The McLaren Sports Series swan song, this GT4 race car plays on the street.
No stranger to racing events and local track days, McLaren offers a strong selection of road cars that will slay any circuit they invade. When you think of track day road cars, immediately you gravitate toward the Porsche 911 GT3 RS, Ferrari 488 Pista, or Lamborghini Huracan Performante. The thing is that those monsters spotted at your favorite track day are based on road cars, rather than racing cars. McLaren wanted to do things differently.
Long in the tooth is McLaren’s Sports Series lineup, dating back to the 570S which first arrived in 2015. With a few updates and versions with more power (like the 600LT), in addition to Spider variants and a fantastic grand tourer built on the platform, McLaren’s entry-level machine has had a good run. To send the Sports Series off, ahead of the new Artura’s arrival, McLaren decided to make a track special model that’s legal on the street.
Rather than starting with a traditional road-going variant of the 570S or 600LT, McLaren went wild, and decided to make a limited-run model based on its popular GT4 racer. It’s called the 620R, and as soon as you see it, you know this car isn’t messing about. While retaining the DNA of McLaren’s most successful GT race car, the 620R isn’t held back by restrictions imposed upon typical race cars. Rather than heading to the track to examine its worth, I stuck to public roads to see how well this race car for the street got on.
THE RACY SPECS AND HARDWARE
Utilizing the same M838TE 3.8L twin-turbo V8 engine used in the McLaren 570 GT4, the unrestricted 620R pumps out 611 horsepower and 457 lb-ft of torque, thanks to a revised ECU and turbocharging management system. With engine mapping focused on delivering optimal lap times rather than achieving a high top speed, and employing stiffer powertrain mounts on the 7-speed Seamless Shift Gearbox, the rear-wheel-drive 620R hits a top speed of 200 MPH. Acceleration from 0-60 is just 2.8 seconds, with 0-124 MPH in just 8.1, and the 620R can complete a 1/4-mile sprint in as little as 10.4 seconds.
Since the McLaren 620R is based on the 570 GT4, it gets loads of goodies the road-going Sports Series models don’t have access to. Under its lightweight carbon skin, the McLaren 620R employs motorsport wishbones, uprights, anti-roll bars, and manually-adjustable dampers, to drop weight while toughening the chassis for optimal grip. The 620R is still built upon McLaren’s Monocell II carbon fiber chassis, but with less interior fabric and insulation, its curb weight drops to an astonishing 3,067 pounds.
Ignoring plenty of practical and comfortable features, the 620R makes no excuses as it emphasizes performance. The interior is devoid of anything involving NVH. There are no carpets, and there’s no insulation in the doors nor between all the interior panels. Colin Chapman dreams of this sort of light-weighting. Seats are pulled from the McLaren Senna, and weigh less than the cheeseburger you ate for lunch. Conventional 3-point seat belts are fitted for street driving, 6-point racing harnesses are a no-cost option for when you’re ripping up the track, and because your reach is a bit limited when you’re strapped in, McLaren was smart to fit a pull strap on the door handles and raise the center console a bit more toward you. Although stashing the fire extinguisher in the front cargo compartment wasn’t the wisest decision, if you’re in trouble at the track.
McLaren’s IRIS infotainment system is another no-cost option, with an extra USB and microphone port ready for your racing gear and coaching software embedded with the 620R’s track telemetry and three-camera system. The 620R can also be equipped with McLaren’s $4,410 optional–and exceptional–Bowers & Wilkins audio system. Cupholders are gone, as is the pocket in the front of the seat cushion to hide your key. Thankfully there are small pocket nets in each of the dihedral doors, if you need to tuck any small items away.
Storage space in the McLaren 620R is reduced by the carbon fiber bonnet and its twin nostrils that aid downforce and clean up the airflow over the top of the car. Thankfully the bonnet is still functional, and there’s just enough room to tuck away your fire suit and helmet. McLaren offers a $570 car cover and $570 charger for the lithium-ion battery when storing your 620R on days you are driving one of your other cars.
Only three exterior colors are available on the 620R, and are inspired by GT4 race cars – McLaren Orange (with white racing stripes), Silica White (orange stripes) or Onyx Black (orange stripes). Each color can be optioned with race number decals and/or partner decals. If those selections don’t please your needs, there are endless combinations available in the MSO palette.
McLaren Special Operations offers plenty of pricy upgrades inside and out, and the 620R I tested had the awesome carbon fiber roof scoop fitted (free of charge), in addition to $12,080 carbon fiber louvres in the front fenders that allow wheel wheel air pressure to release while adding downforce through the fenders, $4,370 exposed carbon fiber side sills, and massive carbon door inserts that make the profile of the 620R look extra cool at a cost of $7,670. Add these and a few other options to the base price of $275,250 (about $20,000 more than the more civil McLaren 600LT, but still about $25,000 less than the 720S), and the McLaren 620R I tested hit a total MSRP of $312,605 after destination.
REMARKABLY COMPLIANT IN THE CITY
Let’s not kid ourselves. The McLaren 620R is not going to be your daily driver, but it’s good to know this machine isn’t completely brutal on the street. Climate control is available as a no-cost option, and if you want to play on public roads on the weekends or on the way to a circuit, I highly suggest paying for the $1,950 adaptive suspension I praised in the McLaren GT I recently reviewed. Don’t be too careless over bumps and potholes, or the 620R will remind you just how low its ride height is. Thankfully you can engage the front axle lift when you’re pulling into a steeper driveway, but the extended front lip spoiler is begging to scrape.
Keep the McLaren 620R’s powertrain and handling knobs in their normal positions, and this track-hardened McLaren is comfortable while still immensely responsive. Throttle response is manageable without being overly sensitive like you’d expect in a race car. Even during normal throttle applications the twin-turbo V8 has no trouble reminding you that you’re engaging over 600 horsepower as you apply your right foot. The roof scoop makes epic whooshing noises that add an element to the driving experience few supercars can match, and because McLaren gave it a cool split design as it plunges toward the engine, it doesn’t eliminate the rear window view. Unfortunately the massive fixed rear wing–raised 12 inches above the tail end of the 620R–does that instead.
Steering feel is sharp and somewhat light in the normal handling mode, aided by a good electric boost, but there’s nothing artificial in the sensations you feel through the Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel that’s devoid of any buttons or controls on its spokes. Equipped with Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tires, you won’t want to take the McLaren 620R for a spin during any chilly nor rainy conditions, and the only option for rubber are Pirelli racing slicks, but only for track use. Despite its racing focus, the 620R actually has more positive brake pedal feel around town, with less of the dead travel I’ve experienced in other McLaren models.
Since McLaren focused on shaving weight, the 620R’s cabin is downright loud. The center console will buzz at lower RPMs, especially when idling at a stoplight, and if you toss your phone in the console’s pocket as you drive, it will rattle annoyingly. I decided to keep my phone in my pocket and stream music via bluetooth, rather than plugging it in. Speaking of music, the IRIS infotainment system is the same as you get in other McLaren models, which is hard to see if you wear polarized sunglasses, and it doesn’t have Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto installed. At least there’s satellite radio and bluetooth streaming available, and the optional Bowers & Wilkins system is fantastic way to drown out any cabin noises.
Slipping into the McLaren 620R is not graceful, thanks to the extra wide sills of the carbon fiber monocoque and the carbon fiber bucket seats’ big bolsters. If you don’t love the Senna seats, you can opt for normal seats for added comfort. I like the look and function of the lightweight buckets, even if they could use a hint of lumbar support for my busted old back. I still think Porsche makes the best carbon seats in any production car, but the McLaren ones are damn good at what they’re intended to do, and look fantastic.
What surprised me is how composed the 620R is as an all-around driver in the city. Sure, it’s loud inside, and that’s because of its focus, but I was expecting a back-breaking experience around city streets, and remarkably it wasn’t. Even if it was a little harsh, I didn’t care so long as the McLaren 620R kicked ass when I ditched the city in search of twisty roads.
ATTACKING FUN ROADS
Any mild annoyances I may have had with the McLaren 620R on the street are quickly dismissed by a session along a twisty back road. In this environment, the 620R is a weapon. Engage the drive mode selection knobs to put the handling in sport, the engine in track, and only if you’re a bit talented behind the wheel, tap the ESC button once to engage the dynamic mode to unleash this beast’s fury. The instrument cluster switches over to the track setting, with a cool rev counter that arches over the cluster and shift lights as the RPMs quickly climb.
The suspension firms up, but the ride quality isn’t sketchy. Slip angle from ham-fisted steering inputs is pronounced, with a tail-end allowed to dance in ESC dynamic, so keep your hands smooth on that Alcantara wheel with its red 12 o’clock mark. I appreciate the added steering weight when in the faster handling modes too. What’s astonishing is how well the McLaren 620R manages weight transfer in S-curves and through fast transitions. Because it’s barely 3,000 pounds, the 620R isn’t shuffling loads of weight, allowing its suspension to easily cope and shift damping at each corner while you switch directions. If you’re some idiot amateur who’s pretending to be a racing driver, this racy McLaren will expose your lack of talent, and you’ll end up in a ditch… or worse.
Giving the 620R the beans in the engine’s track mode is as exciting to the ears as it is to your pulse. McLaren’s Inertia Push technology builds flywheel energy to create a burst of torque when you feel a perfect click from the extended shift paddle as you engage a higher gear, giving the 620R a more dramatic acceleration sensation. When you’re in the sport powertrain mode, the McLaren 620R delivers a cool “crack” sound during upshifts, created by a split-second cut of the ignition spark, and I loved this experience. Spend a chunk more cash, and McLaren will install a titanium exhaust that drops even more weight while opening up more roars as you stab the throttle.
While it would have been cool to test the adjustable racing suspension, which features 32 clicks of adjustment per corner for compression and rebound rates, but I’m glad this tester was equipped with the adaptive system that’s more appropriate for the street. Able to compute more calibrations as surface conditions and driving inputs quickly adjust, this setup gobbled up bumpy farm-to-market roads with ease, and helped eliminate any hint of body roll through fast turns. The semi-slick Pirelli Trofeo Rs were fantastic at sticking to the pavement, happily exercising as I dished out abuse over some hot Texas days. If you plan to track your 620R, you might want to tick the slick tire option box to fully embrace its performance.
Standard carbon ceramic rotors–measuring 15.3 inches up front and 14.9 inches rear– benefit from the McLaren Senna’s brake booster, shortening pedal travel while giving precise bite when needing to eliminate huge speeds and dissipate lots of surface heat. The McLaren orange calipers were a cool optional touch too, painted on 6-piston front and 4-piston rears. When put to the test, the 620R’s brakes can pull it from 124 MPH to a dead stop in 379 feet, and can scrub from 62 MPH to a static position in just 96 feet.
Stitching together good driving inputs with both your hands and feet is rewarded in the McLaren 620R, as its balance is wonderful as speeds increase, allowing the extra aero kit to put in work. That massive front lip and ducting for the frunk scoops direct loads of air over the front end, and the carbon diveplanes along the sides of the front bumper make sure your nose is stuck into every bend. The massive rear wing is adjustable, depending how much downforce you want from it, and the huge rear diuser makes sure all the air that’s rushing through the 620R is ensuring supreme lateral stability. In total, McLaren says the 620R produces 408 pounds of downforce across its bodywork at 155 MPH. I may or may not be able to validate these claims.
FREAKY IN ALL THE RIGHT WAYS
Unlike a Porsche 911 GT3 or Ferrari Pista, the 620R isn’t a comfortable city car to occasionally take to the track. McLaren designed the 620R to be excellent in forceful driving conditions, rewarding the talented driver who pushes it to the limit. It’s a hardcore supercar that wants to be thrashed, yet has more capabilities than you’re used to. It doesn’t want to be civil. It wants to slay.
If you want a more compliant supercar for less cash, the McLaren GT is remarkable, holds way more luggage than any supercar should be allowed to, and will provide an exceptionally comfortable driving experience in the McLaren Sports Series package. If you want a ton of performance, and are willing to spend a lot more cash, the 720S is the way to go.
For an intense driving experience that’s focused on destroying canyon roads and circuits, a McLaren 620R is a fantastic way to get an obscenely fast toy that won’t have you looking like every other dude that shows up at a track day. McLaren’s Sports Series is getting replaced by the upcoming Artura, with an all-new hybrid V6 powertrain, but the 620R is one fine way to send off this epic supercar platform.
The cousin to the Porsche Taycan ticks different boxes, yet still rocks as an enthusiast driver’s electric car.
If you’re in the market for a large electric performance four-door, you have no shortage of options. In a field Tesla enjoyed being the only entrant into for ages, Porsche, Lucid, Mercedes, and Audi have decided to snag good-sized pieces of the pie. With options to suit any driver’s needs for luxury, outright performance, long range, or a special cool factor, electrified speedy sedans are now all over the road.
As if the Volkswagen group didn’t have a strong enough seller with the Porsche Taycan, with its full slate of trim levels and body styles, it decided to throw an Audi option into the mix. Audi’s e-Tron line started with the practical hatchback A3, and later added crossover options, but it didn’t have a sedan. Fixing that problem, Audi introduced the e-Tron GT, which you might recognize from Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame film.
In its standard form the new Audi e-Tron GT is stylish, well-equipped, and properly quick, but for some enthusiasts, that didn’t quite do the trick. To scratch their itch, Audi delivers something a bit more stout, and added its RS badge to the equation. Having tested a bunch of good EVs over the past couple years, I wanted to see what was up with Audi’s new RS e-Tron GT, and was lucky to get one for a week.
The Juiced Specs
Audi packs the RS e-Tron GT with a 93 kWh battery pack that cranks out 590 horsepower in normal conditions, and bumps up to 637 in boost mode, paired with 612 lb-ft of torque. This power output is in between the Porsche Taycan GTS and Turbo variants. With a permanent magnet motor strapped to each axle, a single-speed transmission up front and a two-speed transmission at the rear, Audi connects its quattro all-wheel-drive to propel the RS electric four-door from 0-60 MPH in just 3.1 seconds on the way to a top speed of 155 MPH.
The RS e-Tron GT’s battery pack is set up with an 800V electric architecture, offering DC fast charging. EPA estimates that the RS e-Tron GT can cruise up to 232 miles of range on a full charge (only sacrificing 6 miles compared to the standard e-Tron GT, and offering about 30 more miles than its Porsche cousins), with MPGe estimates of 79/82/81 (city/highway/combined).
Pricing for the standard Audi e-Tron GT starts at $102,000, with the RS variant bumping up to $139,900. with the Year One package optioned (which adds 21-inch wheels with summer tires, laser headlights, black Audi rings and badges, ceramic brakes, loads of carbon fiber trim inside and out, Nappa leather all over the cabin and seats, power steering plus with rear wheel steering), and Tango Red Metallic paint gracing its exterior, this RS e-Tron GT tester hit a total MSRP of $161,890 after destination.
The Fun Way To The Office
Commutes to work and errand runs are a blast in the RS e-Tron GT, and every single person you pass will give it favorable second looks thanks to sharp styling lines that take some cues from Audi’s attractive A7. Quickly I was reminded that this EV has an RS badge slapped on the back, with the batteries ready to dump their energy to shove you past slower moving traffic. Using the steering wheel paddles engages the trio of brake regen modes, which the most aggressive works nicely for one-pedal driving around the city.
I toyed with the individual drive mode in Audi’s Drive Select system, and put the power in the most efficient mode, tightened up the suspension, and calmed the fake engine sounds to enjoy a refined sport sedan that was still ready to strike in an instant. In the comfort drive mode, this e-Tron will feels remarkably composed, with the three-chamber air suspension softening the bumpiest city streets, and neatly masking the 5,100-pound curb weight as I maneuvered around town. Even putting the suspension in its sportier setting doesn’t disrupt ride quality, while sharpening response when you want to be more playful.
Bang & Olufsen provides the audio system to this electric Audi, and they thump nicely with exceptional clarity. Those speakers definitely feed in a variety of propulsion sounds depending on the drive mode, but you’re able to customize this, but I was surprised how much road noise made its way into the cabin. Attribute some of this to the more eco-friendly version of Goodyear’s Eagle F1 rubber fitted to the optional 21-inch wheels.
Seats in this RS model definitely hit the marks for a performance model, but are refreshingly comfortable during longer drives. Having heating, ventilation, and massage modes for the front buckets are great too, although the ventilation fans are quite loud compared to other cars I’ve tested. Stuffing the kids in the back seat of the RS e-Tron GT won’t punish them, but your adult friends will feel cramped in a space that doesn’t offer much more legroom than the smaller Audi RS5 Sportback I drove last summer.
Trunk space is a bit small too, which is a shame for a four-door with such big dimensions. I wish Audi had some sort of wagon option for this fast EV, or at least made this e-Tron a sportback, but imagine the Volkswagen brass didn’t want to cannibalize the Porsche Taycan’s Sport Turismo and Cross Turismo options. If you really need a bunch of boot space from a fast Audi, the RS6 Avant I reviewed–albeit petrol-powered–will be the way to go.
The RS e-Tron GT has a fantastic cockpit design, which is more conventional than the Porsche Taycan or Tesla Model S, thankfully filled with physical buttons for all the useful controls. Audi’s virtual cockpit controls the 12-inch instrument display, with plenty of ways to configure your perfect layout and data points. If you’ve spent time in any new Audi in the past few years, you’ll have no trouble getting acclimated to the switches inside the RS e-Tron GT. The steering wheel features the great controls Audi has implemented for nearly two decades, sticking to the “if it ain’t broke…” methodology.
As I’ve praised in other Audis I’ve reviewed in the past couple years, the latest version of MMI is wonderful. Featuring a cool design that’s still intuitive, the high-resolution 10-inch touchscreen is neatly integrated into the dash, with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto installed. There’s also a wireless mobile charging slot vertically hidden in the center armrest. I like how Audi hid a pair of USB-C ports under the center of the rear seat, making it easy for your friends and kids to charge their devices.
Electrified Performance Aplenty
Audi didn’t just smack its RS badge on the back of this EV lightly, because this e-Tron means business when it comes to flogging it along a canyon road. Engage the dynamic drive mode, and this electric performance car adjusts its mood to be a madman. Unleashing the 600+ horsepower results in a savage shove of acceleration, with a noticeable kick from the second gear change from the rear gearbox, and no difficulty planting you firmly into the seat back for the duration of any go pedal application.
While it may not boast silly peak figures like its rivals, the RS e-Tron GT will happily rip from corner to corner, instantly making straightaways disappear. To keep up with its Tesla and Lucid rivals, Audi should probably introduce some sort of wild power package to keep up with those competitors that offer some truly ridiculous peak figures. Not that the power in those models is fully usable, but there are buyers who want that flex and are willing to spend stupid money to acquire it.
An alcantara-wrapped version of the same steering wheel I liked in the RS6 Avant is installed, with the perfect rim thickness to allow for feeling a crisp turn-in. I appreciate the optional power steering plus and rear axle steering fitted to this e-Tron, making cornering wonderfully sharp, seemingly shrinking the size and mass it actually possesses. The Goodyears are good at managing grip in the bends, but do give up a hint of traction in faster corners. I wish there was a tire more focused on outright performance fitted to the RS e-Tron GT instead of one that has a bit of its design meant to improve battery range. That big carbon fiber diffuser out back actually manages airflow nicely, improving stability while cleaning up turbulence to maintain a super slippery 0.24 drag coefficient.
Carbide brake rotors are fitted to the RS e-Tron GT by default, compared to steel ones on the standard model, and the ceramic discs included in the Year One package came in handy. Because the RS e-Tron tips the scales at over 5,000 pounds, any harder back road thrashing session would likely induce some fade in the non-carbon rotors. Initial pedal feedback is lighter than I prefer (especially in one of the less aggressive brake regen modes), but firmer applications will result in a good bit of bite to effortlessly slow this performance EV when approaching a corner.
The Usual EV Demands And Challenges
Because it packs an 800V architecture, the Audi RS e-Tron GT can rapidly charge to get you back on the road. Find a super fast charging point, and Audi says this e-Tron model can juice up from 5% to 80% in as little as half an hour. Like the Porsche Taycan, Audi fits a pair of charing docks to the front fenders of the RS e-Tron GT, with a Level 1 & 2 jack on the left side, and the DC fast charging port on the right side. While having a fast charging setup in the RS e-Tron GT is great, maximizing its capabilities at a public charger isn’t truly likely in the States.
Even though the Volkswagen group has rolled out a decent charging network–thanks to Dieselgate–Electrify America doesn’t have enough charing points within major cities, typically placing them at the edges of metro areas to make longer drives easier to manage. If you want to juice up on EA’s wickedly fast charging points, you’re likely to waste a lot of miles to get to them and back home. The Electrify America points near Austin are far from the city center where I live, stuck with the nearest one being about 30 miles away at an outlet mall.
I’ll concede that buyers who can afford the RS e-Tron GT will likely have a home with a garage paired with the budget to install a fast charger, but public charging infrastructure still has a long way to go to promote real EV adoption growth. Thankfully Audi’s native navigation system allows drivers to search and filter charing station results based on charging speed and availability, which can come in handy if you’re driving in unfamiliar territory.
At 232 miles of maximum range on a full charge, this fast Audi EV doesn’t have miserable range, but it’s not fantastic either. While it has a bit more to offer than its Porsche relatives, Audi needs to give the e-tron GT more range if you want to enjoy it on a road trip. With Tesla offering around 400 miles of range as an option in its Model S, and Lucid stretching range up an astonishing to 520 miles, the game has changed, and this Audi should provide more. Given that most RS e-Tron GT owners will likely stick to their local area and rarely take a long road trip, this EV’s range will probably be fine for them.
The Segment Didn’t Need It, But Audi Supplied A Great Fast EV Anyway
Audi’s e-Tron lineup is only growing, in a time when OEMs need to reduce emissions and improve economy, but thankfully the RS badge is getting added to the mix. Because it lands in the middle of the Porsche Taycan sampling, both in terms of performance and price, the e-Tron’s justification comes down to the sharper appearance and more traditional cockpit layout to get my attention. I imagine Volkswagen is happy to have people considering its fast EV options across multiple manufacturers.
Because the Taycan GTS has a Sport Turismo option (which this wagon lover adores), boasting a bigger cargo area with better access, it gets my vote. If the storage space isn’t a hot ticket item for you, the Audi RS e-Tron GT will be a fantastic performance EV sedan to scoot around the city while being an absolute blast on canyon roads. Should the enthusiast driver not be ready to make the switch to a fully electric car, the less expensive Audi RS6 Avant is still a wonderful dino juice-chugging wagon that’s sitting on the same showroom floor.
Bask in the glory of this massive assortment of spectacular custom motorcycles.
Back in 2014, the team at Revival Cycles decided to put on a massive event to showcase not only its fine work in custom motorcycles, but to display the work of friends and experts in the segment, called The Handbuilt Motorcycle Show. After a brief break during the pandemic, the team got everyone back together in Austin, Texas, and put on a better-than-ever showcase during the weekend MotoGP made its stop at Circuit of The Americas. Under one roof, encompassing over 100,000 square feet of space, more than 200 motorcycle builds were on display, including 12 unique builds by Revival Cycles and 116 motorcycles by builders from all over the United States.
“The Handbuilt Motorcycle Show was originally conceived as an excuse to get together with motorcycle builders from all over the world who inspired team Revival. What it has developed into over the years is an artistic display driven by a passion for motorcycles that far exceeds our wildest expectations,” said Alan Stulburg, founder of Revival Cycles and The Handbuilt Motorcycle Show.
The jewel of the show was Revival Cycles’ The Fuse. The Ducati Fuse was crafted and built by Revival Cycles in collaboration with the build’s client Ed Boyd – the former Global head of design for Dell computers. With more than 1,000 hours and almost 7 years put into this custom bike, it is truly one-of-a-kind. The public debut will be featured inside the Design Lounge, sponsored by Dell Computers.
Revival’s Alloy Guzzi was also debuted during this year’s Handbuilt Motorcycle Show. Originally conceived as a vintage track bike and over time morphed into an elegant custom design and achieved a level of execution with a fit that is more fitting of a show bike. The bike’s frame is painted in an industrial green inspired by the original legendary Moto Guzzi V8 GP bike and has details throughout.
Red Bull action sports athlete, Aaron Colton performed freestyle stunt demos on his gas & electric bikes. Artist Makoto Endo live-painted motorcycles with ‘chopsticks’ as fans looked on (and the crew at Revival snapped a couple pictures they shared with me). Revival had a massive merchandise setup for fans to take home gear, and several vendors showcased their goods that attendees could also purchase. Portland-based Rogue Ales set up a beer bar serving a variety of its brews, including this year’s design Revival Cycles design collaboration in limited edition “Knuckle Buster IPA”.
During this year’s Handbuilt Motorcycle Show, fans of both fast and meticulous motorcycles were treated to one fantastic weekend in Austin. With help from sponsors including BMW, Carabuena Tequila, COTA, Dell, Indian, Peak Design,Progressive, Rambler Sparkling Water, Ranch Rider Spirits, Red Bull, Rogue, Slow & Low, Volcon, Zooz, REV’IT!, and 805, the show delighted over 25,000 attendees. Fans got to meet plenty of the builders and learn more about their trades across welding, leather crafting, motor development, metal shaping, and design specialties.
Having visited the show over the past several years, I was happy to have the Handbuilt Motorcycle show back in Austin, and was given early access to the space. With a camera in hand, I snapped loads of photos, not just to highlight some builds that caught my eye, but plenty of the meticulously crafted details crafted over thousands of painstaking hours. Enjoy this smattering of handbuilt two-wheeled gems.
The soirée for a bunch of German saloons was just shown up by one good Korean.
In a not so quiet manner, Genesis has rebuilt its brand identity, placing some well-established German marques in its sights. With each Genesis model I’ve reviewed over the past two years, there’s been an immediate enjoyment with a sleek exterior design met with a stunning cabin, and some exceptional driving impressions to boot. To attempt to sway the buyers of BMW, Audi, and Mercedes, Genesis is not just using its great looks and features to accomplish the task, but the price points for its models are catching attention too.
In the smaller premium sport sedan class, the Audi S4, BMW M340i, and Mercedes-AMG C43 have long-enjoyed the established base of drivers who want those models, and Genesis wants a slice of the pie. With the 2022 G70, Genesis freshened its looks inside and out to get up to speed with the rest of the lineup, and wants to inform the enthusiast driver that plenty of fun can be had behind the wheel too. Having tested several Genesis models and the competition it wants to grab market share from, I wanted to see if the Genesis G70 was a worthy adversary.
The Important Figures
Genesis offers the G70 sedan with two different engines, including a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder and the upgrade to a 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6. The 2.0T produces a respectable 252 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque, and the 3.3T cranks out 365 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque. Rear-wheel-drive is standard, and all-wheel-drive is optional. The Audi S4 is the only rival which has less peak horsepower (349) than the top-level G70, with the BMW M340i and AMG C43 both producing over 380. The Audi and AMG offerings both come standard with all-wheel-drive, and the BMW M340i has rear-wheel-drive standard with all-wheel-drive optional.
An 8-speed automatic is the only transmission offering in the G70, with shift-by-wire and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. For those who want to impress at the stoplight, the 4-cylinder G70 will scoot from 0-60 in around 6 seconds, and the V6 turbo with AWD can complete that task in as little as 4.5 seconds (4.8 with RWD) with the Sport Prestige package that adds a limited-slip differential, keeping it within inches of its competition at the end of a sprint. The Genesis G70 measures 184 inches of overall length, 72 inches wide, and 55 inches tall, with a 111-inch wheelbase, making it similarly sized next to its German rivals.
Genesis is smart with packaging its options, allowing for easy selections of two different packs. One (Sport Advanced, $4,300) focuses on cool features and amenities, and the other (Sport Prestige, $4,000) adds premium materials for the interior, but the upgrades to the G70’s brakes, limited-slip differential, and electric adaptive suspension are the more appealing ones. Opting for all-wheel-drive adds about $2,000 to the sticker too.
Base price for the Genesis G70 starts at $37,775 for the 2.0T with rear-wheel-drive, and the 3.3T bumps up to $42,350. The G70 tester I was sent was equipped with the 3.3-liter engine, rear-wheel-drive, and ticked both of the package option boxes to ring up a total price of $51,445 after destination. That figure is massively attractive against the G70’s foes. The S4 starts at $51,000, the M340i begins at $54,000, the C43’s base price is $60,000, with those numbers increasing significantly as option boxes get ticked.
Upgrading Your Commute
Spending hours a day commuting isn’t wonderful, but if you’ve got to waste time in traffic, the Genesis G70 is a nice place to be. Others on the road definitely give the redesigned 2022 Genesis G70 plenty of approving second looks, especially as that massive black chrome grille and split LED lights both front and rear catch a glimpse. Genesis delicately balances itself as a bargain performance luxury brand, and the G70 nicely executes an added hint of style versus its German counterparts. I definitely find it the more attractive option next to the S4, M340i, and C43.
Response from the twin-turbo V6 is nicely responsive in the comfort drive mode, and shifts from the 8-speed automatic are smooth. Go easy on the throttle to best hit the EPA fuel economy estimates of 18/27/21, because I barely hit 17 MPGs during my week-long test with this Genesis that may have involved a hint more spirited driving. The G70’s upgraded adaptive suspension is a fantastic job of minimizing any bumps in the road surface, yet still offers good response when having a hint of fun on any detours between home and the office. Steering feel is just heavy enough, without requiring too much elbow grease at city intersections.
The G70’s cabin is nicely appointed, especially with the upgraded Nappa leather ventilated seats wrapped around you. I love the quilted stitching pattern utilizing red contrasting over the soft black leather that adorns the cabin, and appreciate just enough brushed metallic trim pieces completing a sporty yet refied look. Thankfully there isn’t a single bit of piano black trim inside the G70’s cockpit either. There’s a bit of plastic used for key touch points in this entry-level Genesis, with climate knobs that are closer to Hyundai quality than other Genesis models, but the placement and controls are all intuitive.
Occupants both front and rear will enjoy a cabin that’s more spacious than it appears, with adults having enough legroom for a drive to dinner. Genesis has a smart pair of buttons on the inside shoulder bolster that allows the right rear passenger to adjust the recline and depth of the front passenger seat, in case they need additional space (something I’ve noticed in every new Genesis I’ve reviewed). Storage capacity is big too, with a passthrough and folding rear seats to improve space and access. Tech is plentiful in the Genesis G70, with a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system that features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. I like that the G70’s instrument cluster that utilizes a digital screen for the center and right third, with the latter switching to a side view camera display when indicating a lane change.
I appreciate how Genesis groups together its option packages. The Sport Advanced package adds parking sensors, cool 19-inch wheels, a sportier trim inside the cabin, ventilated front seats, a bigger sunroof, wireless mobile device charging, a dark chrome grille, variable exhaust, power seat bolster and cushion extender, the Genesis digital key, and a Lexicon 15-speaker premium audio system that has loads of tone where it matters.
Surprisingly Good Performance
Enjoying a weekend sprint along a canyon road is something the Genesis G70 is surprisingly good at. To contend with its German competitors, the G70 packages together an exceptionally sharp handling dynamics. I was stunned with how composed the G70’s chassis was during more spirited driving. The 4-cylinder will probably provide enough power for the average driver, and can save several thousand dollars, but the V6 is the engine an enthusiast wants. Boost spools up more effectively when you smoothly apply the throttle, and displays a hint more lag when the driver smashes the go pedal, so be smart with your inputs to have the most fun.
In its sport or sport+ drive modes, the G70 noticeably changes its personality, wanting to pounce the curves and unleash its fantastic powerplant. The driver aids noticeably relax their desire to step in when in sport+ too, so you better be on your game if you’re trying to flog the G70 in this mode. Upshifts wait a bit longer than the comfort mode, allowing the engine to rev more freely, but the shift logic when needing to bounce up and down does exhibit a slight delay, so I employed the manual shifts for optimal fun.
The Genesis G70’s adaptive dampers firm up pleasantly in the two sportier modes, without being too rigid. I found that my happy custom drive mode put them in the simple sport setting, and the same went for the steering, which felt over-boosted in the sport+ setup, but I definitely enabled the powertrain’s abilities. Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires are wrapped around 19-inch wheels, providing confidence in the bends and plenty of heat allowed into the compounds before they want to break traction. If you’re in a region that experiences snowfall, dropping $2,000 on all-wheel-drive will help you better cope with the winter conditions, but I like the G70’s rear-wheel-drive setup that allows the tail-end a hint more rotation and requires a bit more steering skill from the driver. Taking some weight off the front axles is something I prefer too.
The driver who cares about having a blast on a twisty road should spend the extra $4,000 on the G70’s Sport Prestige Package that adds bigger Brembo brakes with monoblock calipers, a limited-slip differential, and an adaptive suspension. The Brembo brakes are fantastic on longer runs along winding back roads, allowing harder inputs with great feel and feedback. Opting for the $4,300 Sport Advanced package also includes a variable valve exhaust system while upgrading a bunch of tech and amenities, but I have to offer a little gripe about the big oval-shaped openings in either side of the bumper being fake while concealing two smaller exhaust tips.
A Fantastic Alternative To The Usual German Sedan Selection
As Genesis has finished refreshing its entire lineup, the G70 is a fantastic upgrade to an already good sport sedan. Now boasting the same good looks as its siblings, the Genesis G70 is a stunner with proportions that I love. Not just possessing a body and cabin that are easy on the eyes, the Genesis G70 is a wonderful sport sedan that offers a fantastically balanced chassis paired with a potent engine.
This Korean manufacturer picks a fight with German contenders that have held onto their title belts for a little too long, and will please those who bet on the underdog that exhibits shockingly good performance at a bargain price. Against the Audi S4, BMW M340i, and Mercedes-AMG C43, the Genesis is easily my favorite to drive along a twisty road, look at, and enjoy knowing how much cash it saves those who choose to stick it in their garage.
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Sally Carrera from the animated film Cars, her original designers are reviving the model with the newest Porsche 911 generation.
Fresh off its recent announcement of a three-year cooperation agreement with South by Southwest® (SXSW®)–the annual festival of tech and culture which brings tens of thousands of attendees to Austin, Texas each year–Porsche announced a new project working alongside Pixar. Marking the 20th anniversary of the 2002 Porsche 911 on which Sally Carrera is based, Cars Production Designer, Bob Pauley, and Creative Director, Jay Ward presented the story of how Sally first came to life, in a conversation led by Porsche Cars North America Spokesperson Jade Logan. On display during this event was the actual running model of Sally Carrera, meticulously restored by the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, following her longtime hibernation after being a touring celebrity during the years of three Cars films being released.
The discussion with Logan, Pauley, and Ward took attendees along the path from the idea of a character in Cars to be the love interest of the film’s star, Lightning McQueen. Telling the tale of Sally Carrera, the presenters described the character that is based on a 2002 Porsche 911 Carrera. Sally is from California, and grew tired of life in the fast lane. She made a new start in the small town of Radiator Springs, and is the town’s attorney on a mission to help get Radiator Springs “back on the map.” She strived, always, to make a difference – to help.
A unique insight into the creative process of sketching, modeling, and rendering an animated character showed how the California-based Pixar Animation Studios team paired with Porsche to bring a road-going icon to the animated film world. From arrival of the 996, the Pixar team painstakingly captured photos of the 911 to then understand key features of the sportscar, but to adapt the design into a character with expressions and a personality. Over several months, designers and engineers took part in dissecting the Porsche 911 and rebuilding it to resemble the on-screen character Sally Carrera. The body was cut in half, overall length shortened by seven inches, A pillar raised, and the fascia remodeled to give Sally a mouth. To pair with the Southern California landscape and sunset colors, Sally is painted a unique shade of blue, which helps her character stand out next to her co-star Lightning McQueen (a bright red race car).
Accelerating a special charitable project intended to benefit the well-being and education of children, Porsche and Pixar have been investing months into developing a new version of the character Sally Carrera from the animated film Cars which will be auctioned for charity with RM Sotheby’s. Porsche followed up the announcement the following morning, stating that proceeds from the auction will support life-changing programs for girls and young women through Girls Inc. as well as the USA for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to provide aid to children and their families affected by the conflict in Ukraine.
For the 2022 Sally Carrera model, a team from Pixar Animation Studios led by Pauley and Ward will work alongside Style Porsche in Weissach and Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur in Stuttgart to commemorate this milestone. Different from the initial Sally Carrera, the 992 version will be a street-legal model that the new owner will be able to enjoy along their favorite stretch of twisty road. The designers showed concept sketches and idea drafts around what this new 992-based Sally should be like, and what new features she had to possess. There was also the hint of the new model being featured on the big screen.
To accompany the new 992 variant of Sally Carrera, Porsche Design will be creating a one-off timepiece to accompany the 911 when it’s auctioned. Expect the chronograph to incorporate plenty of Porsche Design’s stunning features, but the team indicated that this unique watch will intertwine Sally Carrera details and many bespoke parts to craft a truly special piece to accompany this remarkable sportscar.
Hosted in downtown Austin, Porsche described the motto of the venue as “A Creator’s Mind” that demonstrates the secret sketch pad of its design department. Outside the venue, Porsche had its 911 Vision Safari on display. Once you step inside the space, you instantly feel small, as Porsche filled the room with massive scale versions of items you’d expect to find around a Porsche designer’s desk. While this studio was a cool interactive experience, Porsche also presented the “Porsche Unseen” studies which include a handful of Porsche concept cars few people have seen in person.
Placed throughout the room, Porsche put its Vision Gran Turismo concept car in its most prominent spot, which gamers will recognize as the model featured in the Sony Playstation game Gran Turismo 7. Also on display are the Porsche Vision Spyder, Vision Turismo, and 904 Living Legend. Attendees of this year’s South by Southwest festival will be able to take in all the stunning concepts while exchanging ideas with designers and engineers from the brand and with team members from Porsche Digital from March 11-20, 2022. For those who can’t make it, enjoy a sampling of the cars I was able to capture.
Cadillac introduces a new name to the fast sedan game, and absolutely crushes it.
When Cadillac first revealed the V Series brand in 2004, it did so with a CTS platform that was barely luxurious, but packed the powertrain from the C5 Corvette Z06. As a model that was designed to contend with the small speedy sedans of Germany, the CTS-V was a bargain, but with some compromises made with fit and finish. Quickly building a reputation as a less expensive American alternative to the Audi RS4, BMW M3, and Mercedes-AMG C63, the Cadillac CTS-V upped the ante by stealing the supercharged engine of the Corvette ZR1 for its second generation model in 2008, and moving up to a bigger class against the RS6, M5, and E63. Adding a coupe and wagon variant to the mix, GM gave enthusiasts several options for getting the right second generation CTS-V for them.
To improve its handling and overall build construction, in 2014 the third generation CTS-V was assembled on GM’s Alpha platform. This model prominently established the Cadillac as a true contender in its class, and solidified the brand’s identity. As this new CTS bumped up to a bigger sedan segment, Cadillac needed to keep a model offering to compete with those smaller German performance sedans. Enter the ATS-V, also built on GM’s Alpha chassis, featuring a twin-turbo V6 under the hood. At a massive discount against its German rivals, the ATS-V was a blast to drive, and when I gave it a road trip test in 2016, I said it was the model to buy while saving a ton of cash. BMW’s M3 might be the class leading seller, but the American marque wants a piece of the action.
The Detroit-based manufacturer decided to toss all V Series brand equity out the window in 2020, when it launched the latest generation with new–and somewhat confusing–naming conventions. Now known as the CT4, the ATS was replaced with a new design, improved interior quality, yet retained the chassis that contributed to its fantastic driving characteristics. The trouble was that Cadillac slapped a V badge on a lesser sedan, diluting the name, and causing plenty of head scratching. As enthusiasts, journalists, and owners cried out when Cadillac hurt its reputation, the company announced there was a new model and name coming, that would uphold the values of the V Series, and offer seriously good performance at a value price point. It’s called the Blackwing, and while its name may not make much sense, with production limited to just 139 examples, what’s underneath absolutely does.
The Good Figures
Continuing to employ the twin-turbo 3.6-liter V6, the 2022 Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing produces 472 horsepower and 445 lb-ft of torque. This figure is more than the Audi RS5’s peak 444 horsepower, on-par with the standard M3 output, but just less than the 503 in the M3 Competition and AMG C63. A 6-speed manual is the standard transmission, with a 10-speed automatic is the standard transmission available. Rear-wheel drive is the only choice in the Blackwing–hooked up to an electric limited-slip differential–just like the standard BMW M3, with the M3 Competition, C63, and RS5 all featuring all-wheel-drive.
Through this drivetrain, the automatic-equipped CT4-V Blackwing can rip from 0-60 MPH in 3.9 seconds, and the manual model will hit that figure in just 4.1, with both models boasting a top speed of 189 MPH. The Alpha platform has been updated, now featuring GM’s Magnetic Ride Control 4.0, passive dampers from ZF, and hollow stabilizer bars. The 2022 CT4-V Blackwing’s dimensions are comparable to the Audi RS5 Sportback, BMW M3, and AMG C 63, and sports a curb weight of 3,860 pounds in manual form, with only a slight bump in mass with the automatic transmission.
Like its predecessors, the CT4-V Blackwing may not offer refinement in its cabin that contends with the German offerings, but the price point catches the eye. At a base price of $58,995, the CT4-V Blackwing is an attractive offering at a savings of $10,000 against the base price of the M3, and is nearly $20,000 less than a C63 or RS5. Even when loaded with factory upgrades including the natural leather seats, sunroof, heads-up display, interior ionizer, ventilated and massaging front seats, and $7,000 worth of carbon fiber trim packages, the loaded Satin Steel Metallic CT4-V Blackwing I tested hit an MSRP of $77,090.
The Practical Daily Sedan
Without being overly focused on outright performance, and while maintaining some Cadillac personality, the CT4-V Blackwing is remarkably composed as a city driver. The Magnetic Ride Control dampers are fantastic, giving the CT4 great response without compromising ride quality. The 6-speed manual transmission is a gem, with a light pedal input needed to change gears, and great clutch feedback. 18-inch wheels are a refreshingly civil size on the CT4-V Blackwing, offering a bit more sidewall from the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber, and plenty of grip in any condition without making too much road noise.
Keeping the drive mode in the tour setup (Cadillac’s comfort setting), the CT4-V Blackwing softens any chassis disruption, keeps the engine a bit more chill, and allows the electric-assist steering to feature smooth inputs and light feedback. Continue utilizing the tour mode and behave yourself during throttle applications, and you just might hit the EPA fuel economy estimates of 15/23/18. I barely managed 16 MPGs during my week-long test, but there was no way I wasn’t going to play with the CT4-V Blackwing as much as possible.
Cabin design in the CT4 is essentially a scaled-down version of the CT5’s setup, which is a good thing. Not as cool or as finely appointed as the German rivals, Cadillac still offers a nice interior to spend plenty of hours inside. Though the belt line is high, and the roof is slightly swept, the space you experience inside the Blackwing is great for a sedan of its size. Fitted with optional natural tan leather wrapped around the sporty seats, this faster CT4 is wonderfully comfortable, with a seating position that’s perfect for cruising or hooning. Back seat occupants should probably be kids, and there’s a hint of lateral support in those rear seats, but your adult friends may not gripe much if you’re making a quick run to get food. The CT4’s trunk is big too, with a couple organized spots at each side for your smaller items.
Long gone is Cadillac’s awful Cue infotainment system, replaced by GM’s NexGen touchscreen setup, which is intuitive and quite functional, complete with an actual volume knob. I’ll admit I had never heard of AKG audio systems before testing these new generations of Cadillac models, but the system in this CT4-V Blackwing is good, with plenty of tone where it matters. Could the speaker grilles look cooler when Mercedes has badass metal ones with its Burmester system? For sure. Paired with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the CT4-V Blackwing has wireless charging for your mobile phone, with its pad neatly placed in the storage compartment under the climate controls.
The CT4’s steering wheel has a hot button to employ the customizable V Mode for your spirited driving, and if you want to switch drive modes, there’s a toggle switch next to the shifter. I appreciate Cadillac offering a “My Mode” setup in addition to the V Mode, so you can have even greater flexibility when driving. Extra tweaks to the fake engine sounds being pumped through the speakers are a funny thing to include.
Storming The Twisty Stuff
The spec sheet may not stand out, in a time when everything gets 500 horsepower under the hood, but the CT4-V Blackwing’s twin-turbo engine is stout enough. Not exceptional, especially the sound it makes through its quad square-shaped exhaust tips, this boosted V6 still provides a smooth surge of torque, especially when you’re already at a decent speed along a canyon road. I could give a shit about 0-60 times, because what really matters is how well the CT4 pulls between 45 and 75, and this is where the Blackwing shines. As pace increases, the turbocharged CT4-V Blackwing’s powerband has no tapering effect either, happily surging toward triple digits and beyond.
Clicking off effortless gear changes is a joy in the CT4-V Blackwing, with a positive sensation each time to slide that short throw shifter that shows off its 3D-printed gear pattern. Engaging the rev matching mode made downshifts easier, met with a rowdy blip of the throttle, and keeping me from having to nail my heel-and-toe efforts. Make the sacrifice in your commuting to opt for the manual transmission, as the 10-speed auto in the CT4 is the same I tested in the CT5-V Blackwing, which hunted for gears too often for my liking. Also, manuals are dying off, and fewer are being offered in fun sedans, so enjoy this while you can.
Where the Blackwing may give away some power to its German rivals, its chassis is wonderful. More compact than the more powerful CT5-V Blackwing, this CT4 setup was designed to be effectively fun to flog in any decent driver’s hands. Its steering is perfectly sharp, especially in the sport or track drive modes, offering the right amount of weight and effort required to nail every apex. This fast Cadillac’s proportions are perfect too, allowing the 109-inch wheelbase to stabilize the car alongside its 60.5-inch track. Without the extra weight–and hint of cornering confidence–of all-wheel-drive, the CT4-V Blackwing likes to slide if you smash the throttle as you exit a corner. A bit more confidence could come from adding all-wheel-drive, like the CT4’s competitors have, but I like the challenge from needing to manage control and power while taking some weight off the front axle.
A quick toggle switch for the Performance Traction Management system is mounted on the steering wheel, and allows you to let the Blackwing dance as effectively as you like. The PTM can also be customized in the V Mode, to keep as much or as little help intervening when on a track or fun road. Playing with these settings, I found that the PTM in sport was just right for twisty roads, maintaining just enough stability control while still letting me fling the Cadillac’s ass-end.
What stunned me is how composed it was during any harder session along a curvy route. Without tiny sidewalls, the Michelin PS4S tires worked in harmony with Cadillac’s magnetic dampers to quickly dismiss any bumps while eliminating any hint of chassis disruption. Brembo also supplies fantastic steel brakes, which have wonderful pedal feel and plenty of heat tolerance during reasonably fun canyon road sessions. I wish Cadillac offered the CT4-V Blackwing with ceramic rotors, like it does on the CT5 variant, for those who really want to push the envelope without the risk of brake fade. Should the gray calipers not be your thing, spend $595 to either opt for gold or red ones.
If tracking the CT4 is on your agenda, maybe opt for some better pads and fluid, and consider a second set of wheels with tires that will last longer than the Michelins (which are great for the street but melt on track). Also tick the $1,600 option box to add Cosworth’s Performance Data Recorder system that uses high definition cameras and comprehensive data logging that can be reviewed in the desktop app to get the most out of your track days.
The Really Good Things
Cadillac gave the CT4-V Blackwing reasonably tame looks, particularly up front. While it’s twin-turbocharged, there aren’t massive–and hideous–grilles to cope with the Blackwing’s additional cooling needs. The CT4’s profile looks good, without being too busy with fake sweeping lines. Even with 18-inch wheels fitted, the fender gap is perfect too.
Respect to Cadillac for only charging $600 to add massaging and ventilating front seats, although you have to upgrade the seating surfaces through another package to allow this feature. The design of quilted stitching, perforations, and contrasting piping is super cool, and the carbon structures and alcantara backing with the V logo add extra style points. If you wear dark wash jeans, you definitely need to opt for darker leather.
Cadillac now incorporates a fully digital instrument cluster that’s customizable not only in how the data is displayed, but how simplistic the pod can be. I liked being able to toggle off all the tire pressure, fuel economy, and temps to only see the tachometer and speed to minimize distractions. Track mode really kicks things up, making a wide digital rev counter stretch across the top of the screen while the gear and speed are centrally placed.
Less Than Favorable Aspects
The CT4-V Blackwing is a stylish sedan, but doesn’t look as clean and impressionable as its CT5 sibling. The angles are a bit busy, and the back end is too sharp for my liking. While some drivers want the extra carbon fiber goodies slapped around its exterior to give it a shouty “I’m a fast sedan” appearance, I’d ditch them to not only roll around in a sleeper, but to also save several thousand dollars. The carbon fiber lip splitter was also begging to be cracked any time I parked the CT4-V Blackwing, as the parking sensors didn’t seem to be calibrated for the extra few inches of expensive material.
Steering wheel controls employ actual buttons, which offer a nice click, but the audio adjustments are far from intuitive. The scrolling wheel should control the volume, and instead plays with modes on the display. The buttons on each side of that control switch through menus, rather than skipping tracks or presets. Really strange. Another odd detail that bothered me was the positioning of the indicator stalk on the steering column, which was placed too far forward. I had to physically move my left hand ahead and out of an optimal grip position to hit the blinker, and that stalk was considerably further away than the one on the right side that controlled the wipers.
As I mentioned when I tested the CT5-V Blackwing, there’s no distinguishing detail on the exterior of the CT4 model to let you know this is the fastest model Cadillac offers. After tossing the V Series’ brand equity out the window when introducing the Blackwing, the company should have made some sort of model designation on this brilliant sedan’s body. The only indication of a Blackwing model is hidden along the seat bolster’s piping, and could easily be overlooked.
An Exceptional Sport Sedan, But It’s Too Limited
When I reviewed the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing, I thought it was an astoundingly good performance sedan for under $100,000, making it considerably less expensive than its German super saloon rivals. My one concern with it was that its 668 horsepower needed a wide open road or track to be fully enjoyed. With the CT4-V Blackwing, Cadillac has packaged together wonderfully useable performance, fantastic handling, and a price point that makes it more attractive. The Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing possesses an engine that isn’t too powerful for its chassis, delicately balancing on looking underpowered on paper, but providing a complete driving experience that I crave more of.
Cadillac has some engineers I’d like to shake the hands of, because the CT4-V Blackwing is one of my favorite new cars I’ve driven in the past few years. The only car I’d want more is the now-unavailable BMW M2 CS, which cost around $90,000. In my ideal spec, this Blackwing would be closer to $68,000, which is seriously good value. When comparing the CT4 to the BMW M3, Audi RS5, and AMG C63, it may not be as nice inside (which might be its only disadvantage), but it’ll be more fun to use as a canyon slaying daily driver while pocketing a ton of cash. I just wish Cadillac opted to produce more than 139 of them, because there are thousands of enthusiasts who should end up owning one, and taking a big bite out of the M3’s market share.
Not flashy nor powerful, but who says a simple SUV can’t be good for many families?
Since 1991, Ford has sold its Explorer SUV to families with modest budgets, and holds the title of the best selling SUV in America. Back when it was launched, the Ford Explorer was set to replace the Bronco II, and was built on a Ford Ranger light truck platform. As new generations launched, including 2-door and pickup variants decades ago, Ford has dedicated a new chassis platform for the Explorer, now slotting into its lineup between the Edge crossover and Expedition full-size SUV. While it has been around since George HW Bush was in the White House, its popularity hasn’t been as solid in the past couple of generations, as the marketplace for SUVs has gone wild with options.
Now in its sixth generation, the Ford Explorer sticks to its roots of providing good value and reasonable pricing in its three-row SUV package. Ford still gets to pad its balance sheet by providing plenty of law enforcement officers with its Police Interceptor models, now based on the current Explorer, rather than the Crown Victoria and Taurus in years past. For those families who want a practical and affordable midsized SUV, does the Explorer still get the job done?
The Useful Specs
The sixth generation Ford Explorer now boasts a plethora of trim levels of three-row midsized SUV to please nearly any family, whether the demands involve basic appointments, sporty looks, off-road capability, or somewhat nicer treatments inside. In a segment that includes the Chevrolet Traverse (with the GMC Acadia built on the same platform), Hyundai Palisade (and its Kia Telluride sibling), Mazda CX-9, Toyota Highlander, and Honda Pilot, the Explorer has plenty of competitors to deal with.
Ford provides three engine options for the Explorer, starting with a 2.3-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder that produces 300 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, a 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 with 400 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque, and a hybrid variant that is fitted with a naturally-aspirated 3.3-liter V6 which puts out 318 horsepower and 322 lb-ft of torque. All new Explorers are delivered with a 10-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel-drive, with intelligent four-wheel-drive as an available option.
The Explorer XLT I tested is the starting point for the seven trim levels Ford offers, with a base price of $37,075. At the top of the food chain is the King Ranch model, which starts at $53,995. The XLT tester was equipped with the 2.3-liter engine, and added all-wheel-drive, the XLT sport appearance package (with 20-inch wheels wrapped in self-sealing all-season tires), Co-Pilot 360 Assist+ Adaptive Cruise Control, a cargo management system in the back, and Infinite Blue Metallic paint to hit a total MSRP of $45,305.
A Practical Family Hauler
Because it’s now built on a crossover platform, the Ford Explorer is a composed daily driver, compared to its early generations that were more truck-like. Tipping the scales at around 4,300 pounds, the Explorer isn’t exactly light, but the base 2.3-liter engine doesn’t struggle to get the SUV moving, thanks to its wide powerband that I also appreciated in the Ford Ranger models I’ve tested over the past couple years. Drivers who crave more power will desire the ST or higher trim levels, with a seriously potent V6 that I enjoyed in the Lincoln Aviator I reviewed recently.
The 10-speed automatic shifts smoothly, and the four-wheel-drive system feels nicely sorted during any city driving. Ride quality is surprisingly refined, even without an adaptive suspension. Not boring, but not exciting, the Explorer XLT’s response in the corners is perfectly fine for a midsized SUV. Want a little tighter suspension and better handling? The ST is the way to go. Michelin Primacy all-season tires are competent enough for the task as a family SUV, and are remarkably quiet too. EPA fuel economy estimates are 20/27/23 (city/highway/combined), and I achieved 22 during my week-long test that was more focused on city driving.
There’s a full slate of drive modes easily selected with a knob mounted near the space-saving rotary gearshift, and while there isn’t an individual mode, there are a couple off-road options in addition to hill descent control for times when you take your Explorer… exploring. If your weekend and vacation excursions involve a boat or small camper, you’ll be happy to know the Explorer can tow up to 5,300 pounds when equipped with the 4-cylinder, and can bump up to 5,600 pounds if one opts for the EcoBoost V6.
Once inside the Explorer, the cabin is a no-fuss setup. Everything is intuitively designed, and touch points are placed throughout the cockpit. Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system is installed in a reasonably-sized touchscreen, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto ready to supplement your user experience. The instrument cluster has a big tachometer and speedometer, flanking a multifunction digital display that shows extra data points while allowing the driver to configure additional settings. Ford also supplies USB-A and USB-C ports in the concealable storage pocket ahead of the shifter and cupholders.
Thanks to a 198-inch overall length and 119-inch wheelbase, the Explorer’s cabin is quite spacious. Shoulder, hip, and headroom are considerable for the front two rows, and the six-seat configuration made for quick access to the third row. Third row legroom is a decent 32 inches, so adults could make quick drives stuck back there, but the seat is mounted low to the floor, so adult knees will be bent tightly. Ideally kids are going to be the third row occupants, and they’ll be fine. Cargo space is more than sufficient in the back of the Ford Explorer, and increases significantly with the third row seats folded flat.
The Good Points
Ford gave the Explorer a positive facelift for the sixth generation, making the fascia more sleek, adjusting the shape of the taillights, and giving the front a wider look. Putting some thought into rear seat access, Ford installed a rugged step to the outside of each middle row seat, adding stability while making the transition to the third row easier for those of us who have struggled to hop into that space.
The Explorer benefits from tons of places to store items of any size, which is nice for big families. If there’s a space in the dash or console, Ford found a way to make it useful. Kids can stuff their belongings all over the Explorer’s cabin, with plenty of spots to have McDonald’s fries hide and stink up the interior. The rear cargo area has the usual sort of hidden compartment with an optional storage organizer, and I like the additional side pockets designed into the floor for medium sized items like battery cables or a first aid kit.
A Couple Deductions
The Ford Explorer isn’t an eye-catching package, commonly overlooked by buyers who want a more interesting SUV. While its exterior lines are tidy, the Explorer isn’t particularly interesting. Even in its upper trim levels, I don’t love its looks, and in this crowded class of SUVs, there are more attractive competitors. I chuckled when I realized the name “Explorer” is printed on the exterior five times, with a placement along the lower body cladding of each front door, inside each headlight housing, and in the center of the tailgate. Just in case anyone wondered what this SUV was.
That simple theme is continued inside, with some somewhat basic themes and materials used throughout the cabin. Even after being updated in the past two years, the switchgear and panels aren’t wonderful. The seats could use a bit more lateral support too. If you care about nicer materials, particularly on the seating surfaces, upgrade to a Platinum or King Ranch Explorer.
A Basic SUV Isn’t A Bad One
The Ford Explorer might be somewhat simple, but it’s a humble SUV that fits the needs of many American families. It can be as nice or as basic as they desire, and has adjusted to meet demands of SUV drivers. Toting the kids to school and soccer practice doesn’t have to be done with style and luxury features, and the average family can appreciate an SUV designed with them in mind.
The segment might be filled with nicer models or cooler names, but the Ford Explorer gets the job done. It’s practical, has a price that meets modest budgets, is decently built, and offers good enough reliability from a name people trust. It’s hard to knock Ford for continuing to offer the humble Explorer for over 30 years, and I imagine it will continue to sell reasonably well for years to come.