The Bentley Flying Spur Is The Ultimate Opulence Rocket

As luxurious as it is fast, sporting stunning looks, this big Brit spoils you at 207 MPH.

The Bentley Flying Spur deserves more love. The Continental is Bentley’s playboy GT, the Bentayga is the balance sheet-strengthening SUV, and the Mulsanne has ridden off into the sunset, leaving the Spur as the sole four-door in the Crewe-based lineup. What was just a sedan version of the Continental a generation ago, the Bentley Flying Spur now flexes a reshaped, more impactful body, plenty of performance, and a more tastefully appointed luxury limo offering.

I’m fortunate to have tested several Bentley models over the years, each better than the last, but haven’t had a proper go in the Flying Spur. Having previously experienced the Rolls-Royce Ghost, I wanted to see how Bentley’s driver’s sedan performed. Luckily the good people at Bentley agreed, and sent one my way for a week of enjoyment.

That subtle “B” in the taillight.
The Flying B badge is enough. Lose the spelled out name.

All The Big Numbers

Bentley’s big 6.0-liter W12 has been around for ages, but it keeps receiving improvements. In the new Flying Spur, it produces 626 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and churns out 664 lb-ft (900 Nm) of torque across a plateau from 1,350 – 4,500 RPM. ZF supplies its splendid eight-speed twin-clutch gearbox, and the Flying Spur is given active all-wheel-drive to provide confident handling in any condition. Surging from 0-60 in just 3.7 seconds, and hitting 0-100 in 8.2, the Flying Spur will smoothly pull all the way to a supercar-esque top speed of 207 MPH.

Built on a steel and aluminum space frame, finely sculpted superformed aluminum body panels wrap around the new Flying Spur that’s not much bigger than the Mercedes S-Class I reviewed, but is about 10 inches shorter in overall length than the Rolls-Royce Ghost. Bentley loads the Flying Spur with the nest appointments inside, which brings the curb weight up to 5,300 pounds (2,400 kilos in the King’s English). To be mindful of fuel consumption, Bentley gives the W12 engine cylinder deactivation, which helps it achieve a 12/19/15 (city/highway/combined) EPA fuel economy estimate, with a massive 23.8-gallon tank on-board. There’s also a slightly more efficient 542-horsepower turbocharged V8 available, should you want to save a few bucks on the sticker price too.

Entering the world of the Flying Spur will take plenty of dollars from your offshore bank account, with the base price starting at $214,600 and the figure rapidly increasing as your options list grows. My Extreme Silver tester was loaded with the Naim audio system ($8,800), extended range colors inside and out ($6,090), and the First Edition Specification ($44,735 and incorporates a stack of popular options into one package), which brought the total price to $287,950.

Always test the expensive audio systems with some good 90s hip hop.

The Obsessively Detailed Cruiser

As you unlock the Flying Spur, a motorized and illuminated Flying B ornament rises from beneath the bonnet. Take a moment as you approach this four-door grand tourer to appreciate the subtle yet sculpted lines. The Bentley’s shape may initially appear simple and plain, but then you notice the smooth superformed aluminum body panels that have the right amount of curve and flex, giving the Flying Spur a pronounced appearance. A swept roofline arches neatly into a high belt line, completing a stunning profile with awesome proportions. Up front, the impactful grille and gem-treated headlamps stare you down, and the taillights have a unique to Flying Spur shape with an LED strip that crafts a the letter B within the housing. I wish the Bentayga I tested kept this taillight look.

Slide into the intricately-stitched seat, covered with the most supple duo-tone hide, that encompasses you in comfort with heating, cooling, and deep massaging. Let the soft-close door, extra thick glass, deep carpets, rich leather lined interior, and powered window shades disconnect you from the noise of the outside world. Should you want to completely drown out the environment outside this exquisite cabin, 19 speakers punching 2,200 watts of Naim audio will do the trick. Press the engine start button, and listen to 12 cylinders fire to life, awaiting your order to rush away.

Let the soft-close door, extra thick glass, deep carpets, rich leather lined interior, and powered window shades disconnect you from the noise of the outside world.

Civilized yet potent, the Flying Spur will smoothly deploy its power to confidently maneuver through a bustling downtown traffic jam to find the open road. While large in physical dimensions, Bentley engineered quick response to the electric-assist steering to make easy work to move it around while still maintaining a comfortable ride. On the freeway, there’s the tiniest sensation of any bump or crack, but the air suspension and Bentley Dynamic Ride adjust the big sedan’s response before you’ve even noticed. Even at speeds appropriate for unrestricted Autobahn sections, the Flying Spur is composed and steady, with a just-right amount of weight in the steering wheel, and a direct yet not overbearing connection to the road.

Controls inside the Bentley Flying Spur are made from high-grade materials, with feedback and sensations that feel expensive, while still being intuitive. The updated 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen from the Continental and Bentayga is now included in the Flying Spur, and for an optional cost the Bentley Rotating Display will either show you the infotainment screen (with wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and wireless mobile charging), a trio of analog dials (with a compass, chronometer, and outside temperature gauge), or a continuation of the unbroken veneer that continues around the interior. I love the updated instrument cluster, with its more comprehensive display options, and the ability to dim the majority of the cluster to only show a highlight around the speedometer and rev counter needles.

First.
Carbon ber side skirts get a nice detail.

Being Driven In Absolute Luxury

Should your enjoyment of the Flying Spur be intended to be from the back seat, you’ll be treated to an experience few manufacturers can dream of. Long rear doors (with too cool 3D textured interior panels) make for easy entry and exit, and wide seats welcome you with plush cushioning and good lateral support. Additional head pillows are fitted with softer suede-like material, for greater comfort as you nod off while your driver takes you home after a rough day of meeting with the board.

Via a small screen between the front two seats, you can adjust the climate control and audio to your liking. Your rear seats are fully adjustable, with memory storage for normal riding or setting up a more relaxed position. While this Flying Spur didn’t have the extra baller fridge and extending rear seats like the Rolls-Royce Ghost I reviewed, the Bentley’s back seats were adjustable, and still offered loads of legroom at a fully optioned price that’s nearly $50,000 less than the base price of the Ghost.

Yes, those wings are illuminated.

Grand Touring Brilliance

The Flying Spur may give the impression of a wealthy passenger-toting sedan, Bentley hasn’t lost its identity. The Flying Spur still delivers the perfect balance of opulence in the cabin with grand touring performance Bentley has excelled at providing since pre-war gentleman racers helped build the marque into an icon. Where the Bentley Bentayga I tested is fabulous for covering loads of miles over any surface, whether paved or not, the Flying Spur is exceptional at obliterating stretches of road with long straights and plenty of fun curves alike. Sharing the VW MSB platform, which also underpins the Porsche Panamera, it’s no wonder the Flying Spur is so good as a driver’s car.

Bentley’s 626-horsepower W12 is a marvel of power and renement. While the 540-horsepower V8 option is a fine powerplant that will please most drivers, this car was destined to have twelve cylinders shoehorned under its bonnet. The W12-equipped Flying Spur’s ability to accelerate with a wave of unbridled torque is achieved with a level of smoothness the most talented esthetician could never equal. With a subtle pull, you get the faintest feeling of speed increasing, but a quick glance at the speedometer will indicate that you’ve far exceeded the posted limit, and are well on your way to jail if the highway patrol can set up a road block far enough ahead to catch you. I didn’t flex the top speed of the Flying Spur during my week-long test, but I did give it some toll road exercise on a couple occasions, and can report that at ridiculous speeds it’s balanced, comfortable, and confident.

The W12-equipped Flying Spur’s ability to accelerate with a wave of unbridled torque is achieved with a level of smoothness the most talented esthetician could never equal.

Cornering dynamics in the Flying Spur are remarkable. Bentley fitted an aluminum double-wishbone suspension up front, an aluminum multi-link setup out back, and installed three-chamber air springs at all four corners, supplemented by continuous damping control and a 48V anti-roll system. There are four drive modes, and while there’s an individual option, I found that leaving the Flying Spur in “B” mode was perfect for anything I threw at it. Wrapped around machined 22-inch wheels are a set of 275/35/22 front and 315/30/22 rear Pirelli P-Zero all season performance tires that are up to the task of keeping this gargantuan performance sedan glued to the pavement.

This combination of suspension hardware and tires keeps the Bentley at in any curve at any speed, somehow concealing its massive weight, allowing handling characteristics found in smaller performance-focused sedans I’ve tested. Slowing the 5,000-pound sedan is managed by massive 420mm (16.5″) rotors with ten-piston calipers on the front axle and the rear is fitted with 380mm (15″) rotors and four-piston calipers. Doing a couple different days of testing the Flying Spur on twisty roads typically reserved for sports cars, I’m stunned how competent it was after hours of flogging.

There’s No Better Way To Drive And Be Driven In One Car

With the Mulsanne discontinued, the Flying Spur needs to carry the opulent four-door torch for Bentley while still upholding its grand touring appeal. Thankfully the Flying Spur is luxurious enough to make most wealthy driven customers happy while putting a smile on their face when they decide to storm down a back road.

As I expressed in my review of the Rolls-Royce Ghost, it’s brilliant in its own right, but Bentley strikes a chord with me as an enthusiast driver. This Bentley costs $100,000 less than the Ghost, looks much better, and provides a driving experience that’s in another league. It is the ultimate grand touring luxury sedan.

The Porsche 992 S Cabriolet Is The Perfect All-Around 911.

The Carrera S power figures may not jump off the page, but it’s a potent Porsche. Dropping the top makes this 992 even better.

Since 1982, the 911 Cabriolet has been a staple in the Porsche lineup. An open-air version of the iconic Carrera, the Cabriolet has continually moved upmarket with price, size, and performance. In the new 992 generation, figures have gone up in all those aforementioned categories, but this new Cabriolet still maintains the distinct profile of the 911, and retains a horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engine tucked behind the rear axle.

Having owned and reviewed several Porsche models over the years, I am striving to take more opportunities to review more of Porsche’s 992 models. Like I felt when I reviewed the base 718 Cayman last year, the Carrera S doesn’t get enough attention from enthusiast drivers who seek bigger power figures. With an extended trip in California to cover Monterey Car Week and do a few reviews in Los Angeles, Porsche set me up with the Carrera S Cabriolet for an extensive test on some of my favorite roads.

THE IMPORTANT STATS

The Porsche 911’s all-new 992 variant has been on the road for three years, and much like previous generations, there are more 911 model offerings than you can count on all your fingers and toes combined. With coupe, targa, and cabriolet options for the rear- or all-wheel-drive configurations, most with either a manual or PDK automatic gearbox available, Porsche also has several levels of power output and performance to satisfy any driver on any road or circuit.

The Carrera S Cabriolet I tested is a tick above the base drop-top model, boasting a bit more power, with the rear-wheel-drive, PDK, and sport chrono options selected, so I’ll stick to its figures. In Carrera S trim, the 992 is powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter at-six that produces 443 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque, both of which are healthy increases over the 991.2 generation. Through a new 8-speed PDK, this Carrera S Cabriolet can sprint from 0-60 in 3.5 seconds and hit a top speed of 190 MPH, making it 0.4 seconds and 1 MPH faster than its predecessor. Porsche attributes much of the performance improvements to optimized combustion from the engine in addition to new turbochargers, the new 8-speed PDK (with better gear ratio progression), and revised engine cooling.

While proportions have increased for the 992 over the 991, Porsche has gone to great lengths to minimize weight gains, utilizing more aluminum in the Carrera Cabriolets chassis and body to keep the curb weight down to 3,537 pounds. This new platform also now sports wider fender flares all-around, with all models getting S-body curves. The 992 Cabriolet also benefits from a new soft top that is lighter with faster operation up and down, optimized rollover protection, and a new power-folding wind deflector to keep the cabin quiet when cruising with the top down.

Base price for the 992 Carrera S Cabriolet is $127,900. Interior options include Bordeaux and black leather, aluminum trim, and the premium package that adds upgraded Bose audio, ambient lighting, dynamic headlights, surround view (for parking), extra storage, and 18-way adaptive and ventilated front seats. Also fitted are the extended range fuel tank and front axle lift for greater usability, and on the performance front Porsche supplied 20″/21″ wheels, rear axle steering, and the sport chrono package that equips a sport exhaust system, lower PASM adaptive suspension, and enables quicker response and acceleration with launch control. Added up, this GT Silver tester hit a total MSRP of $157,270 after destination.

SURPRISINGLY CIVIL CONVERTIBLE

Open-air driving is exceptional in the 992 Carrera S Cabriolet, with a near-silent power soft top that tucks away in just 12 seconds, at speeds up to 31 MPH. If you’re going to drive at speeds above 45 MPH, engage the power operated rear wind deflector–which pops up in just 2 seconds–to cancel out any turbulent air. Even with the screen tucked away, the cockpit is surprisingly quiet. Spending several days cruising the streets and trac-filled freeways of Los Angeles, I got to experience how livable the 992 Cabriolet is.

Composure in the 992 Cabriolet is on-par with the sublime grand touring experience behind the wheel of a Bentley Continental or Aston Martin DB11. For being a sportscar that grew up over the past couple generations, this new Carrera Cabriolet is comfortable in any driving condition, whether you’re boulevard cruising or canyon slaying. The Porsche Active Suspension Management system is compliant yet responsive, and the adaptive dampers relieve any bumps you might feel in the cabin when gliding along in the comfort drive mode. With what I consider to be the best electric-assisted steering setup on the market, Porsche gives the 992 S Cab’s rack smooth response without feeling numb on-center and not too articially boosted when you give it some quick inputs.

Concealed beneath vertical slats of the engine cover is the turbocharged flat-six that provides plenty of response when you stab the throttle, while being composed during normal applications. I’ll admit I did more daily driving with the sport exhaust’s throatier mode engaged with a tap of the dash-mounted button, because that sound was addictive. Even while utilizing this louder exhaust setting and being a fun driver around town, I still achieved an average of 19 MPGs (compared to the EPA estimates of 18/23/20). Denitely opt for the extended range fuel tank, which bumps capacity from 16.9 to 23.7 gallons and dramatically improves fuel range on road trips.

My favorite sunrise location on the planet.

The 992 Cabriolet’s cockpit is all-new, compared to the 991 generation, carrying over the new dash and center console design you recognize in Porsche models like the Panamera and Macan. Definitely an upgrade that makes the 992 as refined as much more expensive grand tourers, the new look still retains Porsche’s classic central analog tachometer that’s now flanked by digital screens that can host a pair of circular dials or a combination of custom displays.

Updated gear selection for the PDK is done with a tiny joystick that frees up space, but it takes a hint of adjustment if you’ve driven earlier 911 generations. Fortunately through all these improvements and updates–and dierent from other Porsche models–the 911 Cabriolet still has plenty of physical controls on the dash to adjust the audio system, drive modes, exhaust, suspension, and seat heating or ventilation.

Front seats are fantastic for long drives, and still keep you nicely planted in the bends when you want to play. On a cooler night, I loved how quickly the seat heaters cranked up to warm my buns. When I was cranking away fun miles in the canyons on a hot day, the ventilation function was ice cold and blew hard. Carrying over the frunk space of the last generation 911, the 992 still has a massive cargo space up front that can easily swallow two carry-on roller bags and a backpack, making travel easy whether you’re driving across the country or making a quick run to the airport.

Push the exhaust button every time you start the car. Trust me.

PERFORMANCE YOU EXPECT FROM PORSCHE

Don’t mistake this 911’s daily driving civility for softness when it’s time to play in the canyons, as the 992 S Cabriolet has capabilities ready to pounce in the blink of an eye. I wasn’t expecting the Carrera S Cabriolet to feel as sharp and performance-oriented as the 718 GT4 I drove at the Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles, but was impressed with its dynamics. Through extensive playtime along the canyon roads of Malibu and the Angeles National Forest, the 992 S Cabriolet exhibited some serious performance traits.

Considering the torsional rigidity took a hit by losing the roof, the Carrera S Cabriolet still felt planted and condent when I gave it long days of thrashing, and not once did I feel like the open-top chassis was compromised. Credit given to Porsche for keeping this nicely-appointed convertible’s curb weight to around 3,500 pounds, allowing the 992 S Cabriolet to still feel light on its feet.

In addition to the usual comfort, sport, and sport plus drive modes, Porsche now offers an individual setup in the Carrera S Cabriolet, allowing you to dial in your happy settings. For my hardcore canyon driving, I configured the engine in sport plus, chassis in sport, made sure the exhaust was open, and told 992’s stability control to take the day off. To have the most fun and engagement, I suggest utilizing the manual shift feature of Porsche’s new lightning-fast PDK transmission, even if the steering wheel-mounted paddles are a bit on the small side.

Scoff at the 443 horsepower and 390 lb-ft figures, and you’ll quickly be silenced by the 992 S Cabriolet’s performance as it unleashes linear turbocharged acceleration out of tight bends, making any straightaway disappear as you surge toward the next set of corners. With the peak torque at your disposal from 2,300 to 5,000 RPM, the Carrera S Cabriolet allows for smooth pulls in any of the eight forward gears. I get to test all sorts of fast cars, and never was I wanting for more power in the 992 S Cab.

When a certain section of the Angeles Crest opens up a mile-long arrow-straight stretch, I pressed the 992’s sport response button–mounted within the drive mode knob–to release 20 seconds of increased engine power and transmission calibrations. This button also served as a nice push-to-pass feature when I needed to quickly get around a slow moving hiker ignoring every turnout in sight while they were driving to a campground.

Steering is magnificent in the Carrera S Cabriolet. Razor sharp response and epic connectivity to the pavement are better than I’ve felt in many performance cars. Feedback is translated through a steering wheel that boasts the perfect diameter and rim thickness, enabling wonderful feedback to your fingers. Sporting reasonably-sized 245mm wide front and 305mm rear Pirelli P Zero tires, the 992 S Cabriolet doesn’t dart around at all, and the tail end is able to slide ever so slightly while maintaining its composure. The P Zero may be a tire I often complain about, but they got the job done with this 992 Carrera S Cabriolet when I dished out some harder flogging sessions, and didn’t get too angry when their temps moved upward.

A common Porsche characteristic, braking is exceptional in the Carrera S Cabriolet. Even with the signature Porsche red calipers mounted over steel rotors, this 992 took my hard inputs and long durations of fun driving like a champ. Porsche still offers its fantastic carbon ceramic rotors paired with yellow calipers, for lower unsprung weight and less fade over harder sessions, but the steels easily kept up with my comprehensive evaluation.

THE REALLY GOOD THINGS

The design language of the 992 is lovely. The new circular headlamp housings, LED light strip across the width of the tail end that connects to the taillights, and wide, curvy rear hips make the 992 look like a modern interpretation of the iconic air-cooled 993. Overall proportions may have increased versus the 991, but this new 911 looks amazing, and the Cabriolet’s lines actually work when sitting next to a coupe model.

Cockpit noise is remarkably low. I made a few phone calls with the top down on a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, and with the windows up, the person on the other end had no idea I was driving with the top down. I also love the front axle lift system that will now prompt you to store the location and automatically raise the nose when you pull into a steep driveway any other time.

When the 992 was released, Porsche introduced a new rain driving mode that automatically detects moisture and splashing sounds in the wheel well. If the 911 senses rain conditions, it will suggest the driver makes the wet mode selection that adapts the Carrera’s traction suspension, aerodynamics, and engine responsiveness to better manage control during inclement conditions.

While retaining physical buttons rather than capacitive touch controls seen in other luxury cars, the 992 Cab has programmable steering wheel button to engage various settings and quick controls. I appreciate still having individual toggle switches for the exhaust, suspension, and axle lift, for quick adjustments on the fly.

A COUPLE TINY NEGATIVES

Because of the fixed roof and large rear window from the coupe no longer being present, rearward visibility in the 992 Carrera Cabriolet is somewhat compromised if you aren’t a taller driver. The soft top’s cool movement and storage mechanism had to go somewhere, and I think this is a fair trade.

The back seats are still laughably tiny, and are better suited to hosting a toddler’s car seat or your backpack rather than any people that need to put their legs somewhere. At least the back seats more than double cargo capacity if you end up stashing loads of gear in the front storage area.

In redesigning the center console and dash, Porsche also fitted new cupholders to the 992, with the driver one smack dab in the middle of the center console. If you opt for a manual transmission, the 992’s new fixed cupholder will be in your way. This shouldn’t be much of an issue, seeing how low Porsche manual transmission take rate is.

IT’S HARD TO FIND A BETTER ALL-AROUND 911

I had to constantly remind myself I was in a more civil variant of the 992 when I tested this Carrera S Cabriolet. Its performance was easily above expectations, and excelled during my more enthusiastic canyon driving days. The Carrera S Cabriolet is fast, agile, and still provides a driving experience you expect from the iconic Porsche 911.

At a base price of $127,000, the 911 S Cab has definitely increased over the past two generations, now out of reach for some buyers of earlier models, but what you get for that money is something special. Porsche has moved the 911 up in class against some grand touring competition, rather than against more conventional sports cars. When comparing the Carrera S Cabriolet’s worth against new rivals, it exhibits great value and performance. The Carrera S also performs about as well as earlier generation Turbo models.

Porsche offers several 911 variants with more power and torque, but if you’re upgrading from a 997 or earlier generation, this 992 Carrera S powerplant is more power than you’ll ever need. 443 horsepower is plenty of juice to get you into trouble, and more than sufficient to make any spirited canyon driving a purely joyous experience. Pair the 992’s driving experience with an open-air cockpit on a gorgeous day, and the Carrera S Cabriolet is the best way to experience a new Porsche 911.

McLaren 620R: Road Testing A Race Car With A Number Plate

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 VW Mk8 GTI Is A Pleasant Upgrade

A New Generation Of The Iconic Hot Hatch Has Arrived, But How Good Is It?

For decades, the Volkswagen GTI has enjoyed being the go-to hot hatch for enthusiast drivers who crave a fun, practical car. Arriving in Europe in 1976, and landing on U.S. shores in 1983, the GTI has been a massive success for longer than I’ve been alive. Growing up from a truly inexpensive, basic, and peppy little three-door hatchback, VW has kept it real, making reasonable upgrades with regard to power and features in the GTI over the previous seven generations. When I tested the Mk7 GTI two years ago, I looked at it as a sendoff for what I considered the best generation of the model’s extensive history.

With this new eighth generation, VW has given the GTI a full makeover, with a bump in power output while receiving fresh exterior looks and a redesigned, more tech-focused interior that brings the hot hatch into the current decade. VW has a good group of competitors aiming to take its spot atop the hot hatch throne, with Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota in the mix. Thankfully the hot hatch market is still a healthy one, but is the VW GTI still the right one to buy? I took a week-long test to sort that out.

The Useful Specs

The 2022 VW GTI packs a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that produces 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque (up 13 and 15 ticks over the Mk7 GTI, respectively), giving it an advantage over the updated Honda Civic Si I reviewed earlier this year. With your choice of a 6-speed manual transmission or a 7-speed DSG, this tester was equipped with the two-pedal setup. The Mk8 GTI can sprint from 0-60 in 5.1 seconds, which is about 0.7 seconds quicker than the last generation. Top speed is still limited to 155 MPH, which no one should ever try to hit in a little hatchback.

Built on Volkswagen’s long-used MQB modular platform, the GTI shares its underpinnings with several fun compact VAG models. With a full slate of touch-ups to the suspension and chassis, VW claims this new generation of the GTI is more composed yet more capable in the corners. Making several design changes with the body, the Mk8 GTI also looks a bit more upmarket while offering some striking angles. The cockpit receives plenty of changes too, giving the GTI a more modern take on the hot hatch cabin you’ve been familiar with for ages.

Offering three trim levels, VW added a bit more standard equipment to the base S trim, with the SE and Autobahn trim levels still available as the price increases in reasonable chunks. The base price of the GTI S starts at $29,880, SE models begin at $34,630, and the Autobahn has an MSRP of $38,330. The test model VW sent me is the SE trim level, painted a fantastic shade of Kings Red, with Titan Black–and plaid–cloth interior, optioned with the 7-speed DSG (an $800 option), which hits a total MSRP of $36,485.

The Enjoyable City Hatchback

It should come as no surprise that the Mk8 GTI is a great city car that can serve a small family nicely while being a fun weekender. With the standard Golf no longer in the VW lineup, the GTI is the only hatchback from the German manufacturer offered to Americans, with the push for people to buy the Taos crossover. VW also axed the 3-door GTI option, with the 5-door being the only way to take this hot hatch home, which is the practical option for most people.

Sticking to its roots, the Mk8 GTI makes any boring commute or errand run more entertaining. As the car market has cranked up engine specs to levels few people can truly handle, the GT packs enough juice under to satisfy your thirst for fun. Sneaking in and out of slower traffic is definitely enjoyable in this new GTI, and never was I thinking it was lacking power. VW’s refinements to the GTI’s suspension make it cope with bumpy downtown streets with ease while still offering good feedback. EPA fuel economy estimates are 25/34/28, and I managed 27 MPGs during my week with the GTI. Not bad considering I was driving it with more fun intended, rather than trying to optimize efficiency.

Updating the styling of the GTI was done perfectly. Sharper lines are done tastefully, and the new headlight housings add a hint of anger to the package. The Mk8’s wheelbase matches the previous generation, at 103.6 inches, but the overall length bumps up to 168.8 inches. At 57.6 inches high and 70.4 inches wide, a more planted look is given to the Mk8 GTI, met with wide front air intakes at the front and a punchier shoulder line. Sporty 18-inch wheels complete the refreshed GTI’s look wonderfully without looking too busy.

With proportions that fit four people and their stuff, the new GTI might be small next to traffic filled with crossovers, but it’s perfectly sized for reasonable people. The updated seats look the part of a modern hot hatch, while the plaid pattern in the center material gives a nod to GTIs of yesteryear. The front buckets definitely keep you in place when playful driving happens, with lateral support nicely designed where it’s needed. Cargo space isn’t massive, so don’t expect to take a family of four on a road trip with the Mk8 GTI, but the hatch will easily carry a week’s groceries and handle a few roller bags.

A new cabin design theme adds a more tech-heavy setup, with a new 10-inch infotainment screen commanding your attention in the center console. VW gives the new system Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which are frankly better to use than the native software. Screen taps and swipes are a little on the slow side, which isn’t great for this new system. The all-digital instrument cluster is a nice upgrade compared to the somewhat basic analog dials in the Mk7 I reviewed, with all sorts of ways to configure your GTI’s ideal display. Digital controls make their way to the steering wheel too, which don’t have any feedback when using them, and are easy to accidentally tap when turning the wheel.

My biggest gripes with this new setup are divided between the lack of a volume knob–opting for a digital slider instead–and the same style of buttons for the climate control. Neither of these are backlit, so making adjustments at night is a complete guessing game. Why VW overlooked illuminating these controls is a mystery, and losing physical temperature buttons or a volume knob is something too many OEMs are doing to otherwise good cars.

Playing In The Twisty Stuff

Escape the daily grind, and seek your nearby curvy farm-to-market routes, because that’s where VW’s eighth-generation GTI shines. Opt for the sport drive mode, and the GTI quickens its pulse without feeling too feisty. I liked the custom drive mode to let the suspension feel a little smoother, but even the sport setting wasn’t too firm when I gave the GTI a good flogging. The turbocharged engine doesn’t exhibit much lag at all, and the throttle response is steady and direct. Exhaust notes from the GTI aren’t the most inspired, but it’s not too boring either. I’d also like a bit more real noise from the tailpipe rather than some fake tones sneaking through the cabin speakers.

While most GTI buyers will opt for the DCT, to reduce the effort needed to motor around, VW still offers a slick-shifting manual for the purist. Being an analog driving experience fan, I have no complaints with the dual-clutch ‘box in this Mk8 GTI, with a stubby little shifter like Porsche uses for the 992 with a PDK. Hooked up to an electronically-controlled limited-slip differential that adds to grip and confidence in the corners, the front-wheel-drive GTI doesn’t exhibit the usual torque-steer twitch typically felt in front-drive cars equipped with a mechanical LSD. When providing quick steering inputs, the Mk8 feels smooth and precise, as one would expect from this iconic hot hatch. Brake feel was a bit on the soft side, but never did I feel like the GTI wasn’t equipped with enough braking power to control and scrub speed as needed.

VW threw a ton of suspension upgrades at the Mk8 GTI, and compared to the Mk7 I love, this new generation feels more compliant yet easier to stuff into a fast bend. 225/40/18 H-rated Pirelli P Zero All Season rubber is definitely the limiting factor in truly unlocking the fun times behind the wheel of the Mk8 GTI. Damping is great, considering the S and SE trim levels stick with traditional dampers. If you want adaptive dampers, you’ll have to spend a bit more cash for the Autobahn trim, which also gets leather seats and a few other comfort upgrades in the cabin, but the 19-inch wheels wrapped with summer performance tires are a big advantage. Craving the ultimate performance from your hot hatch? VW still offers a Golf R variant that packs 315 horsepower and all-wheel-drive.

The Popular Hot Hatch Improved, But It Isn’t Perfect

With a history spanning generations of loyal buyers, VW continues to satisfy the demand of an enthusiast driver with the new Mk8 GTI. This iconic hot hatch may be inching its way upmarket while increasing its price, but VW is still delivering a fantastic driving experience in a practical package. Not without gripes in the cabin, thanks to some button-less controls, the new GTI is still a wonderful successor to the Mk7 I praised. The challenge is that the GTI now has some great competition in the form of the Civic Si and Hyundai Veloster N.

Even though it’s down on power versus the GTI, I still prefer the handling dynamics of the new Honda Civic Si I tested, which had sharper steering feedback and more enjoyable sensations in quicker corners. Honda only offers the Si as a sedan, which gives the GTI one advantage in my eyes. The Si also has one of the best feeling shifters currently fitted to any new car, and costs $8,000 less than the GTI SE. With a price that sneaks up near $40,000, the GTI is pricing itself against Honda’s Civic Type-R, which is due for a new generation later this year. However you decide to spend your money, I can easily say you’ll still be happy opting for this new GTI.

Audi RS e-tron GT: This Fast EV Thrives In A Crowded Segment

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.

The Audi S5 Cabriolet Is A Speedy Drop-Top

A fun open-air experience doesn’t need an impressive spec sheet. This quick German convertible is a hoot.

The Audi S badge means a more performance-focused model over the standard variant, built to deliver its drivers in comfort while covering miles at a rapid pace, and the S5 model has been around since 2007. When Audi chose to offer the S5 as a Cabriolet a couple years later, it replaced the S4 version that had grown seriously long in the tooth. Taking on a couple iterative updates in this generation, the S5 Cabriolet now looks sharper, and adds a bit more tech to the standard features list.

Somewhat more tame than its RS5 sibling–which I enjoyed testing last summer–the S5 model doesn’t flex big stats, but intends to deliver a solid driving experience. In its Cabriolet guise, this two-door Audi’s fun increases considerably with the element of an open-air experience. Competing with the BMW M440i convertible and Mercedes-AMG C43, the S5 has some strong rivals. With some good weather in the forecast, I happily accepted the arrival of this fun-focused drop-top Audi.

The Key Figures

Audi’s A5 is the standard form of the coupe and cabriolet model, powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, with the S5 being the more fun-focused variant. Stuffed under the angular hood of the Audi S5 Cabriolet is a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 that produces 349 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. The S5 Cabriolet’s output is just less than the drop-top versions of the BMW M440i and Mercedes-AMG C 43, but the Audi’s acceleration figure is nearly identical. Through an 8-speed automatic and standard quattro all-wheel-drive, the Audi S5 Cabriolet can sprint from 0-60 in 4.7 seconds on its way to a top speed of 155 MPH. EPA fuel economy estimates are 20/26/22 (city/highway/combined), which is on-par with its other German rivals.

Pricing for the base A5 Cabriolet begins at $52,200, and the quicker S5 increases the base figure to $63,400, making it similarly priced to the M440i and C 43. Thankfully Audi makes packaging easier on buyers, with three distinct trim levels that package lots of features, and I tested the top Prestige trim–an upgrade costing $8,100–which adds a Bang & Olufsen audio system, adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, Audi’s virtual cockpit instrument cluster, head-up display, and a stack of tech and safety features. With a stunning shade of District Green paint (a $595 option) and 20-inch wheels and summer tires fitted, this S5 Cabriolet hit a total price of $73,540 after destination.

A Composed City Convertible

While the Audi S5 Cabriolet is designed to be a blast to toss around, it’s still a luxury car at heart. Thanks to thick insulation within the acoustic top, cruising around with the roof closed makes the S5 Cab remarkably quiet. I appreciate how well the S5’s suspension smooths out the bumpiest city streets without disconnecting the driver from a responsive chassis with balanced feedback. The hint of electric assist to the steering rack makes city streets simple to tackle, and maneuvers in tight parking garages effortless.

The twin-turbo V6 may reward a spirited driver on a fun route, but keep the Audi Drive Select in the comfort mode, and the behaved operator will enjoy a daily driver that’s refined and comfortable. The turbos and exhaust tone down fun noises out of the back of the S5 Cabriolet, so if you want raunchier sounds, the dynamic drive mode is your friend. Shifts from the 8-speed Tiptronic are nearly imperceptible in the comfort mode, and sharpen ever so slightly in the dynamic drive mode.

The S5’s seats look sporty, but are definitely comfortable for long treks. The back seats are only going to carry younger kids, so don’t try to stick your adult friends behind you when driving unless they’re professional contortionists. Instead of worrying about seating capacity, I deployed the manually-fitted mesh wind deflector that covers the rear seating area to calm cabin turbulence. Dropping the S5 Cabriolet’s roof takes about 20 seconds, including operating all four of the side windows, and tucks away into a storage box that has to be manually dropped in the trunk.

Touch points are intuitive and use quality materials, and I like that there’s just enough digital instrumentation throughout the cockpit. The Audi Virtual Cockpit features a 12-inch high-resolution screen that allows for three distinct viewing modes, in addition to a simplified display for less distraction when taking night drives with the top down. As many manufacturers concede that drivers will opt for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (both are standard with wireless connectivity in the S5 Cabriolet), Audi still delivers a great MMI infotainment system that has clear and easy software incorporated into another high-resolution display that measures 10 inches across.

Wonderful Open-Air Performance

Compared to its faster RS5 sibling I reviewed, the S5 is definitely more tame, but don’t sleep on its capabilities when you attack a twisty back road. Toggle the dynamic drive mode, and instantly feel the engine adjust its mood, with the idle rising while the exhaust tone gets throatier. Boost from the S5’s turbocharged V6 engages smoothly, delivering surprisingly quick response to help this quick convertible close long gaps between the bends. A performance car doesn’t need a massive horsepower figure to be a blast, and the S5 Cabriolet is more than competent as an open-air sportscar.

Grip from Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive is fantastic, aided by the Dunlop Sport Maxx summer tires that are part of the 20-inch wheel upgrade. Even in its sportiest settings, the S5 Cabriolet is still composed, and does an exceptional job of concealing its 4,167-pound curb weight. I’d like a hint firmer ride in the dynamic mode, but the S5 still drives like it’s on rails. If you demand more cornering abilities from the S5, tick the $2,500 S Sport package option box to equip a sport rear differential, adaptive dampers, and cool red brake calipers, and the $1,150 dynamic steering system will add electric assistance to the steering rack to improve the S5’s steering in any condition.

Audi prepares the 8-speed transmission with shorter gear ratios for the lower gears, pairing with the twin-turbo V6’s low-end torque to enable quicker response and acceleration, but wisely fits taller ratios for the upper gears to keep revs low while conserving fuel. I played with the manual shifts with the paddles, and enjoyed the flexibility, but was still impressed with the automatic shift mapping Audi gave the S5 Cabriolet.

The Positive Points

This S5 Cabriolet is in its second generation, with Audi making significant updates in 2020. Most noticeably, the S5 Cab’s exterior was sharpened to be more impactful, with a cooler fascia with a grille that resembles the look of the one fitted to the quicker RS5 model I reviewed last year, and sports more aggressive lines from nose to tail. I can’t say enough good things about the District Green paint applied to my tester, which has pink and bronze sparkles lightly mixed in which erupt in the sunlight.

Audi does a great job of providing a cabin that’s subtle yet cool. A good blend of leather, carbon fiber, and metallic trim completes a cockpit that’s sporty yet upmarket. If you’ve been inside any Audi over the past ten years, you’ll have no trouble using every switch and button inside the Audi S5 Cabriolet, applying the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset effectively. The Nappa leather sport seats are not only upholding the Audi Sport lineup theme, but provide great support in their basic setup, while having great power lateral boosting to keep you planted when tossing the S5 Cab into corners.

A Couple Deductions

Making use of the convertible feature will significantly eat into the storage capacity, making my run to the airport during this test a little more complicated to stash a carry-on roller bag in the boot. When driving with the top up, the blind spot on the passenger side is significant, making you rely on the side mirrors and blind spot indicators. This is why I prefer roadsters over coupes adapted into convertibles, which make a fewer compromises. At least the top stores away completely concealed, with a hard panel covering it.

I didn’t apply too heavy a right foot during my week-long test with the S5 Cabriolet, but managed to only achieve 16 MPGs on average (versus the 21 city EPA estimate). I also feel that the drive modes Audi offers in its S and RS models could have better distinguished characteristics to provide a better overall experience. These complaints are tiny though, as the overall positives of the S5 Cabriolet far outweigh the negatives.

This Drop-Top Is Surprisingly Good

Audi does a great open-air sportscar with the S5 Cabriolet, providing plenty of fun in a great looking package. As is the case with many Audi S and RS models, the company does a fine job of blending style with a luxury car that will happily gobble up miles on longer adventures. I’d happily take road trips in the S5 Cab, and make sure to make several detours along winding routes.

If more hardcore performance is what you need, the Audi RS5 variant will tickle your fancy but sadly there’s no cabriolet version in the RS line (only offering a coupe or four-door sportback) which gives the BMW M4 an advantage against Audi and Mercedes. If a bigger stat sheet isn’t as important, the S5 Cabriolet will be a great addition to your drive, no matter if it’s to the office or along a canyon roads.

The Genesis G70 Crashes The Sport Sedan Party

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.

The Honda Passport TrailSport Isn’t Truly Rugged, But It’s Good

Not quite the off-road champ it wants to be, this Honda still works.

As if the midsized affordable SUV marketplace isn’t packed enough, Honda thought it would offer another one. With its three-row Pilot selling reasonably well, some drivers didn’t need the extra seats from a good platform. Enter the Honda Passport, which is a slightly smaller version of the midsized SUV that ditches the third row for more storage space. Featuring a near-identical cabin and powertrain to the Pilot, the Honda Passport saves a couple bucks, holds more stuff, and goes on family adventures with a hint of style.

To please the driver that wants a bit more rugged appearance, Honda has introduced the Passport TrailSport trim level that slots into the middle of the Passport offerings, and eliminated the most basic Sport trim level. Looking a bit beefier than the more conventional family hauler spotted at the school pickup line or at soccer practice, does this go anywhere look work for the Honda Passport TrailSport? I gave it a whirl to find out.

The Helpful Specs

Honda stuffs its 3.5-liter V6 under the hood of all Passport models, with 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque on-tap. A 9-speed automatic is the only transmission choice, and two-wheel-drive is the standard driveline on the base model Passport, but this middle trim TrailSport package and the top Elite trim level come standard with Honda’s torque vectoring all-wheel-drive system. Honda’s Intelligent Traction Management system also includes several drive modes for various terrains.

To make the Passport TrailSport look the part of a tougher family SUV, Honda gave it several distinguishing styling touches inside and out. The exterior gets a unique grille treatment, and more aggressive front and rear bumpers are paired with silver-painted skid garnish details. The grille and tailgate get bright orange TrailSport badges. TrailSport-specific machined-finished 18-inch wheels with pewter gray details are shod with beefier 245/60R18 Firestone all-terrain tires to add to the slightly meaner look, compared to other Passport trims which get 20-inch wheels with lower profile tires.

Cabin treatments in the TrailSport include orange stitching on the seats, door panels, and steering wheel, with the front seat headrests receiving embroidered TrailSport logos. The TrailSport trim gets standard all-season rubber floor mats which also get that unique orange logo. The gauge pod in the TrailSport has the updated gray lighting and white needles as the rest of the Passport lineup, but features a black chrome gauge surround that’s only installed in the TrailSport. When cruising around at night, the cabin is lit with TrailSport-exclusive amber ambient lighting.

Pricing for the standard two-wheel-drive Honda Passport begins at $37,870, which increases by $2,100 to add all-wheel-drive. The top Elite trim comes packed with features at $45,430. The middle trim TrailSport has a starting MSRP of $42,470, and with a $395 premium added for Platinum White Pearl paint and a $1,225 destination charge, this Passport TrailSport tester hit a total price of $44,090.

The Competent Family Carrier

It comes as no surprise that the Passport TrailSport is a good midsized SUV, given Honda’s track record for reliability and functionality. The powertrain is proven, albeit a little on the older side, and is potent enough to get this family hauler moving effectively. Not needing to impress with the stat sheet, the Passport’s V6 is smooth and strong where it needs to be, and the 9-speed automatic shifts smoothly to keep it composed in the city. EPA fuel economy estimates are 19 / 24 / 21 (city / highway / combined), paired with a 19.5-gallon tank, allowing longer treks with fewer stops to fill up with regular unleaded.

Ride quality is composed, with a good bit of body roll when you try to carry some speed into a corner, but the Passport’s chassis stays where it needs to. Bigger sidewalls around 18-inch wheels on the TrailSport trim make for greater compliance, making street bumps disappear while minimizing chassis disruption though a suspension that’s still better on pavement than gravel. I also appreciate how light and direct steering inputs are in the Passport TrailSport.

The Passport’s interior is no-fuss quality that’s expected from Honda, with an intuitive cockpit that features a tidy layout. If you’ve been inside a Honda Pilot or Ridgeline lately, you’ll recognize the components and design throughout the Passport. Space inside the Passport is massive, with loads of room to stretch out whether you’re in the front or back seats. Lateral support from the Passport’s seats could be slightly better, but the comfort level is great. Because the Passport has a shorter overall length than the Pilot and ditches the third row seats, cargo volume is downright massive, offering 50 cubic feet of space behind the second row seat and boasting a whopping 100 cubic feet with the second row folded flat. In the cargo area, the Passport also has a concealed storage compartment for stashing away reasonably-sized items.

Carrying the same infotainment software installed in other Honda models, the Passport TrailSport has an 8-inch touchscreen with plenty of customization options and a cool way to enable shortcut buttons on the screen. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are on-board too, although without wireless connectivity options, and there’s a wireless charging pad ahead of the shifter. The standard 215-Watt audio system features 7 speakers and a subwoofer, which isn’t bad, but if you care about premium audio, you’ll want to upgrade to the Passport’s Elite trim level to upgrade to 540 Watts ands 10 speakers.

Appearing More Rugged, But Reasonably Capable

A quick glance at a TrailSport will quickly reveal that it’s the cooler looking Honda Passport. Not just a dressed up version of an already good family hauler, the Trailsport’s front and rear track widths are increased 10 mm to increase stability and provide a wider stance. For those who need to pull their boat, off-road toys, or camper, 2WD Passports can tow up to 3,500 pounds, and AWD models up the towing capacity to 5,000 pounds with Honda’s towing package installed.

Ground clearance is 7.5 inches for a two-wheel-drive Passport, and the all-wheel-drive upgrade increases the figure to 8.1. Approach angle is 21.1°, and the departure angle is 24.3°, which isn’t too hardcore, but isn’t too pedestrian either. Honda equips the Passport with snow, sand, and mud off-road drive modes, which are quickly engaged with a button next to the gear selector. The modes do a good job of dialing in the right amount of grip needed to cope with the trails, but you’re not going into any ridiculous rock crawling events in the Passport TrailSport.

In a muddy and slightly rocky patch at a nearby park, I was more than happy with what the Passport TrailSport offered, knowing it’s not intended to tackle extreme conditions like a Ford Bronco or Land Rover Defender. For the adventurous family that wants to escape the city for a nice state park that has reasonably muddy or mildly rocky trails, this SUV will get you there and back in peace.

The Good Bits

I’ve always felt that the Honda Pilot looked too bloated for a family SUV, and the Passport is a refreshingly smaller package. The proportions are better balanced with this model, and the TrailSport’s bigger sidewall tires complete the look nicely. If someone really needs the third row of seats, the Pilot will be a nice addition to the family’s driveway. The updated fascia, chunkier rear bumper, and bigger exhaust tips are cool too.

Rather than padding the bottom line, Honda includes its Honda Sensing suite of safety features as standard equipment, offering adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance, road departure mitigation, forward collision warning, and emergency braking without charging thousands more. Honda also has some proprietary software in its lane keeping system that seems to eliminate the annoying ping pong sensation other systems do between the lane lines.

Intuitive functionality inside the Honda Passport TrailSport is fantastic. Switchgear doesn’t have to be wildly stylish or made with space age materials to work, and Honda did a good job with switches and buttons that are well-placed. The gear selection buttons will take a quick adjustment, but I like how they save space in the center of the cockpit. USB ports and power outlets are simply placed in the Passport’s cabin, giving the kids plenty of options to charge their devices during a road trip. Space is effectively used in the Passport’s interior, with loads of flexible spots to store items of all shapes and sizes.

Less Than Great Things

Understanding that Honda offers a practical SUV for families, and not a real deal tough off-roader, there are stylish details that could have been more functional. In the TrailSport trim, Honda gave this Passport some rugged looking treatments, but metal skid plates and tougher fender trim would have done it some favors. Same goes for the thicker sidewall tires that could be a hint wider to really complete the off-road look. Thankfully Honda indicated that it will offer meatier tires and an off-road tuned suspension in the next couple model years.

While I praised Honda for giving the Passport’s interior plenty of thoughtful design elements, the instrument cluster leaves a bit to be desired. There’s a lot of wasted real estate, and the center screen should be able to provide more usable data on the fly while also offering a higher resolution display. Storing your gear in the back of the Honda Passport TrailSport is easy, thanks to a square-shaped tailgate and storage area, but the power tailgate only gets a hands-free feature on the top Elite trim level. Those who want a more rugged go-anywhere model want easier ways to put their mountain bike in the back after ripping up the trails.

This Practical SUV Gets It Done

Honda did a good job giving the Passport TrailSport more rugged touches within the exterior and the cabin, making it cooler than the typical family SUV. As someone who likes to conquer off-road trails on a somewhat regular basis, I wish Honda would have thrown somewhat tougher kit at its exterior to make it better at taking a beating. For most families, this won’t be an issue.

Deep down, Honda knows its buyers, their demands, and how to move a reliable product. The Passport TrailSport delivers the features and looks that Honda’s core buyers want, and makes its drivers slightly cooler than the usual parent at soccer practice. It’ll also go just enough places off-road during family trips to make the trip memorable. For those reasons, I think Honda did a good job with the Passport TrailSport.

The Ford Maverick XL Hybrid Is A Brilliant Budget Pickup

The most basic new truck you can buy is surprisingly good.

The mini truck used to be an exceptional option for plenty of drivers. A compact offering that carried a decent amount of stuff in the bed, had a little engine that got the job done while providing decent fuel economy, and a no-fuss cabin that did enough for making a commute or work trek barely comfortable. As pickups have become massive, thirsty, and wildly expensive, the world needs a basic compact truck that can get simple tasks done while providing more versatility than a crossover without breaking the bank. Ford has figured this out, and introduced the Maverick as a compact pickup to be reasonably functional, moderately powered, fuel efficient, and attractively priced.

A few months ago, I reviewed the Maverick’s middle XLT trim level, in all-wheel-drive form, with the punchier engine option, and thought it was the perfect small truck for anyone at around $31,000. What I wanted to learn more about was the most basic model Maverick Ford offers, its XL hybrid model. With front-wheel-drive in a pickup, real truck guys might scoff at it, but the entry level hybrid Maverick focuses on massive fuel economy at a starting price of $20,000. I had to see what was up with this budget pickup.

The Key Specs

Ford builds the new Maverick on a unibody platform, specific to the Maverick. In its standard form, the Ford Maverick is propelled by a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder hybrid that produces a combined output of 191 horsepower and 155 lb-ft of torque. The Maverick’s optional engine is a new 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces 250 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. A CVT with front-wheel-drive is the default drivetrain, with all-wheel-drive paired with an 8-speed automatic available as an option for either engine.

All Maverick models are SuperCrew four-door pickups, with a 54-inch bed. Dimensions include an overall length of 199.7 inches, a 68.7-inch height, 72.6-inch width, and 8.3 inches of ground clearance. The Maverick’s wheelbase is is 121 inches, with a front track measuring 63.4 inches, and a rear track of 62.8. Compared to the Hyundai Santa Cruz, the Maverick has a 4-inch advantage with its overall length and wheelbase, but gives up two inches in the overall width and track categories. I’ll dive into the towing and cargo capacities in a moment. The big draw to the Ford Maverick isn’t just its reasonable proportions, but also its price.

At a base price of $19,995, and a destination charge of $1,495, the total MSRP of this Maverick XL hybrid is $21,490. That figure makes it several thousand dollars cheaper than the Hyundai competition, which in all fairness starts with a bit more equipment. Opt for the XLT trim, and the base price is $22,360, with the range topping Lariat starting at $25,860. Adding the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine adds about $1,000 to any trim level, and upgrading to all-wheel-drive (which is only available with the 2.0L) will add another $2,000 to the ticket. Go wild on upgrading with a leather interior and heated seats, adaptive cruise control, improved towing capacity, and off-road capability, and the Maverick’s sticker price can shoot up to a still reasonable $35,000 (matching the loaded Santa Cruz’s figure).

Basic Daily Functionality

Budget packaging is clear with the XL trim level of the Ford Maverick, but that doesn’t make it unpleasant to drive. Ride quality is a bit on the firm side, thanks to spring rates designed to cope with cargo being tossed in the bed. Handling is still decent in the front-wheel-drive Maverick that has a basic twistbeam rear suspension rather than the independent multi-link trailing arm setup provided with the all-wheel-drive models. Surprisingly the Maverick is more agile than any truck I’ve driven, with dynamics that resemble a small sedan rather than a pickup. Crossovers I’ve reviewed in the past couple years don’t feel as nimble as the Maverick.

Instead of having a tachometer in the instrument cluster, Ford gives the Maverick hybrid a power consumption gauge to indicate how much you’re consuming when hitting the throttle and the amount being regenerated under braking. When coming to a stop, the digital display will show how much energy has been recaptured under braking and deceleration too. The hybrid engine has decent power on-tap, and the hybrid assistance provides a reasonably smooth torque curve. The 2.0-liter I tested in the Maverick XLT is noticeably quicker, but if power isn’t important, take advantage of the obscene fuel economy offered by the hybrid engine.

While the all-wheel-drive EcoBoost engine has EPA fuel economy estimates of 22/29/25, its front-wheel-drive variant gets a slight bump of an added mile per gallon in each condition. The hybrid Maverick increases the fuel savings dramatically, offering a whopping 42/33/37 (city/highway/combined) MPGs according to the EPA estimates. During my week-long test, I hit an average of 38 MPGs, which is fantastic for a truck of any size, and beats plenty of new compact cars currently on sale.

Despite its compact intentions, the Maverick’s cabin is actually quite roomy. Seating position up front is somewhat low, allowing for a great amount of headroom. The width of the cockpit is reasonably spacious too. At 5’11” I’m not terribly tall, but even when sitting behind my driver seat position, the back seat of the Maverick didn’t feel too cramped. A couple friends had no trouble hopping in the back seat when we made a dinner run, but did mention the ride was a bit stiff for them.

Ford’s Sync infotainment system is installed within the somewhat small touchscreen, but it gets the job done. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard, but in the most basic XL trim, the Maverick doesn’t have Sirius XM satellite radio. I have a hunch Ford has prepared the Maverick’s interior for future updates, as is clear when spotting the big storage hole next to the infotainment display. I appreciate the smart design of the door handles, that allow for easy grabs from any angle, while using an unconventional appearance. Same goes for the nicely separated compartments ahead of the cupholders and shifter, where anyone can pop their phone or other small items.

The Humble Worker Bee

A front-wheel-drive pickup isn’t going to attract big truck buyers, but the Ford Maverick is designed as a solution to drivers who need a hint more function than the sedan or crossover they’ve had for ages. Thankfully intelligent all-wheel-drive is available at a reasonable price, in addition to Ford’s FX4 off-road package with beefier tires than the Continental all-seasons fitted here, should you want to go places far from the city streets. Even as a basic pickup, I got the nod of respect from several construction and electrical workers I came across around downtown Austin (which is seemingly under constant construction), which was pleasantly surprising. When I was parked to take pictures of the Maverick, I had separate groups of people walk over to ask me about it and poke around. This truck has plenty of appeal.

One key advantage of the Ford Maverick is bringing simple versatility to the masses without trying too hard to appear rugged or functional. A 4.5-foot bed may not seem big enough, but for weekend warriors, mountain bikers, or casual campers, that bed will be more than enough to tote their belongings. Anyone who has paid attention to the fleet at an auto parts store will remember when small pickups were the ideal solution, and the Maverick will be appealing to them.

Ford designed smart Flexbed features from its larger trucks into the Maverick’s cargo area, with plenty of factory and dealer-installed accessory options to fit the bed however the owner needs. From tie-downs, power outlets, bike racks, and tool solutions, Ford really put some effort into planning the Maverick’s workhorse capabilities. Base payload capacity in the Maverick is only 1,500 pounds, but that’s not bad for the average person. Standard towing capacity is 2,000 pounds, which can increase to 4,000 pounds with an optional towing package. You won’t be pulling a massive boat with the Ford Maverick, but that’s not the focus of a pickup in this segment.

Cabin functionality is somewhat simple, but the rear seat does fold flat (once you drop the headrests), allowing for the interior to serve as an additional secure storage area. What’s really interesting is Ford’s crowdsourced 3D printing platform known as Ford Integrated Tethering System (FITS), which allows Maverick owners to design, produce, and install various storage and functional solutions that fasten into the cabin’s receiving points.

Simplistic At Its Core

Hitting a price target of $20,000 meant that Ford went truly spartan with its base XL trim. From the basic steel wheels wrapped in basic all-season tires to the black plastic body cladding and rear bumper, the Ford Maverick keeps costs low with simple features. The XLT and Lariat Maverick trims get cooler wheels wrapped with better tires, and are touched up with better exterior trim too, if the cheaper exterior is a breaking point. At least LED headlights are standard on all Maverick models. One funny feature is the practical beep tones emitted from the Maverick when reversing, as the hybrid model uses its silent electric power when backing up.

I can complain that Ford went with some seriously dated switchgear you’d recognize from a 10-year-old Focus, instrumentation that’s truly plain, and single-zone climate control components to hit the Maverick’s price target, but at least these details have the core functions they need to provide to drivers. The Maverick XL’s cockpit is really cost-cutting compared to the next level up XLT trim level, with bigger use of hard plastics and cheaper cloth seating surfaces, but Ford didn’t make this cabin sound too cheap. It surprised me how quiet this budget pickup was during my driving around a busy city, without any rattles or squeaks. Upper trim levels will carry over the touch points from the XL, but the seats, door trim, and center console will be treated to softer materials.

Basic Isn’t Bad In A Little Truck

Ford hit a home run with the new Maverick. With a massive gap in the pickup market, people needed an inexpensive model that offered good functionality versus the crossover they’ve been stuck with. Whether you’re an occasional camper, frequent cyclist, gardener, farmer’s market vendor, or skilled laborer, the Ford Maverick will tick several boxes for anyone who wants a pint-sized truck that gets the job done. The only challenge for Ford is keeping up with the immense demand for this new little truck, as dealer’s can’t keep them in stock. Pickup purists and manly men may scoff at the compact Maverick, but Ford makes plenty of trucks to satisfy any their needs.

If the Maverick is too small or too simple, there’s an all-new Ranger coming later this year, to meet the demands of the midsized truck driver. The daily drivability and massive fuel economy of the Maverick should impress anyone, especially when opting for the efficient hybrid model during a time of wildly high gas prices. For those who know exact what they need from a small truck, the Ford Maverick will meet their demands and go easy on the wallet both with monthly payments and at the gas pump. I think the Maverick is a great small pickup, and a massive hit for Ford.

The 2022 Mazda CX-9 Doesn’t Quite Hit The Spot

With three rows, four cylinders, and lots of tech, this SUV still raises plenty of questions.

Wander to any grocery store, mall, or soccer field, and you’ll come across plenty of three-row family SUVs that likely cover a dozen different manufacturers. This seven-seat SUV segment is flooded with so many options against the Mazda CX-9, including the Ford Explorer (which I recently reviewed), Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, and Hyundai Palisade. Back when Mazda introduced the CX-9 in 2006, it was based on the same platform as the Ford Edge, and shared the same V6.

While this big Mazda CX-9 offers the features parents look for, has decent looks, and focuses on reasonably enjoyable driving impressions, to sway buyers from other manufacturers, it has to assemble a package to make itself attractive, practical, affordable, and fun. There’s no shortage of crossovers in Mazda’s lineup, with a couple appealing introductions in the past year. With this second generation CX-9 still rolling around since its update in 2016, does it keep up with its rivals?

Some Useful Figures

Mazda powers the CX-9 with the same turbocharged 2.5-liter SKYACTIV-G engine that produces 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque when filling the tank with 87 octane regular unleaded fuel, and bumps up to 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque when opting for 93 octane. Paired with a 6-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive, Mazda also fits the CX-9 with its version of a torque vectoring system to give drivers more confident handling.

At a curb weight of 4,409 pounds, the Mazda CX-9 tips the scales at a similar figure to its rivals. The CX-9 has 3,500-pound towing capacity, which is a bit less than much of the competition. Despite having a turbocharged 4-cylinder under the hood, the 2022 Mazda CX-9 has EPA fuel economy estimates of 20/26/23 (city/highway/combined).

For 2022, Mazda made the starting price cheaper for customers while adding all-wheel-drive as standard equipment, now at a base of $35,280. In its most loaded Signature trim, this tester starts at $47,210, and after adding Machine Gray Metallic paint for $595, the total MSRP is $49,030 after destination.

Family Practicality Over Fun

The 2022 Mazda CX-9 has a reasonable footprint for a seven-seat family SUV, and doesn’t feel massive inside or out. When on the road, there’s a sensation that it weighs a bit more than it truly does, and I think much of that is because of how firmly sprung the CX-9 is, even though there’s a good bit of body roll in the corners. Given the same steering wheel as the Mazda 3 models that compete with cars like the Honda Civic, the CX-9 could use a larger diameter unit instead, to help with steering effort around the city. Slower 90º turns took more work to complete, with much more input required than I expected from a car in this class. The Bridgestone Ecopia all-season tires wrapped around 20-inch wheels aren’t sporty either, focused more on efficiency. There are drive modes, including a sport option, but there wasn’t much a difference in overall driving personality when toggling the sport setting.

Mazda defines its driving experience in the CX-9 as Jinba-ittai, a philosophy that lies at the heart of Mazda’s development, which describes the relationship between a horse and its rider. The challenge is that the 2022 CX-9 doesn’t truly feel as engaging as the “Zoom Zoom” sensations that used to get me excited about Mazda’s offerings. From the same company that provides a pure driving experience in the iconic MX-5, the CX-9 doesn’t make any drive more engaging. Equipped with the same engine as the Mazda 3, the CX-9 is downright underpowered as a three-row SUV. Having to spend more on premium fuel to get the most of its engine, the CX-9 is still woefully slow against a few of its competitors, facing a 30 or 40 horsepower disadvantage against several that don’t require premium unleaded to enjoy better power.

For parents who aren’t concerned about having a lot of fun on errand runs or trips to drop the kids off at school, the Mazda CX-9 provides a reasonably comfortable cabin, with decent space for stuffing kids in the rear two rows. Mazda is smart to make the second row seats adjustable on a slider, in case slightly taller passengers hop in the back, and even in that forward position, adults won’t feel too cramped. The CX-9’s cargo space is good too, with 14.4 cubic feet of space with all the seats up, 38.2 cubic feet with the third row down, and a whopping 71.2 cubic feet of storage volume with the second row folded flat too.

Mazda provides a 10.25-inch infotainment screen that has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto installed, but uses a knob and buttons below the shifter to adjust settings and controls, rather than being a touchscreen. There’s wireless charging in a compartment ahead of the gearshift, but if you want to make use of it you’re losing CarPlay functions as wireless CarPlay isn’t available in the CX-9.

Good Details And Trim On A Reasonable Budget

In this Signature trim, Mazda gives the first- and second-row seats Nappa leather treatments, with nice stitching patterns and good lateral support. I like the patterns of the contours too, finished with white piping along the bolster edges. Touches of wood accompany nice polished metallic trim along the CX-9’s interior, giving it a hint more class than its competition.

I appreciate the three-zone climate control system working quickly and effectively, in addition to the heated and ventilated front seats met with heating functions in the middle row. The 12-speaker Bose audio system incorporates active noise cancellation, which was great for quieting outside disturbances along busy downtown streets.

The Highs and Lows

To provide the second- and third-row passengers more space, Mazda seemed to compromise cabin volume for the front two seats. A look at the CX-9’s profile will show how short the front doors are versus the rear, making it easier for the rear passengers to get in and out, but I felt cramped in the driver’s seat. At 5’11”, the front seat was far too high off the floor, making my head feel too close to the roof while being far above the dash. The side view mirrors are also too far back, making me have to look all the way to my side to check my blind spot. Mazda should have mounted them a good ten inches further ahead, to provide more natural visibility.

Mazda describes its interior design as the result of studies on how humans move, attempting to engineer its cars to feel like a natural extension of the driver’s body, which is clear when using any of the CX-9’s controls. While I appreciate this focus, I don’t love that the pieces in the top-end CX-9 are the same stuff used in the Mazda 3 that competes with a more basic Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. At nearly $50,000, the CX-9 needs to feel like a premium model. As several manufacturers have switched to capacitive touch components, Mazda is sticking with more functional switchgear. The digital instrument cluster uses the same white color for the rings, numbers, and increments, so it all blends together. Having some contrasting color or larger speed indication would help a lot.

Getting a stack of safety systems is pretty common in family SUVs, and Mazda makes sure the CX-9 gets adaptive cruise control, pedestrian detection, and collision mitigation features to keep you moving smoothly with less chance of incident. Having tested a few of the Mazda’s competitors over the past year, the lane keeping and adaptive cruise features weren’t great when tested on the freeway. The lane keeping aid didn’t seem to function most of the time I tried it along a well-defined stretch of expressway, even in a toll lane with dividing posts.

This Family SUV Just Isn’t Good Enough

In its base trim, the Mazda CX-9 is a more attractive buy for the family on a budget, but as the trim levels and price go up, the value proposition of this three-row SUV goes down. At just shy of $50,000, the CX-9’s price is on-par with its rivals’ best offerings, but that’s inching toward a higher segment of car. For nearly the same money, one could get a 2022 Acura MDX in its lowest–yet still impressively equipped–trim. The only sacrifice would be ventilated seats. I’d go that route instead, or at least consider a loaded Honda Pilot.

Mazda provides a good looking, nicely equipped, and safe family SUV with the CX-9, but it’s lagging behind its competition. The driving impressions don’t capture any of the “Zoom Zoom” sensations of Mazda’s past, and the interior switchgear isn’t as nice as it should be. Riding on a reputation of quality cars a family can afford while being fun, the 2022 CX-9 doesn’t get the job done. Mazda needs to give its top model a heavy update that includes significantly more power and a nicer cabin, and if it did that, it would be a contender again.