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Category: David Undercoffler

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First drive: 2012 Porsche Cayman R

Front_sideKeats has his "Ode to a Nightingale." Pope has his "Ode on Solitude." And Porsche now has its "Ode to the Sports Car."

Subtitle: "The Cayman R."

Rolling some 244 miles onto the odometer of a $78,150 version recently demonstrated that this car is easily the most raw, honest and condensed Porsche I’ve driven. It’s an homage, an oratorio to the days when sports cars were loud, uncompromisingly carnal articulations of testosterone that bullied you into driving fast and dramatically.

Photos: 2012 Porsche Cayman R

It beat me up, mussed my hair and left me sweating and short of breath. Yet like a poster child for automotive Stockholm syndrome, none of that ever bothered me.

But I wouldn’t submit myself to that on a daily basis.

Continue reading »

2011 Frankfurt Auto Show highlights

Frankfurt Auto Show
A bigger Porsche 911. A Maserati SUV. A Lamborghini that is actually lightweight. Such are some of the highlights currently on display in Frankfurt, Germany. Officially it's known as the Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung (IAA), but we humans call it the Frankfurt Auto Show.

Photos: Highlights of the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show

Held every two years in this banking city (including the European Central Bank), there's plenty of pricey eye candy at this year's event. Joining the three aforementioned brands are automakers such as Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Ferrari,  Fisker, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Mercedes Benz and Peugeot.

On the more humble side of things, Chevrolet, Ford, Hyundai, Mazda, Subaru and Volkswagen are also showcasing new and future products.

The best part of all this? Nearly every car making its global debut at this show, will be making its North American debut in Los Angeles. The L.A. Auto Show runs from Nov. 18 to Nov. 27.

So read on for some of the highlights from this year's Frankfurt event and start picking your favorites for L.A.


-- David Undercoffler

Pebble Beach Concours: A supercar's supercar


If you’re the kind of millionaire who likes his toys to come with as many superlatives as possible (and really, who isn’t these days) your interest may have been piqued by a little-known car sitting on the concept lawn at this weekend’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

Made by boutique Washington-based automaker Shelby Super Cars (SSC), this forthcoming model is called the Tuatara, named after a New Zealand reptile. It’s only the second car to come from SSC, the first being the Ultimate Aero in 2007.

Full details of the Tuatara have yet to be released, but the company says the car will be powered by an in-house twin-turbocharged V-8 putting out horsepower in the neighborhood of 1,350. The car should weigh around 2,700 pounds without any fluids like gas or coolant, or about the weight of a Honda Civic.

The Tuatara uses a carbon-fiber body designed by Jason Castriota, the pen behind notable cars like the Maserati GranTurismo and the one-off Pininfarina Ferrari P4/5 and a carbon chassis and subframe.

Tuat_rear If the towering horsepower-to-weight ratio of the Tuatara is any indication, this is a car with a purpose: speed. In fact, SSC has its eyes set on the Tuatara setting the world record for top speed in a production car. It would seem the company has a bit of revenge on its mind.

You see, that top-speed distinction is currently held by the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, with a clocked speed of 267 mph. Prior to that, the record was 256 miles per hour, set by the Tuatara’s spiritual predecessor, the Ultimate Aero.

That car stole the top-speed record from the original version of the Bugatti Veyron. And so it goes.

As far fetched as a small-batch supercar besting perhaps the world’s most over-engineered car sounds, SSC founder Jerod Shelby (no relation to Carroll Shelby) is confident the Tuatara will be a record-holder. He says he expects the car to start production in mid-2012, with the first deliveries of the car happening in 2013. He wouldn’t divulge the cost of the vehicle but said it was more than $1 million, with five buyers worldwide already signing on.


--David Undercoffler / @LATimes_Driven


Photos: Shelby Super Cars' Tuatara on the Concept Lawn at the Pebble Beach Concour d'Elegance. Credit: David Undercoffler / Los Angeles Times


Pebble Beach Concours: Cadillac looks into the future







Clearly besotted with the motoring romance of the days of yore, Cadillac has pulled the wraps off a far-flung concept car called the Ciel at Pebble Beach’s Concours d’Elegance.

This massive, four-door, four-seat dreamliner is simultaneously an homage to Cadillacs of a similar stature from the 1950s and ‘60s and an indication of the aspirations GM has for its premium brand over the next five to 10 years. 

The name (pronounced ‘See-El’) means ‘sky’ in French, a fact relayed by GM’s interior design manager Gael Buzyn and senior creative designer Charles LeFranc, both of whom are French. 

Ciel_int The pair said the car was conceived, styled and built by hand in GM’s Burbank design studio and will be working the auto show circuit around the world for the next several months as GM uses markets like Europe and especially China to gauge consumer interest. 

Buzyn said that the goal of the Ciel was to “redefine optimism” both for the Cadillac brand as a whole and for the type of relaxed, top-down touring that large cars like this once represented. He said the design team used California in particular as a point of inspiration and imagined occupants cruising from Los Angeles to Northern California’s wine country for a long weekend.

This led the team behind the Ciel to develope the unique ‘Cabernet’ color of the exterior and a similar color for the Ciel’s leather. Italian olive wood also lines the cabin.

This concept is powered by a 3.6-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 that Cadillac says puts out 425 horsepower and also features a hybrid system utilizing lithium-ion batteries. 

Given the speculative nature of this car, and the fact that Cadillac was mum on the car’s prospects for production, it’s likely this power plant would change or at least evolve by the time the real thing did land in dealerships. 

If the car does come to fruition, expect it to land at or near the top of Cadillac’s expanding lineup, which will see the addition of the smaller ATS sedan and full-size XTS in the next two years. Given that position, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a price tag in the neighborhood of $100,000.
--David Undercoffler / @LATimes_Driven

Photos: Above, the Cadillac Ciel concept at Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Credit: David Undercoffler / Los Angeles Times

Below: Cadillac Ciel concept. Credit: General Motors


Pebble Beach Concours: Lexus unveils 2013 GS 350


Lexus decided to use this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance to unveil to the world their 2013 GS 350 sedan. Yet the automotive glamour of the event and rich heritage (and potential price tags for the auctions taking place during the weeklong event) seemed to overwhelm Lexus’ latest.

Though the new GS ostensibly draws a few design influences from the Lexus LF-Gh concept seen at the 2011 New York Auto Show, the car could have used a few more. The front bears a strong resemblance to the CT 200h, with a few more angles protruding out. On the one hand it’s a mundane design that’s not trying hard enough, and at the same time the cacophony of converging shapes is trying entirely too hard.

Rear_quarter The back looks strikingly similar to a Hyundai Sonata, which isn’t necessariliy a bad thing. Though if you agree you might want to keep that little morsel to yourself as it's probably not a comparison that potential GS buyers will want to hear.

This is the fourth generation of the GS line, and it has traditionally competed against other midsize luxury sedans such as the Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5 series and Infiniti M. Therefore, the initial powerplant is a 3.5-liter V-6 with direct injection. Lexus says it puts out 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque.

Shifting duties are handled by a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and will route power to either the rear wheels or all four wheels, if equipped.  

Gs_int_sharper The interior of the GS is a highlight. Recessed deep into the top-of-the-center console is a massive, 12.3-inch, high-resolution viewing screen, which the company says will be standard across all trim lines. The screen’s duties can be split simultaneously between, say, the navigation system for the driver and the stereo system.

Meanwhile, the comfortable seats are thickly bolstered and the construction of the cabin is first rate.

Lexus didn’t announce pricing figures for the GS, but said it would go on sale in early 2012. Stay tuned for a full review in the near future.


Pebble Beach Concours: Cadillac looks into the future

Pebble Beach Concours: A supercar's supercar

Review: Sorry, VW, but Hyundai Accent is 'the people's car.'

-- David Undercoffler / @LATimes_Driven

Photos: Above, the 2013 Lexus GS 350. Credit: David Undercoffler / Los Angeles Times. Below, the Lexus GS 350 at Pebble Beach. Credit: Lexus.


First drive: 2011 Lotus Evora S


"Simplify, then add lightness."

If the smell of brake dust burning or the shrill screech of vulcanized rubber being torn off pavement brings about a Pavlovian expectation of sudden G-forces, it's likely you know the source of this well-worn phrase.

Lotus founder Colin Chapman's adage for creating a faster sports car has kept the company and its products on course for decades, as the factory in Hethel, Britain, cranked out iconic driver's instruments such as the Elan, Elise and Exige.

So one finds a bit of irony in the fact that Lotus recently complicated, then reduced lightness in its latest product, the 2011 Evora S. Spend more than 60 seconds driving the S and you realize the irony is only compounded by the fact that in doing so, Lotus has created its most well-rounded vehicle yet.

To create the S, Lotus started by bolting a Harrop supercharger onto the Evora’s 3.5-liter, Toyota-sourced V-6 engine. This bumps the horsepower from 276 in the naturally-aspirated Evora to 345 in the S, and pushes the torque from 258 foot-pounds to 295. The 0-60 time is predictably faster in the S, going from zero to hero in 4.3 seconds against the regular Evora's 4.9 seconds.

The suspension setup on the S is slightly revised, with ever-so-stiffer bushings on the front and rear and a rear anti-roll bar that's an eyelash thicker.

The sport-ratio, six-speed manual transmission that's optional (but recommended) on the Evora is standard on the Evora S. The Sport Pack option from the base Evora is also standard on the S. It includes cross-drilled and ventilated brakes, engine oil cooler and a "sport" mode that juices the throttle input, opens up bypass valves in the exhaust, dials back the traction control considerably and pushes the S’s redline from 6,800 rpm to 7,200 rpm.

Aesthetically, little differentiates the S from the base Evora, save for black side-mirror housings and a more aggressive rear diffuser.

All told, these changes add up to a 122-pound gain over the Evora's 3,046-pound curb weight, for a total of 3,168 pounds.

They're possibly the best 122 pounds I've felt added to a car.

Continue reading »

A crash-less course in driving MTA's new natural gas bus

Nothing stops like an MTA bus.

I know this because I was driving one the other day and nearly sent my instructor flying through the bus’ windshield after he told me to hit the brakes as hard as I could. I get the feeling he underestimated my enthusiasm for driving.

I’ve driven $250,000 luxury sedans around racetracks, one-off prototype vehicles that won’t hit the market for years and ultra-rare carbon-fiber-bodied sports cars. But nothing matches the experience of driving a 16-ton bus around a training course and then slamming on the brakes, turning the instructor standing behind your seat from a patient, brave man to a human-shaped projectile wearing a sweater vest.

This bus was no ordinary, diesel-belching leviathan from the 20th century. Rather, it was powered by a compressed natural gas (CNG) engine. In fact, this month Los Angeles County’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority became the first major transit agency in the country to switch to a bus fleet that runs exclusively on alternative fuels.

That’s 2,221 buses that run on CNG. John Drayton, who’s in charge of buying Metro’s entire fleet, says using natural gas saves L.A. from nearly 300,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions over diesel buses. Per day.

Understandably proud of this achievement, (and grossly overestimating my driving abilities), the good folks at Metro invited me to their training course in downtown L.A. to experience first-hand what it was like to drive a CNG bus.

The bus I drove was called a NABI 8400. It’s 45.5 feet long, seats 46 people and uses a composite body to reduce weight to the point at which they can add nine seats without an additional (and less efficient) third axle.

The CNG engine puts out 280 horsepower, and 900 pound-feet of torque and has amenities (for the driver) such as power steering, four-wheel disc brakes and four external cameras.

Cost for a CNG bus runs higher than a diesel bus, at about $578,142 for the model I drove. The MTA says this increase is worth the health benefits for L.A. residents.

So what’s it like to drive something like this? Easier than I imagined. And harder than I imagined.. . .
Continue reading »

Consumer Confidential: GM recalls vehicles, economy strengthens, good times predicted

Gmpic Here's your thinking-of-you Thursday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

--It's been a good year for GM, with the company emerging from bankruptcy and selling its stock once again to the public. But the year is ending on a low note. GM says it's recalling almost 100,000 vehicles to fix two problems that could cause the rear axle to lock and the passenger-side airbag not to work. The airbag recall affects almost 96,000 2005 to 2007 model year versions of the Cadillac CTS. The axle recall affects almost 1,300 2011 model year versions of the Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Avalanche 1500 and Silverado 1500, as well as the GMC Sierra 1500. The axle recall is expected to begin in January. GM did not say when the airbag recall would begin.

--On the other hand, the economy has a good head of steam as it nears the finish line for 2010. The latest stats suggest employers are laying off fewer workers, businesses are ordering more computers and appliances, and consumers are spending more confidently. The number of people seeking unemployment benefits edged down by 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 420,000, according to the Labor Department. That was the second drop in three weeks. Meanwhile, companies increased their orders for long-lasting manufactured products by the sharpest amount in eight months, personal spending rose modestly last month and consumers' incomes grew 0.3%, lifted by gains in stock portfolios. God bless us every one.

--And because I want to close this blog for the year on a happy note, here's the latest word from Jim O'Neill, the Goldman Sachs financial guru who accurately predicted the rise of emerging-market economies a decade ago. He's now telling clients that 2011 will be the "year of the USA" and that the stock market could rise by as much as 20% as the economy recovers. I have no idea whether he's right. But it's nice to think we'll have more than coal waiting for us as we open our Christmas stockings.

--After I put my Friday newspaper column to bed, I'll be AWOL for the remainder of the year, enjoying a little time off with friends and family. All the best to you and yours this holiday season. See you in January.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: A recall ends an otherwise impressive year for GM. Credit: Paul Sancya / Associated Press


L.A. Auto Show: 2012 Buick Regal GS goes manual

A few short years ago, finding a manual transmission in a Buick would have been considered a sign of the apocalypse. The average age of a Buick owner was among the oldest in the industry, and parent company GM knew that if they were to keep Buick from avoiding the same calamitous fate as Oldsmobile, it needed to turn things around.

Regal Fast forward to this year’s L.A. Auto Show, and not only has GM introduced a hybrid version of Buick's   acclaimed LaCrosse sedan, but it also has introduced a sportier version of the smaller Regal sedan, the 2012 Regal GS.

This Regal GS is powered by a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine, putting out 255 horsepower and a stout 295 pound feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission will be available when the car goes on sale in the second half of 2011, with a six-speed automatic being made available later. Buick says the Regal GS will go from 0 to 60 in less than seven seconds.

Other highlights include a lower stance, Brembo calipers on the front brakes, 19-inch wheels standard with 20-inch wheels optional, and Buick’s Interactive Drive Control System, whereby drivers can choose among three suspension and steering settings.

Regal_back I asked Buick’s Roger McCormack why the company didn’t go full throttle with the GS variant and instead use the 325 horsepower, turbocharged V6 the Opel Insignia OPC uses in Europe (the Regal is basically a rebadged version of the Opel Insignia). He said that although the V6 may eventually find itself in a Regal, Buick preferred the GS’ turbocharged four cylinder because it is lighter, more fuel efficient and cheaper than the V6.

The cost of the Regal GS is expected to start in the mid-$30,000 range.


Audi moves into the luxury four-door coupe market with the A7 Sportback

Ford's Facebook competition -- your name on a performance Mustang

2011 Hyundai Elantra moves in a larger direction

-- David Undercoffler

Photos: David Undercoffler / Los Angeles Times

L.A. Auto Show: Audi moves into luxury four-door coupe market with A7 Sportback

Given the global ambitions of Audi (and, indeed, parent company Volkswagen) it should come as no surprise that Audi is entering the luxury four-door coupe market.

A7_group_use_lc3y5rnc Going on sale in the spring of 2011, the new A7 Sportback shares a platform with the next iteration of the A6 sedan. The initial powertrain will be a supercharged V-6 engine paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Horsepower is said to be in the 310 range.

If the V-6 is too dainty for your liking, stay tuned. Expect additional engines to end up in the A7’s bay in the future, including an S7 variant with a power output in the range of unholy.

A7_three_q_use_lc3y6wnc Aesthetically, the A7 will likely draw conflicting opinions. The rear of the car is perhaps a bit too loyal to the hatchback design than a faux coupe (foop?), noticable when viewing the A7 from the side. This gives the rear end a heavy look.

Meanwhile, the front wisely reflects the Audi A8’s nose and headlights, a trait likely appreciated by A7 buyers who don’t want to pay A8 money.

The A7 will target the protean class of four-door coupes that includes Mercedes Benz CLS, Porsche Panamera and the BMW 5-Series GT.

A7_int_uselc3l09nc Pricing has not been announced, but expect it to to start north of $60,000.


Ford's Facebook competition -- your name on a performance Mustang

2011 Hyundai Elantra moves in a larger direction

2012 Buick LaCrosse is hybrid-lite

-- David Undercoffler

Photos: Views of the Audi A7 Sportback. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

L.A. Auto Show: 2011 Hyundai Elantra moves in a larger direction


Hyundai has had a banner year in both sales and product launches and is ending 2010 in a similarly aggressive fashion. The company has introduced the 2011 Elantra, a model that helped Hyundai gain its initial foothold in the U.S. market.
UPDATE: For my full review of the 2011 Hyundai Elantra, click here.

The new Elantra features Hyundai’s fluidic sculpture design first seen on the Sonata sedan and Tucson compact SUV.

Power comes from a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, putting out a class leading 148 horsepower and will be offered with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

Elantra_05 Fuel economy is 29 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.

Interior space is up on the new Elantra as well, to the point where the car is now classified as a mid-size car by the EPA. As a point of reference, the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla are in the the smaller "compact" segment, while the Nissan Sentra, Chevy Cruze and Ford Focus are "mid-size" cars.

While this Hyundai will start at $14,830 (excluding destination), the option list is long. Buyers will be able to add to their Elantra a large amount of creature comforts such as a navigation system, a 360-watt sound system, heated front and rear seats and a backup camera.

Expect the Elantra in dealerships by the end of the year. 
UPDATE: For my full review of the 2011 Hyundai Elantra, click here.

2012 Buick LaCrosse is hybrid-lite

2011 Dodge Durango makes up for its absence

Jaguar C-X75 supercar is mean and green (VIDEO)

-- David Undercoffler

Photo credit: Hyundai Motors


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