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2017 Bentley Bentayga

2017 Bentley Bentayga

  The Easter Jeep Safari, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is nine days of four-wheeling in nature’s harshest proving ground. Moab morphs into a fantasyland of lifted, caged, and rock-scarred rigs that line the streets, pack parking lots, and caravan off in every direction to attack trails with names like Where Eagles Dare and Escalator to Hell. It’s a kind of Woodward Avenue without the Avenue, and cops rarely impede the dream by ticketing drivers for trivialities such as not having license plates. Besides thousands of Jeeps overrunning this town of 5000 residents, there are passels of pickups, Toyota FJs (old and new), and purpose-built buggies wearing only a hint of production sheetmetal. Plus, this year, there was one $281,170 Bentley Bentayga. As SUVs invade increasingly unlikely showrooms, the veneer of off-road capability grows ever more implausible. Does a Bentley trucklet really need a height-adjustable suspension or four different off-road modes? Will any owner understand the differences between “Mud and Trail” and “Dirt and Gravel,” both selectable driving modes, or would the brains of Bentley drivers just lump all those words together under the umbrella of “things that are outside”? So we challenged Bentley: If the Bentayga actually has off-road chops, prove it. Let us take one to Easter Jeep. That’s how we found ourselves pitching a tent in a dusty campground alongside a Bentley. Its price was inflated nearly $50,000 from base, courtesy of extras including $5715 for paint that sagebrush and tamarisk, the local invasive plant, would imperil. Luckily we had the low-budget paint; there’s also a palette of colors priced at $12,530 each. The Bentayga’s...
2016 BMW 740i

2016 BMW 740i

Long-Term Road Test Intro After 120,000 miles divided among a 2012 BMW 328i sedan, a 2014 BMW 328d xDrive wagon, and a 2015 BMW M3, we’re ready for a respite from the sixth-generation 3-series. Each one of those recent long-termers left us cold: too disconnected, too expensive, or too flinty, but most of all, just short of totally satisfying. BMW’s quest to adapt the 3-series for mass-market appeal has watered down our decades-long love for the car that once combined control, practicality, and fun like no other. Instead of hunting for the ghosts of BMW past with yet another long-term 3-series, we’ve redirected our focus toward a 2016 BMW 740i. We’ll spend 40,000 miles determining if BMW’s apparent new priorities—luxury and comfort before sport—have been perfected in the company’s flagship. The 7-series is less about driving and more about riding, and these days, that means a car packed with electronics. The sixth-generation 7-series takes the first baby steps toward automated highway driving with optional adaptive cruise control and brief stints of self-steering lane keeping. We assume that BMW designers also are fans of Minority Report, because the latest iteration of iDrive allows passengers to wave a hand or twirl a finger in front of the 10.2-inch touchscreen to accept an incoming call or to adjust the audio volume. Yes, the gesture controls are every bit as gimmicky and imperfect as they sound. Looking beyond the silicon and semiconductors, this new G11 chassis blends high-strength steel, cast and extruded aluminum, carbon fiber, and magnesium for a lighter unitized structure. Expensive, But Not That Expensive We’ve been conditioned to think of...
2016 Porsche Boxster Spyder

2016 Porsche Boxster Spyder

What a Rack! “Improved agility” is a meaningless platitude tossed around by auto execs at introductions of glittering new models. But in the case of Porsche’s latest Boxsters, the words are apt. Both the outgoing Spyder and the new 718 Boxster benefit from a quicker steering rack that does indeed improve agility. That the rack is shared with the longer, heavier 911 Turbo might just make it the best parts-bin tweak in history. Ironically, even the uncompromised Cayman GT4, the performance pinnacle of the outgoing Boxster/Cayman platform, didn’t get this unit. The rack’s 15.0:1 on-center ratio is substantially quicker than the 16.6:1 used in outgoing Boxsters. Both use a variable ratio that decreases numerically as it’s turned farther from center. In other words, the more the wheel is turned, the more steering lock it yields. The result is less response in the straight-ahead position and more response when cornering. Quicker steering is a subtlety not lost on competent drivers, and its effect is noticeable, even without back-to-back drives in Boxsters with different racks. Balancing the more direct steering are wider rear wheels, which yield a wider track and, to some extent, counteract the more rapid steering. Such are the nuances of chassis tuning. New Boxsters gain 0.5 inch in rear-wheel width on both base and S models, up to 9.5 and 10 inches versus their outgoing counterparts. The Spyder’s rear wheels are wider still at 10.5 inches. We might, for now, lament the loss of the Boxster’s flat-sixes, but it’s hard to argue with an already-good chassis—old or new—getting even better. —Josh Jacquot Resources:...
2016 mazda 3

2016 mazda 3

What’s New: There were few changes to the Mazda 3 for 2016, but not much has needed to change since this third-generation design debuted for the 2014 model year. All models come with a backup camera; most Touring and Grand Touring models also get a sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, and an auto-dimming interior mirror. New option packages for the 3 i Sport, 3 i Touring, and 3 s Grand Touring bring automatic climate control, an upgraded stereo with satellite radio, What We Like: In one word: lots. In a segment dominated by smaller turbocharged engines, Mazda sticks with naturally aspirated powerplants. And yet the 3 returns real-world fuel economy on par with or sometimes even better than most of its competitors. Fortunately, when you step on the gas, the engine reverts to the conventional Otto-cycle operation, and maximum power is available. No Mazda 3 will break speed records: A 2.5-liter example can reach 60 mph in the low-seven-second range, with the 2.0-liter not far behind. The big advantage to the 2.5 is the added torque at lower revs, giving the car more around-town pep. The 2.0-liter, by contrast, has to be worked quite hard to complete a safe passing maneuver on a two-lane road or to merge onto the freeway. The Mazda 3’s dynamics—the way the car turns and handles—set the gold standard among sub-$20,000 cars. Vehicles costing two or even three times more could learn something from the 3’s suspension tuning, which is a masterful balance between control and comfort. Finally, the hatchback is highly practical: Fold its rear seats, and the cargo hold grows from 20...
2018 Audi A5

2018 Audi A5

First Drive Review It’s not as if we didn’t know what to expect of the 2018 Audi A5. Underneath, it’s the same as the 2017 Audi A4 we recently tested, which we summed up in this way: “It doesn’t make much noise about it, but the A4 possesses a quiet competence that is as wonderful as it is easily misunderstood.” The same could be said of its two-door brother, with the caveat that it has a more polarizing exterior design even as it strives to look sportier. Audi’s second-generation MLB platform underpins the A5, so when it gets here next year as a 2018 model in U.S. trim, it will share the A4’s 252-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and that’s no bad thing. (European models also offer a complement of diesel powerplants and a lower-power version of the 2.0-liter gasoline four-banger.) And, oddly, the new A5 still offers that dual-clutch gearbox, while the supposedly sportier S5 now relies on a conventional eight-speed automatic. Audi’s new coupe demonstrates a willingness to go around corners, and quickly to boot, but it never quite feels like it wants to play in them. When the curves open up, long sweepers beckon deep prods of the loud pedal, even if the result isn’t exactly a boisterous symphony. Unlike the exterior, the A5’s on-road behavior is subtle, and if the steering feels light and a tad numb, the chassis still telegraphs what’s happening down at the wheels with legitimate accuracy. When it comes time to scrub speed, the brakes offer linear and just-firm-enough modulation, Inside, the A5 follows the TT, the Q7, and the A4...
2017 Jeep Wrangler Spy Photos: We Get a Peek Underneath

2017 Jeep Wrangler Spy Photos: We Get a Peek Underneath

Platform: These spy photos give us our first good look underneath the next Wrangler—literally, as our intrepid spy actually crawled under a prototype. Unfortunately, the photographer was only able to gain a peek at the Wrangler’s aft end, but from what we can see, the SUV uses new axles, new suspension geometry with a relocated lateral link, and new exhaust bits. Otherwise, the Wrangler’s underbody situation is markedly familiar, with coil-suspended Dana axles at each end—the rear axle, currently a Dana 44 piece, is unmarked and features a new differential casing we haven’t seen before but we suspect is still a Dana model—and a boxed frame. We’ve heard some rumors of a longer wheelbase being part of the next Wrangler’s plan, with most of the speculation driven by the prototypes’ vertical strip between the front fenders and the base of the windshield. Indeed, this apparent body modification is present on the prototypes pictured here, but close visual comparisons between them and the current Wrangler indicate no change in wheelbase. Just look at the running boards, which fit nicely—and would be a curious component to modify for an engineering mule. Powertrain: Besides having learned that Jeep is working to ensure Chrysler’s ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic fits in the new Wrangler (it doesn’t fit in today’s model), most of the SUV’s underhood secrets remain just that. Depending on how much weight Jeep is able to remove from the Wrangler, the SUV could perhaps utilize a four-cylinder as it has in the past, but the most likely engine remains the updated version of today’s Pentastar V-6. A diesel four-cylinder could make the grade,...
2019 Audi Q6: The Four Rings Take on Tesla

2019 Audi Q6: The Four Rings Take on Tesla

What It Is: The Q6 is a four-door CUV closely related to the next-generation Q5. It will come to market with alternative powertrains only, including a fully battery-electric version. A plug-in hybrid will follow, and there is the possibility of a hydrogen-fueled model, as well. Although it has four doors, the Q6 will have a coupelike roofline and an extremely low coefficient of drag. Inside, it will feature the next generation of Audi’s screen-based “virtual cockpit” instrumentation previewed by recent concept cars such as the Audi Prologue. Platform: Based on Audi’s second-generation modular-longitudinal (MLB) architecture, the Q6 will be able to accommodate multiple powertrain options and the latest driver-assistance systems. The Q6 will offer extensive autonomous-driving features, matching or exceeding those of the next-generation Audi A8. The Q6 also will be fitted with an air suspension, and its body will make extensive use of aluminum. Powertrain: The fully electric version of the Q6 will use components from the upcoming R8 e-tron. With all-wheel drive, around 500 horsepower, and more than 500 lb-ft of torque, it will be one of the quickest SUVs on the market. Audi will offer an inductive-charging option that does away with the need to plug the car into an electric outlet, but it will not offer battery swapping, a technology that Audi CEO Rupert Stadler has repeatedly ruled out. Range is expected to exceed 310 miles. Resources:...
2018 Volkswagen Three-Row Crossover Spied!

2018 Volkswagen Three-Row Crossover Spied!

  What It Is: Volkswagen’s extremely late entry to the lucrative three-row family-crossover segment, first confirmed for production two years ago. (The vehicle has been bandied about within Volkswagen since 2011, and the segment has existed for at least a decade.) For now, the SUV is nameless, although several concepts previewing it have used variations of Cross Blue, Cross Coupe, and other crossed-up monikers. But wait, you might be thinking—couldn’t this be some kind of Jeep Grand Cherokee–based mystery prototype? Look closer at these photos. Those taillights are stickers made to look like a Jeep’s real-life units, while the front end’s made-up X-shaped badge and hollow, unadorned grille opening are other visual tricks designed to throw off onlookers. Platform: The  Volkswagen crossover will use a large version of the MQB modular architecture that underpins cars such as the Golf, the next-generation Tiguan, and several Audi products. The wheelbase will measure 117.3 inches, or 3.4 inches longer than that of the two-row-only Volkswagen Touareg. While some three-row crossovers can appear bulbous and ungainly, the Volkswagen joins the ranks of Honda’s Pilot and Kia’s Sorento on the more pleasantly proportioned side of the segment. Powertrain: In spite of the range of high-tech hybridized powertrains that the concept versions were shown with, look for Volkswagen to keep the production model simple. This means a V-6 engine, most likely Volkswagen’s corporate 3.6-liter V-6 with a six-speed automatic transmission. A plug-in-hybrid powertrain could join the V-6 later, and of course the choice of front- or all-wheel drive (4Motion, in VW-speak) will be offered. Resources:...
2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO: Extreme Makeover, Sentra Edition?

2017 Nissan Sentra NISMO: Extreme Makeover, Sentra Edition?

What It Is: A hot version of Nissan’s not-so-hot Sentra compact sedan. Three years ago, we got a taste of what a NISMO-tuned Sentra could look like when Nissan showed a thinly veiled Sentra concept car with a turbocharged engine, an upgraded chassis, and plenty of visual tweaks. Fast-forward to now, and the aggressive-looking body kit and upgraded wheels and tires on this prototype Sentra suggest that the muscled-up NISMO model is headed to production. Platform: The same front-wheel-drive architecture as the standard Sentra, which was refreshed for 2016. If the Sentra NISMO concept’s chassis upgrades carry into production, then we’ll also see significantly stiffer shocks and springs, a limited-slip differential, Brembo brakes, and larger wheels with stickier tires. Powertrain: The Juke’s 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces between 188 and 215 horsepower in the Juke NISMO and NISMO RS models will be called into duty here, but—following the concept’s blueprint—it may be enlarged to 1.8 liters and offer as much as 240 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive and a six-speed manual should come standard—a WRX-fighting AWD version is unlikely. Resources:...
2018 Volvo XC60 Spied, Looks Plasticky

2018 Volvo XC60 Spied, Looks Plasticky

What It Is: Volvo’s second-generation XC60 crossover, caught testing in Amsterdam wearing Playskool-like plastic body cladding and camouflage disguising its exterior. The XC60 is Volvo’s mid-size two-row SUV, slotting in below the range-topping XC90 and above the upcoming XC40 compact. On sale since 2010, today’s model is among the oldest Volvos in the range and is due for an update. Platform: The 2018 XC60 won’t simply cozy up to the XC90 in showrooms; the two share similar bones. That skeleton is Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) modular platform, which can support gasoline, hybrid, plug-in-hybrid, and even full-electric powertrains. Its flexibility allows it to underpin the XC90 (as well as the new S90 sedan and V90 wagon) in addition to the smaller XC60. It’s tough to tell what the XC60 might look like—Volvo’s camouflage game is strong on this prototype—but expect its look to split the difference between the elegant 90-series models and the apparently quite funky 40-series compacts yet to make their debut in production form. Some aspects won’t be a total surprise, of course—even through this test car’s cover-up, we can detect the brand’s signature Thor’s Hammer LED headlight flourish and tall, shapely taillights. This being a new Volvo, safety gear and technology will register high on the car’s features list. Expect some variation on the XC90’s portrait-oriented touchscreen display, too. Powertrain: Having committed to selling cars with three- or four-cylinder power exclusively, Volvo has taken a large amount of the guesswork out of determining its future models’ powertrain secrets. The XC60 thus will use the same Drive-E four-cylinder engine that is found in pretty much every other...