but I’m happier
driving the MX-5.
On the other hand, the MX-5 doesn’t come
close when it comes to looks. I like the fact that
I could put the ragtop up or down in about two
seconds, without leaving the driver’s seat (or
even unbuckling my seat belt), and I like the
fact that the MX-5 has a trunk big enough to
hold a real overnight bag, even with the top
down. But the top doesn’t disappear completely,
so you either have to take the time to mount
the boot to clean up the lines or just let it go.
Either way, it’s a less clean look, a bit unfinished, especially when compared to the Solstice.
The MX-5 did have a half-inch or so more
legroom (and I noticed it), but the seats weren’t
nearly as supportive or as well-bolstered as
those in the Solstice, making for a slightly less
snug and secure feel in hard cornering. Finally,
the Solstice’s retro-style reverse-clamshell
hood and trunk lid are just way cooler than the
MX-5’s more traditional design.
After spending a week behind the wheel of each
car, neither scored a clean knockout. This was a
bout that was going to go to the judge’s scorecard,
and even though there was only the one judge
(your’s truly), it could easily have wound up as a
WINDING ROAD /
55
MX-5
“
VS
SOLSTICE
THE SOLSTICE WINS
THE BEAUTY CONTEST.
”
split decision. Both were flat-out fun to drive, but I scored the
MX-5 as the better performer.
Still, the Solstice wins the beauty contest. It is clearly
the more stylish roadster, the one that got me noticed –
in a good way – when I tooled around town. Plus, the
Solstice has a sticker price about $1000 below the MX-5.
I have to admit: I’m about as shallow as they come, so it
would be easy for me to go with the hottie and give the
crown to the Solstice.
It sounds like a wishy-washy copout, but the truth is,
I’d be pretty damned happy to add either of these cars to
the fleet (if, of course, I were in a position to have a fleet).
Both the MX-5 and the Solstice fit perfectly into the long
line of spiffy and affordable two-seat roadsters that can
make even the daily commute an occasion for a little
driving fun and panache.
SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer
Model
U.S. Base Price
Mazda
Pontiac
MX-5
Solstice
$20,995
$19,995
$23,995 sport package includes.sport-
$23,320 includes power and
tuned suspension, Bilstein shocks,
convenience packages
limited slip diferential (MT only) $500
ENGINE:
Type
Displacement
Valvetrain
Max power
Max torque
Power:Weight
Torque:Weight
CHASSIS:
Drivetrain Layout
Transmission
Steering
Brakes
Tires
DIMENSIONS:
Wheelbase
Length
Width
Height
Passenger Config
Curb Weight
PERFORMANCE:
0–60
EPA City Mileage
EPA Hwy Mileage
56 / WINDING ROAD
I-4
I-4
1.8 L
2.4 L
DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder with VVT
DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
170 hp @ 6700 rpm
177 hp @ 6600 rpm
140 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
166 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
137 hp/ton
126 hp/ton
113 lb-ft/ton
118 lb-ft/ton
front engine, RWD
front engine, RWD
6-speed manual
5-speed manual
rack & pinion
power assist, rack & pinion
4-wheel disc, ABS, EBD
4-wheel disc, ABS, EBD
205/50R16
P245/45R-18
91.7 in
95.1 in
157.3 in
157.2 in
67.7 in
71.3 in
49.0 in
50.1 in
2 passenger
2 passenger
2473 lb
2860 lb
approx 6.0 sec
7.2 sec
23 mpg
20 mpg
30 mpg
28 mpg
Two great American supercars, the Ford GT and the Dodge Viper, via the
roads and the ‘rings of London, Nürburgring, Maranello, Hockenheimring,
Monaco, and Le Mans — all in just seven days. Factor in a childhood dream,
and you’ve got the trip of a lifetime.
Storming
Europe
with1000 HP
Words and photography by Richard Truesdell
additional photos by Matt Malone & Klaus Schnitzer
D
AY 1 — LONDON TO FOLKESTONE
Le Mans. Two words that carry tremendous
historical significance for all auto enthusiasts. Epic
battles between cars and drivers that transcend the ages:
Bugatti, Mercedes, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Ferrari, Ford,
Porsche and most recently, Audi. But no matter what your
perspective, Le Mans, for most Americans means one thing,
Ford versus Ferrari; cars, drivers and two proud manufacturers
locked in mortal combat for sports car supremacy in the
sixties.
For me, this story started 41 years ago, when I was a 10-year-old car
nut, watching a grainy black and white broadcast of ABC’s Wide World of
Sports. Because of the limitations of satellite technology at the time,
ABC was able to only broadcast one hour at a time, thus they covered
58 / WINDING ROAD
the start and finish live at 4 p.m. (10 a.m. Eastern time) on Saturday and
Sunday. Although the Fords were rendered in black and white, I knew
that they were blue on white, and I felt a sense of pride watching the
drivers sprint across the track, classic Le Mans style.
On a sunny, cloudless day 41 years later, I found myself driving under
the famed Dunlop Bridge in Ford’s modern day recreation of the
celebrated GT40, the Ford GT. With styling that clearly evokes and
emulates the greatest Ford race cars of all time, for 10 memorable minutes,
I felt as if I were Phil Hill and that I was behind the wheel of chassis number 102, which was his car when Ford first mounted its assault on
Le Sarthe on June 20, 1964. Circulating the course, my heart virtually
beating out of my chest, I had reached the automotive Promised Land.
A week earlier in a dark hotel room in London, the phone rang at 7 a.m. It
FORD GT
&
DODGE VIPER
was the concierge telling me that a red car had been delivered and waiting
for me out front. Car number one, a red Dodge Viper (505 hp, $81,895),
had been dropped off two hours early and was the first of two American
supercars that would provide my co-conspirator and I with our rapid
transport for the next week.
With a day to kill before we would take delivery of car number two, we
basically spent the day goofing off, driving with the steering wheel on the
wrong side of a car that was much too wide to navigate what was to us, the
wrong side of the road. The next morning, we’d embark on the short drive
to pick up car number two, the 550-hp, $150,000 Ford GT.
ay 2 — Folkstone to Nürburgring Our destination this day would be Ford’s Capricorn facility in
Meuspath, Germany, close to the infamous Nürburgring
track. It is here that all 101 Ford GTs destined for European customers are
being converted to meet local regulations. We are greeted by Jost Capito,
who heads up Ford’s Team RS. He’s taken the liberty of securing the
services of Armin Hahne to give us a tour of the Nordschleife — the 12.9mile section of the Nürburgring track with 73 turns and almost 1000 feet
of elevation changes. Capito was certain that Hahne, with more than
10,000 laps under his belt as a driver and tire tester, would show me the
correct line in the Ford GT.
Settling in the GT’s passenger seat with Hahne at the wheel, I had no
idea of what I was in for. As the gate was raised, we rocketed past the
opening cones. After a couple of bends, we approached the first serious
turn where Hahne found the perfect line and was set up to traverse
Hatzenbach and drive flat out approaching the Flugplatz. I was watching a
true master of car control at work, extracting every last ounce of speed
while using every available inch of asphalt, completely focused even as
suicidal bikers that seemed to act as rolling roadblocks shared the track.
shocked as they were as this car would reel in all but the most powerful
bikes manned by the most experienced riders. By the time we reached the
famed Karussell, I thought that I would lose my lunch all over the
panoramic windshield.
D
Former race car driver Armin Hahne at
the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife, putting
the Ford GT through its paces.
PHOTOS THIS PAGE BY KLAUS SCHNITZER
At the 'ring’s famed Karussell, Hahne bottoms
out the street-tuned suspension.
Map by Ruben DeLuna
WINDING ROAD /
59
FORD GT
&
DODGE VIPER
Hyperventilating, I was able to gather myself as we made it through the
final corners with their drastic changes in elevation without incident.
Exiting the Galgenkopf with a full head of steam, I took a glance at the
speedometer reading160 mph just as Hahne started to slow down to
enter the pits. While we weren’t able to get a full timed lap, Hahne was
confident, with his experience at the Nürburgring, that the Ford GT, in its
current state of tune and chassis setup, would have no problem getting
under the eight minute benchmark and could probably approach the
magic time of 7:40. The current best timed lap of the Nordschleife in a
street-legal car is 7:32.44, held by Horst Von Saurma and his Porsche
Carrera GT.
With Hahne in the passenger seat after his instructional laps, I set out
on my first of three laps on the Nordschleife. Hahne, knowing of both my
inexperience with the car and the course, was very helpful. First off, it
should be noted that the view from the driver’s seat was worth the wait;
while not sitting as low as in an original Ford GT40, I had the curvaceous
red front fenders framing the famed green hell to my right and left, punctuated by the blur of the Armco barriers less than the width of a
car away.
At the Hockenheimring, site of the German
Grand Prix, the Ford GT strikes a pose.
Approaching the limits of the Ford GT’s top speed
on the Karlsruhe to Stuttgart Autobahn.
The GT’s supercharged V-8 delivered a
punch in the gut that in fifth gear, rocketed the red bullet from 140 to 170
instantly, its power delivered in a linear,
almost turbine-like fashion. The lack of
any drama was utterly unexpected.
Hahne noted that my progress was quick and commented that I had
negotiated the difficult Kallenhard to Exmuhle section quite well. I was
pleased, as I knew from my PlayStation GT4 experience this was one of the
most technical sections of the course with two elements that concerned
me; it was both downhill and off camber.
At the Karussell, I felt much more comfortable and confident, giving the
car more power in third gear, but knowing full well that an early exit from
the corner would spell trouble. Armin’s advice gave me the confidence to
wrest much more of the Ford GT’s potential.
My final lap on the Nordschleife in the Viper and was enjoyable in a
different way. With the top down, the sensations of driving the course
were entirely changed, as I felt a bit more connected to my surroundings.
The Viper’s raw V-10 provided a growl that quite frankly was missing from
the far more refined Ford GT. Lacking any sort of traction control like the
GT, but knowing that less weight was balanced over the driving wheels, I
was unwilling to push hard. Being a roadster, the Viper’s overall structure
wasn’t nearly as stiff as the GT’s; it certainly communicated less feedback,
but conversely, it couldn’t be considered uncomfortable. I must confess
that I wasn’t about to push the Viper anywhere near its 1G level of grip.
Pulling into the pits, I realized that I had just successfully negotiated what
most experts believe to be one of the world’s most demanding tracks. It
was an exhilarating feeling. I was drenched, having sweat off at least five
pounds in my combined five laps in the GT and the Viper.
60 / WINDING ROAD
FORD GT
&
DODGE VIPER
ay 3 — Via the Autobahn Crossing Germany in
D
the GT and the Viper, we were able to log in several 160-mph
sprints southbound on the A61 autobahn leading into the
Hockenheimring; traffic was just too dense to safely attempt anything
faster. On the A8, just west of Stuttgart, we did catch a clear section of
autobahn and were able to nudge the Viper up over 160 mph, and as the
road cleared, the GT passed through the 180 mph threshold. What
impressed us was the complete lack of drama as we accelerated up past
150, 160, 170 and right on up to 180 and beyond, whizzing by the big
Audis and BMWs that moved out of our way. The GT’s supercharged V-8
delivered a punch in the gut that in fifth gear, rocketed the red bullet from
140 to 170 instantly, its
power delivered in a linear,
almost turbine-like fashion.
The author, at the
wheel of the Viper.
The lack of any drama was
utterly unexpected.
And while German lane
discipline is among the best
in the world, lapses occur,
and on our last shot at
getting to the magic
200-mph mark, a big Benz,
pulled carelessly into the
fast lane, nixing our final
shot at the double-ton just as
we ran out of autobahn
approaching the Austrian border. Conversely, the Viper, while offering
equal acceleration abilities up to about 150, simply lacked the aerodynamics to keep pace with its cross town rival. But the Viper’s charms
would become apparent with the top down, as we were able to better
appreciate the panoramic vistas of the Tyrolean Alps when we emerged
from the tunnel running between Germany and Austria.
The obligatory tunnel shot, this on
the spectacular Otz Valley in Austria.
Taking in a show in Solden,
Austria. Okay, so it was 10 a.m.
and too early for a show, but it
was a great photo opp.
WINDING ROAD /
61
FORD GT
&
DODGE VIPER
ay 4 - Obsteig to the Ferrari Factory
D
This day’s 600-mile route would run from Obsteig to
Monaco with a stopover in Maranello, 260 miles south.
While the scenery in Southern Germany was impressive, nothing
prepared us for the absolute splendor of Austria’s Tyrol region. Route
186, through the Otz Valley rivaled anything any of us had previously
encountered in our travels. Along 186, several tunnels provided an
amphitheater to amplify the unique symphonies produced by both
cars; the Ford’s supercharged V-8 was more melodic, contrasting with
the Wagnerian impact of the Viper’s normally aspirated V-10.
At the Timmelssjoch Pass at 8500 feet above sea level, we were
confronted by a herd of wild horses that felt no fear in coming right up
to our cars. There was a moment of concern that a hoof might crack the
Viper’s thermoplastic bodywork or the dent Ford GT’s aluminum skin.
As soon as we crossed the border into Italy, the condition of the road
deteriorated dramatically. It was here, on the downhill section leading
into Merano, that we were able to really evaluate the braking capabilities
and suspension compliance of both cars. While the Viper was stiff,
it wasn’t uncomfortable. But the Ford GT was a revelation; it was so
comfortable. It was as if we were driving a luxury sports sedan like a
Jaguar XJ rather than an all out supercar. The brakes on both cars were
simply outstanding, not a hint of fade from either.
The Ford GT was a revelation; it was so
comfortable. It was as if we were
driving a luxury sports sedan ... rather
than an all out supercar.
One horse and one Viper
equals 506 horsepower.
62 / WINDING ROAD
FORD GT
We arrived in Maranello, just before the final shift ended and parked
both cars right across the street from the main gate of the Ferrari factory.
Just after 5 p.m., a horde of Ferrari technicians and mechanics began
to emerge from the main gate. At first, they appeared to be dismissive
of both American interlopers, but after about 10 minutes camera
phones popped out from everywhere and the GT especially, was
surrounded by hordes of red and yellow clad Ferrari technicians. It
seemed everyone wanted their picture taken with the GT. It was finally
afforded the respect it was due from the Ferrari faithful.
Departing Maranello just after 6 p.m., the next stop would be
Monaco, 300 miles away. The drive enabled me to fully appreciate the
Ford GT’s outstanding abilities as a long distance tourer. While very
tired from the day’s aggressive itinerary, I never felt fatigued, as it
really felt as if the car was an extension of each of my senses. The seating
position was perfect for my 5-foot 8-inch frame.
&
DODGE VIPER
PHOTOS BY MATT MALONE
Invading Maranello, the Ford GT and
Dodge Viper parked in front of the main
gate of the Ferrari Factory.
Quitting time in Maranello as Ferrari techs
whip out the camera phones.
The road to Geneva (the Viper took a different rout to Le Mans), at night, from the passenger’s seat of the Viper in a Swiss tunnel.
inset: A Ferrari fan admirers the Viper’s
seductive curves; we admired hers.
WINDING ROAD /
63
FORD GT
&
DODGE VIPER
ay 5 - Monaco to Le Mans In Monaco, we
connected with Yves Saguato, owner of a 7-liter GT40 MK II,
chassis number 1012, who arranged with the Casino Monte
Carlo to shoot both cars in front of the casino. With 1012 positioned next to
the contemporary GT, it clearly illustrated how designer Camillo Pardo had
captured the true essence of the purity of the GT40’s classic lines, while
growing about 10 percent bigger in every dimension.
On the corniche above the city, we got what we really came for, tracking
shots of both cars together. This afforded us the unique opportunity to
capture both cars while getting a limited amount of seat time in 1012, but
it was enough to realize that the new GT, while inspired by the GT40, was
an entirely different animal. Sitting in 1012’s tight yet surprisingly
comfortable cockpit, it was impossible to imagine driving the 427-cubic-inch,
Holman Moody-equipped monster more than just a few minutes, much
less at racing speeds for 24 hours.
The following morning, we took off for the Hotel de France in La Chartre sur
Loir where we were met by Christophe Schwartz, a French Ford enthusiast,
and Patrick Dallas, president of the Ford Mustang Shelby Club de France.
Surrounded by decades of motorsports memorabilia, the Hotel de France
served as a base of operations for John Wyer with both Aston Martin
(including 1959 when his cars won the 24 hour race with Carroll Shelby at
the wheel) and with Ford, starting with their first attempt to win the race
in 1964.
D
Parked in front of the Casino Monte
Carlo, literally stopping traffic.
A Ford GT40 that was raced in the '60s,
at the Musee de l’Automobile d Mans.
Above Monaco, a seven-liter MK II GT40
leads its modern day counterpart.
Le Mans, circa 1964, Phil Hill’s GT40
parked in front Hotel de France.
GT SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer
Model
U.S. Base Price
Max Power
Max Torque
weight
Power (weight)
Torque (weight)
Transmission
0-60
64 / WINDING ROAD
Ford
GT
$151,245
550 hp @ 6500 rpm
500 lb-ft @ 3750 rpm
3485 lb
314 hp/ton
286 lb-ft/ton
6-speed manual
3.3 sec
VIPER SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer
Model
U.S. Base Price
Max Power
Max Torque
weight
Power (weight)
Torque (weight)
Transmission
0-60
Dodge
Viper
$81,895
500 hp @ 5600 rpm
525 hp @ 4600 rpm
3380 lb
294 hp/ton
309 lb-ft/ton
6-speed manual
3.9 sec
FORD GT
After driving the GT and Viper on the public roads that serve as Le Mans
Circuit de la Sarthe, the next stop was the Musee de l’automobile du Mans
where another vintage GT40 was on display. While in the museum,
Schwartz spoke with the track director, Herve Guyomard, who granted us
an unofficial 45 minute photo session on the famed Bugatti Circuit.
Approaching the GT sitting in the pits, one image dominated my thoughts:
the sight of three Ford GT40 MK IIs crossing the finish line together in
1966 in the rain, ending Ferrari’s six-year domination of Le Mans and the
start of Ford’s uninterrupted four-year run of success.
Driving around the Bugatti Circuit in the Ford GT, even at six-tenths in
both cars must be considered one of life’s great experiences. Even though
the Viper has enjoyed its share of recent success at Le Mans, for me at
least, it was best enjoyed behind the wheel of the GT. While not pushing
the GT too hard, I was able to run it up through the gears, feeling as if it
were 1964 and I was driving in the original GT. With Schwartz in the cockpit
with me, videotaping my final lap for posterity, I tried to collect my
thoughts. At 50 years old, I felt as if I was again 10, watching Le Mans for
the very first time. Afterwards, I felt a certain sense of melancholy as I
unbuckled my harness. Over the previous 2000 miles, I felt as if I had
adopted the new Ford GT as my very own.
It’s really hard to find any fault with the GT. I still can’t get over the clever
interior details like the dash-mounted switchgear not borrowed from other
proletarian Ford products (unlike the Viper’s cockpit which raided the
Chrysler Group corporate parts bin). It does so many things exceptionally
well, with the exception of a complete lack of storage space. Ford has built
a car that feels every dollar’s worth its $150,000 price tag. From its exceptional poise on the road and competent performance on the track to all of
the creature comforts expected of a modern supercar, it is, in this crazy
world of ours, an exceptional bargain, a car with no real competitor in the
marketplace. While few of us will have the opportunity to drive, much less
own such a car, should the opportunity present itself to drive one, mortgage
your soul to do it; you won’t be disappointed by the experience.
&
DODGE VIPER
Establishing the icon, three MK II GT40s crossing the line 1-2-3 at Le Mans in 1966.
Making Dreams Come True
After writing the closing to this story, I started feeling very guilty
knowing full well that almost everyone reading it would have little
chance of living this dream. Or, would you? In fact, there are several outfits in Europe very willing to help you make your dream
come true — for a not-so-small sum, of course. Get you priorities
straight and start cutting coupons: Here’s how you can take a GT
or Viper across Europe. Click here for details.
WINDING ROAD /
65
Wiesmann
Germany’s British GT
by Mike Duff
Photos by: Kevin C. Limjoco, Kenneth Quintal
iesmann seems intent on becoming
Germany’s own British sports car
maker. Although only a recent blip on
the British sports car radar, Wiesmann has
been producing cars in Germany for over a
decade. This month, we travel to the company’s HQ in the sleepy town of Dülmen, just
north of Dortmund, to try out the all-new GT
coupe.
The firm was started by brothers Martin
and Freidhelm Wiesmann, who decided they
wanted to diversify from making third-party
hard-tops to build their own '60s-inspired
roadster on modern mechanical underpinnings. In 1993 they delivered the first
production Roadster and more than 300
have followed since. Still under the brothers’
control, the company now employs 35 production staff and 15 back-office workers.
Production is set to reach 160 next year (split
equally between the Roadster and the GT),
with the eventual target being 200 a year –
there’s even an outside chance of exporting to
the U.S. Considering Germany’s extremely lim-
W
66 / WINDING ROAD
ited history of indigenous low-volume manufacturers, that’s a striking achievement.
Not that the factory feels like any other
German car plant I’ve ever been in. Not only
are there no robots – Roadsters and GTs are
pushed by hand between various production
stations – there’s also a surprising amount of
character-enhancing clutter such as overflowing
toolboxes and tottering piles of components.
Just as we saw at Morgan (The Great British
Auto Tour, Issue 6). The trim shop is particularly
impressive, local women cutting and stitching
the leather upholstery with compelling dexterity. Buyers are keenly encouraged to visit
the factory to specify their car and watch it
being built.
The factory floor also provides a fascinating
chance to compare part-built Roadsters and
GTs with each other. The new car is a far more
advanced piece of engineering, the result of a
five-year development program that has cost
the company a "very considerable" amount.
While the Roadster rides on a galvanized steel
chassis and shares its front strut suspension
with the BMW M3, the GT is based around a
state-of-the-art epoxy-bonded aluminum tub
(similar in principle to that of the Lotus Elise)
GT
with unique front double wishbone castings.
Glassfiber bodywork is then fitted in three
basic sub-assemblies – front, roof and rear
clamshell – and the paint finish is to an
impressively high quality.
The most compelling difference between
the two cars lies under their respective bonnets. The Roadster is offered with a choice of
two six-cylinder engines, running gear
donated by either the BMW 330i or the M3; my
guide, marketing director Olaf Sewald, admits
that only one buyer opted for the lower-powered car last year. Transmission is by five- or
six-speed manual gearboxes, or alternatively
the robotized SMG. The GT, on the other hand,
has moved onwards and upwards to V-8
power, with production versions set to carry
the 4.8-liter 360-hp engine that motivates the
7-series, and which is only available with a sixspeed manual ’box. Working against a curb
weight of just 2756 pounds, basic arithmetic
suggests something close to supercar performance should be on the cards.
Our early drive is in what’s actually a late
development prototype – assembled to the
same standards as the production version but
fitted with the smaller, 4.4-liter V-8 that was
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EXOTICA: WIESMANN GT
originally intended to do duty. "That means
there’s just 333 hp," Sewald warns me, with a
look of concern. "You must tell your readers the
final car will have more power."
The driving position is low-slung, and
clampy retro buckets offer a suitably sporty
embrace. Ignition is by a standard BMW key,
the engine fired by a milled metal starter button. Dülmen’s schoolchildren are obviously
used to seeing Wiesmanns out testing; the gloriously fruity wob-wob-wob soundtrack turns
barely any heads as we head off gently
through the town. Other than being attached to
a slightly louder bespoke exhaust, the engine
is in standard BMW tune. The gearshift feels
familiar BMW, too, although the clutch on this
relatively high-mileage car has a slightly sudden transition between in and out. The GT’s 362
pound-feet of torque makes for effortless
progress, the engine happy to pull from 900
rpm onwards, with serious vigor apparent from
as low as 2000 rpm.
Dülmen peters-out in the rear-view mirror,
and the first long straight shows the Wiesmann
to be an energetic performer. With the speedo
needle sweeping swiftly towards arrestable
speeds, it’s time to back off – the brakes are
good, although the fat transmission tunnel
eats into the ankle space necessary for
assured heel-and-toe work, something that
should be less of a problem when the eventual
right-hand drive version appears.
A quick trawl of local roads proves there
aren’t many corners in this bit of Germany,
most of which is a flat, agricultural plain.
Sewald confirms that the four-hour-distant
68 / WINDING ROAD
ever-higher numbers but at a slowing rate as
Nürburgring was therefore important to the
aerodynamic drag takes its toll – 162 mph...
chassis development. Eventually the hunt
164... 166... Still stable, still relatively calm.
turns up a well-sighted second-gear right left
But with a Polish-registered truck considersequence, and meaty, communicative steering
ing an audacious passing move a half-mile up
relays precise front-end grip levels. Reactions
the road, we’re forced to stomp on the brakes
to the helm are keen and the GT exhibits none
as the needle clips an indicated 168 mph. The
of the understeer that such a big, heavy engine
production car will top out at 174 mph, we're
might lead you to expect. On the contrary, even
told.
with the DSC in its default "on" position, a midAt least, it will in V-8 form. There’s another,
corner dab of power has the back-end sensing
even more enticing possibility for the future –
freedom and requires some hastily applied corWiesmann has been negotiating with BMW for
rective lock – and this on dry tarmac. With the
a limited number of the 5-liter, 501-hp V-10
stability control off, the Wiesmann becomes
engines that power the M5 and M6. Given that
positively wild.
the V-8-powered GT could hardly be accused of
Next, a surreal intermission as the GT and I
malingering, the performance from a higherround a corner to find we’re facing a sea of blue
powered derivative would lift the Wiesmann
flashing lights – surely even the Politzei wouldinto the supercar league.
n’t throw up a roadblock for speeding on an
empty country road? Fortunately not.
Apparently a couple of unexploded RAF
bombs from the Second World War
have just been found in a field, and
the road is closed while a controlled explosion is carried out.
Sitting in a retro pseudo-British
SPECIFICATIONS
sports car while all this is being
Manufacturer
Wiesmann
explained – and feeling the
Model
Wiesmann GT
Base Price
£72,200 mainland Europe ($125,000)
strange urge to apologize – is a
Engine
4.8L V-8
slightly bizarre experience.
Max power
360 hp @ 6300 rpm
There’s just time for the
Max torque
362 lb-ft @ 3400 rpm
mandatory autobahn run and
Curb Weight
2756 lb
fortunately the local A45 is quiet
Power:Weight
261 hp/ton
Torque:Weight
262 lb-ft/ton
enough to allow a decent run at
Transmission
6-speed manual
maxing the GT. With no speed4.6 sec
0-60 mph
limiter, it powers straight
through 155 mph, reeling in
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HONDA GL 1800
It’s a
motorcycle
again
GOLD WING LUXURY -
TOURING MOTORCYCLE
by Robert Harley
photography by John Yost
o understand the soul of Honda's GL 1800 Gold Wing —
short of riding one of course — you need to know that the
bike's “large-project leader” was a sportbike designer. But
why would Honda choose a creator of “crotch rockets” to lead
the development of its iconic Gold Wing, the undisputed king of
heavyweight luxury-touring motorcycles? Within the answer
lies the secret of the GL 1800's stunning redefinition of the
sport/luxury equation.
The Gold Wing was introduced in 1975 as a stripped-down
1000-cc performance bike to compete with Kawasaki's
track-ready Z-1. The number one design priority was its 0-60
time. Honda executives, never in their wildest imaginations,
thought the Gold Wing would be embraced by long-distance
touring riders. But the bike's radically different architecture —
horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, water cooling and
shaft drive — made the Gold Wing ideal for devouring long
stretches of asphalt in the American West.
Not long after the GL 1000's introduction, Honda took
notice of an interesting trend: GL owners began outfitting their
bikes with fairings, windshields, saddlebags and other amenities that made it possible to ride many hundreds of miles per
day in comfort. Honda sent representatives to live in the United
States and join these newly formed Gold Wing enthusiast
groups to find out exactly what they wanted from the bike.
Honda thus began a 25-year-long process of morphing the GL
from a 0-60 straight-line sprinter to the 2000 model-year
GL 1500, a six-cylinder behemoth that lived up to its nicknames "Winnebago on two wheels” and “road sofa." Despite the
Gold Wing's decades-long market dominance and undeniable
luxury and comfort, something was lost — namely the visceral
thrill of motorcycle riding. With its tunnel-vision focus on
increasing touring comfort, Honda made the Gold Wing progressively bigger and softer, ultimately insulating the rider
from that feeling of oneness with the machine that is the
essence of motorcycling.
T
WORLD CLASS
THE BEST OF THE BEST
WINDING ROAD /
71
WORLD CLASS HONDA GL 1800
Honda had another problem with
the GL: an aging customer and declining
sales. With the average age of a Gold Wing
rider continually creeping up, Honda recognized the need for a touring motorcycle
that was "not your father's" Gold Wing.
bike two-thirds the GL's weight. Some car
and motorcycle redesigns render incremental improvements; the GL 1800 is nothing short of a complete reinvention of the
long-distance touring motorcycle.
The most amazing aspect of the GL
THE GL1800 IS NOTHING SHORT OF A COMPLETE
”
REINVENTION OF THE LONG-DISTANCE TOURING MOTORCYCLE.
This is where Masanori Aoki, the GL
1800's large-project leader, comes into the
picture. Aoki, large-project leader for a number of Honda's sportbikes, was given a
clean sheet of paper to create a full-on luxury-touring motorcycle that compromised
nothing in features or long-distance comfort to its predecessors, yet had enough
sporting performance to quicken your
pulse as you approached the twisties. He
also had to keep the new GL recognizable
to its fiercely loyal following, while making
it different enough to attract a new generation of Gold Wing enthusiasts.
Appearing in 2001 as the six-cylinder,
1832-cc GL 1800, the new Gold Wing
seemed to do the impossible. This new
Wing was in some ways more comfortable
for long-distance touring than previous
generations, but astonishingly handled,
accelerated, and generally felt like a sport72 / WINDING ROAD
”
1800 is how light and nimble it feels.
Although at 792 pounds the new GL weighs
nearly 100 pounds more than a GL 1200, it
seems as though it weighs fully a third
less. Pulling out of the parking lot on my
first ride, I thought, “Hey, where'd all the
weight go?” This light-on-the-feet feeling
translates directly to a sense of athletic
agility and cat-like grace in the turns. Head
into a long sweeping turn (and this bike
lives for sweepers) and a gentle input to
the handlebars instantly sets up the bike at
the precise lean angle. The GL's poise
through the corners gives the impression
that I could take my hands off the handlebars on a constant-radius turn and the bike
would follow the cornering line. Previous
generations of the Gold Wing required constant adjustment of the handlebar pressure to maintain a trajectory, and gave the
rider the feeling that the handlebars were
attached to the steering through a layer of
soft rubber. The GL 1800, however, lets me
execute a chosen line with surgical precision. Point the bike for a late apex and it
hits the spot like a laser-guided missile
every time. In addition, cornering clearance
is considerably improved, allowing far
greater lean angles before scraping hardware. I consider myself a touring rider, not
a sport rider, but the GL's confidenceinspiring handling lets me carve lines
at a speed and lean angle I never thought
possible on a touring machine.
The GL 1800's other great attribute is its
massive torque and wide powerband. Say
you're cruising at 40 mph in third gear
(2500 rpm) and see an opportunity to
pass. With a twist of the wrist the GL 1800
WORLD CLASS HONDA GL 1800
effortlessly explodes like a racehorse out
of the gate. Seconds later you look down
and realize you're going 70 — time to
upshift or back off. All this takes place with
utter grace and ease. This buttery smooth
power delivery, coupled with the GL's will-
ingness to keep pulling, is the bike's defining characteristic. The GL has so much
torque that it's possible to lift the front
wheel in third gear purely with the throttle
(not that I'm so inclined). With more than
100 pound-foot on tap between 2200 and
5400 rpm (peaking at 110 pound-foot at
4400 rpm) and 103 rear-wheel horsepower,
every gear is passing gear — no need to
downshift or wait for the torque. Who
doesn't like that math — 110 pound-foot of
twist behind an 800-pound machine?
This torque profile is the polar opposite
from that of my four-wheeled joyride, a
2004 Honda S2000. That little 2.2-liter four
produces maximum torque at 7200 rpm,
just below the 8000 redline. Unlike the GL,
where the juice is always lurking beneath
the surface eagerly waiting for you to drop
the hammer, the S2000 requires careful
attention to the gearbox to keep the revs
in the sweet zone. Not that I'm complaining:
rowing the S2K's world-class gearbox is a
supreme joy and half the fun of this car.
Two Honda engines, two diametrically
opposed torque curves, but both perfectly
suited to their applications, and both
thrilling in their own distinctive ways.
The GL's 0-60 time of 4.1 seconds gives
you an idea of the massive 1832-cc powerplant's capabilities. That number may not
sound impressive in the superbike world
where sub-three-second times are the
norm, but remember that we're talking
about an 800-pound tourer with saddlebags, a trunk with remote keyless entry,
reverse gear, four-speaker stereo with a
CD changer, cruise control, heated grips,
the motorcycle world's plushest and most
comfortable two-up saddle and enough
creature comforts to let you and a passenger hop on for a thousand-mile weekend
without thinking twice.
Honda's engineers did their homework
on every aspect of the GL. The brakes, for
example, are not merely adequate, they're
almost overkill. The rear wheel is stopped
with a single disc and opposed six-piston
calipers, while the dual-disc front brake
benefits from exactly double that array.
As a touring bike, the GL 1800 gives
up just a little to its predecessors in two areas:
luggage capacity and wind protection. The
new bike's more streamlined and aggressive styling called for slightly smaller saddlebags and trunk, but there's still enough
capacity in the optional leather-trimmed,
custom-fitting luggage for four days of twoup touring. The rider's legs are a little more
exposed to the wind, and passengers
report increased buffeting at high speed.
But these are merely trifles compared
with just how much more fun the GL 1800
is than its predecessors. Encountering a
road sign that indicates twisty roads for the
next 20 miles becomes an invitation to
play rather than a warning that you're
going to have your work cut out for you for
Pulling the Rabbit Out of the Hat
So, just how did Honda reinvent
the Gold Wing in such spectacular
fashion? The trick was to start
with a blank sheet of paper. Read
more about how they increased
power and decreased weight
online at www.windingroad.com.
the next 40 minutes. Passing on a two-lane
road is a joyous opportunity to unleash the
big six's torque instead of a harrowing
calculus involving distance and the speed
of an approaching vehicle. The first full day
on the GL 1800 was spent on Pacific Coast
Highway from Morro Bay up to Big Sur
-and back, then onto Death Valley via
Bakersfield. By chance, this ride turned out
to be the perfect venue for exploring the
GL's multifaceted personality, and one that
created an instant bond between the bike
and me. I had the completely irrational feeling that the Gold Wing loved that ride as
much as I did, playfully swaying through
PCH's undulating left-right-left-right
cadence with the blue Pacific Ocean on
one side and rolling hills, cliffs or redwood
forests on the other.
The GL1800 is as satisfying during a
spirited solo ride through mountain passes
as on a 2000-mile, week-long tour with
your wife on the pillion. That amazing
alchemy is the genius not only of designer
Masanori Aoki, but also of the Honda executives who had the bold vision to infuse a
venerable tradition with radical new thinking. Together, they made the Gold Wing feel
like a motorcycle again.
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THE LAST PAGE
Historic Columbia River Highway, east of Mosier, Ore. Submitted by Matthew Cottrell, Dunedin, Fla.
No wonder the pioneers headed west.
Reader submissions to The Last Page are welcome. Send digital photos of your favorite winding road to [email protected]
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