A large sedan with a 4.0L 520-horsepower twin turbocharged V8, the Audi S8 provides a compelling package for a quick blast from Orange County to Laughlin, Nevada swapping Interstates for surface roads and Route 66 – the “Main Street of America”. Think of this as a familiarization trip to get fully acquainted with the interactive technologies of the S8. Most of it has to do with the multi-media interface (MMI) with navigation, audio, phone and even seat adjustments shown on the center screen. Audi’s NAV system includes a Google Earth view that lost its terrain view data over the desert, but that was not Audi’s fault, just that the Google folks have not gotten around to mapping uninhabited terrain much. BTW, the S8 is rated at 15-mpg in the City and 26-mpg on the highway. Returning from Laughlin resulted in 24-mpg. Not bad at 75-mph cruising speeds.
Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop and Go Really Works Spending more time on Interstates on the return, the S8′s adaptive cruise control system really came into its own. Even in very heavy traffic descending the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County the cruise maintained speed and distance. The spacing was a bit long and a few times someone would slip into the space causing the Audi to brake to adjust the distance again. When traffic slowed to a stop, so did the S8. This trip made me a believer in these advanced cruise control systems.
Two-Laners a Snap Admittedly, Route 66 is pretty deserted these days, even on a Saturday, but there are usually double yellow lines preventing passing. When passing is allowed, inevitably there is a car approaching too soon. Or is it? A car with 520-horsepower gives you the confidence to punch it and go. In the auto industry, there is a measurement called TED – Time Exposed to Danger. This is usually the time to accelerate from 50-mph to 70-mph. Well in the Audi, TED is very short almost feeling instantaneous from 50-mph to 80-mph. Going to full throttle in the S8 generates an outstanding grumble from the exhaust. I bet the cars passed by the S8 at full throttle were impressed when it flashed by. Yeehaw!
Comfort Seats are the Ticket If you read the VehicleVoice reviews of the S7 written last week, you’ll remember that we were not particularly impressed with the sport seats in the car and noted that comfort seats were available as a $1,950 option. Well, they are standard in the S8 and come with 22-way adjustment. With these seats you can back off the bolsters to provide more spacious seating and get a massage at the same time. When you are adjusting either front seat from the side-of-the-seat controls, a graphic appears on the center display showing you what adjustments you are making. Nice.
Ride Quality Suffers With Aggressive Tires The S8, being the performance package for the S8, is set up for spirited driving with very aggressive 21-inch 35 aspect ratio Continental summer tires. Even selecting the “Comfort” (rather than “Auto” or “Dynamic”) setting on the vehicle dynamics system resulted in a busy choppy ride at low speeds. At higher speeds – lets admit to ten or fifteen mph over the speed limit at times – the car felt much more at home absorbing irregularities with ease.
We began this year with a string of new high performance Audi sedans – S6, S7 and S8. We have not gotten to the S8 yet, but the S6 and S7 are pretty similar cars so lets concentrate on the S7 fastback. Think of the A7/S7 as Audi’s answer to the Mercedes CLS and the BMW 6-Series Grand Coupe. The S7 is a four-door coupe with a very fast backlite and large rear hatch. Opening the rear hatch reveals a huge rear cargo area. While the S7 has a very sporty profile, its design has sacrificed ingress/egress in the front and especially rear seats. The style limits rear seat headroom and the legroom in the rear is also down a bit from the three box S6 sedan.
Interior Par for the course, the S7′s sport interior is special with great attention to detail, great fit and finish and a very upscale ambiance.
No Fingerprints, Please Audi ‘s multi media interface (MMI) continues with controls on the center console not a touchscreen. The Audi MMI is easy to use and somewhat intuitive once you have used it a few times, but it would fail the rental car test (unfamiliar car in a rental car lot at midnight in the driving rain). Unlike its brethren Volkswagen and Porsche that now use touchscreens, Audi has stayed away from them because fingerprints on the screen are unsightly.
Get the Comfort Seat Package In the S7, the black and lunar silver interior is tasteful, but the seat bolsters are too aggressive for casual driving. At this price, the seats in the S7 should have power adjustable cushion and back bolsters so you can have either a very supportive seat that you fit snugly in or a wide open seat that lets you move around however you want to. Sure the “S cars” are sport performance models, but at $94,570 for the S7, there should be loads of comfort as well. Recognizing this, Audi offers a comfort seat option for $1,950 that provide heating, cooling, massage and memory functions. Unfortunately, the comfort seats are available only in black Valcona leather not the silver/white leather in the evaluation S7.
Featherlight Toe on the Accelerator But the sport seats weren’t the only thing that presented a problem. The S-Cars are powered by a 420-horsepower 4.0L V8 with twin turbochargers and cylinder on demand. Mated to a 7-speed automatic transmission and Audi’s great Quattro all wheel drive system, this car should be a real pleasure to drive. Lots of horsepower and torque. Effortless V8 with turbos! Wow. But it isn’t a pleasure to drive. Tip-in the accelerator and there is a hesitation that makes you shy about merging into traffic from a stop unless you stomp on it. Maybe it’s the performance setting in the MMI? Comfort? The same. Auto? The same. Dynamic? The same… even worse. Once you get the S7 rolling, it is delightful. The throaty rumble of the engine is joyous. But getting up to speed takes a featherlight touch of the toe to do smoothly.
So, the S7 is really for a person who wants upscale coupe styling and a lot of power. It’s not for a person who needs to provide rear seat space or comfort. The S7 is a car that turns heads and likes to be driven at speed, but it is a touchy low speed cruiser.
OK, OK… the new 2013 Toyota Avalon will not be targeted at teenagers when it goes on sale in December, but the age of the more than 100,000 Avalon hand-raisers has been about 52 years down from 67 years of present Avalon owners. Toyota has a monicker for these people – “Trail Boomers”. Toyota plans to double Avalon sales to about 70,000 units per year.
No Longer a LARGE CAR – Now Avalon is a Premium Mid-Size Car The 4th generation car is slightly smaller with much more expressive styling. It goes a long way in changing the perception of the vehicle. Based on the Camry platform, the Avalon shares much under the skin with the Camry and Lexus ES350. The Avalon is the product of Toyota’s Calty Design Research in Newport Beach, CA and the huge and growing Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It is, of course, assembled in Georgetown, KY.
The body and exterior are unique to the Avalon. The front of the car combines a strong T-Bar upper grille with center Toyota logo with a (2013) Fusion-esque lower grille giving the car kind of a gaping face. In the side view, Avalon is much more aerodynamic than its predecessors. The windshield is faster making ingress just a bit more difficult for the older edge of its traditional buyer base. The backlite is much faster too, resulting in a relatively short decklid. Toyota describes the feeling of the car to be “athletic, elegant, intelligent and powerful”.
The Avalon is a bit smaller than the 3rd generation car. That car was described as a Large Car. The new one is described as a Premium Mid-Size Car. Riding on a 111.0-inch wheelbase – the same as its predecessor – Avalon’s overall length is cut by 2.2-inches. It is one-inch lower and a half-inch narrower. The result is that most interior dimensions have been squeezed a bit. Front headroom is 1.3-inches less. Front shoulder room is 1.2-inches less. Front hip room is 0.7-inches less. Only front legroom is a bit longer by 0.8-inches. The formerly generous rear seat room has sacrificed the most: 1.7-inches less legroom, 1.5-inches less hip room, 1.2-inches less shoulder room. Only rear headroom is up slightly by 0.4-inches.
2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid
During a brief drive from Hollywood to Malibu and back through the Hollywood Hills to Sunset Boulevard, the 2013 Ford C-Max showed what a small hybrid-powered people mover could be. Ford, of course, touted the clear advantages of the C-Max over its designated competitor the Prius V. C-Max has 50 more horsepower. C-Max has 7-miles per gallon better fuel economy through its third generation hybrid powertrain. And, C-Max is priced $1,300 lower than the Prius V. While earlier Ford hybrids had used a similar hybrid system as Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive, Ford was clear to state that the C-Max lithium-ion batteries are an in-house development as is the all new CVT (continuously variable transmission).
General Motors Company (formerly “Corporation”) today is a shadow of its former self. It sells fewer models through fewer brands since its bankruptcy in 2009. It is reconstructing itself and building itself into a competitive and profitable car company. That transformation appears to be going very well.
Over the years, however, General Motors has often tried to be a trailblazer (no pun intended) in new vehicle design and development. Many of these vehicles failed, but we believe GM deserves a tremendous amount of credit for trying where other companies did not have the creative thought or resources to make a “segment breaking” product. Here are some examples…
I’m really not a hypermiling type of guy – I usually drive a twin-turbocharged V6. When the opportunity to drive from Miami Beach to Key West came up, I admit the allure of Key West was more than the chance to get the maximum fuel economy out of a Kia Optima Hybrid and new Kia Rio. Having grown up in Florida, the northern part, I had never been to Key West – got as far as the Everglades a couple of times.
Kia Optima Hybrid and Kia Rio
The cars did not disappoint and Kia threw in the chance to attend GRAND-AM Continental Tire/Kia200 Sports Car Challenge race at the Homestead-Miami Raceway. So how could I refuse?
Optima – Elegant Mid-Size Style With Maximum Fuel Economy The Optima is one of my favorite mid-size cars. Its styling is great and interior is very easy to live with. From my perspective, the Optima style is very sophisticated and European. Coming from the “junior” Korean manufacturer, the Optima is much better looking than the swoopy Hyundai Sonata that has turned so many heads since its introduction in early 2010. My guess is that the Optima style has more staying power than the Sonata which may age pretty quickly.
Adding the Hybrid model to the Optima lineup gives Kia a price-efficient, fuel-efficient combatant in the growing fuel economy battleground among mid-size cars.
All New Rio – Bottom-Feeder No More This was the first chance I have had to drive the all new Rio. As the bottom entry in Kia’s lineup, the Rio has evolved from a cheap, cheap tin can to a very worthy small car. Of course, it is not cheap, cheap any more, but it is reasonably priced. The model we drove was priced a notch above $20,000 but had everything on it including a navigation system, sun roof and leather seats. In previous generations, it would have been unheard of to have this level of equipment available in the lowest priced car from a mainstream brand. With a front seat package rivaling a mid-size car in size, folks are no longer “sentenced” to drive a small car.
The Dodge Challenger is the top ranked Sporty Car in AutoPacific’s 2011 Ideal Vehicle Award Research. Sporty Car owners are always seeking more and even though the Challenger won because its owners did not want much changed, there are some substantial areas they want changed. First, almost 50% want more power. This is characteristic of the Sporty Car buyer and Challenger buyers are no exception. Challenger owners want better visibility – a characteristic sacrificed by the aggressive styling of the car. They also want more infotainment technology. They most like its exterior size (although some want it smaller), cargo room and seat comfort. The Challenger handily outpointed the second place Volkswagen Eos for the Sporty Car trophy.
The Cadillac Escalade is the top ranked Premium SUV in AutoPacific’s 2011 Ideal Vehicle Research. As the class winner, Escalade owners identify few things they would want changed. Even the most technology-laden vehicles still have their owners wanting more. About 30% of Escalade owners want more infotainment technology. They also want better interior storage and, believe it or not, more cargo space and passenger room. They most like its size, seat comfort and wheels. Escalade wins its class over second place Land Rover LR4.
The F-150 is the top-ranked Light Duty Full Size Pickup based on owner ratings in AutoPacific’s 2011 Ideal Vehicle Research. As the class winner, owners don’t want much change, but there are some exceptions. Over 35% of F-15 owners want better interior storage, 25% want their truck to be easier to get into and out of. About 20% want larger wheels and tires. Owners like their seat comfort, ride and roominess. The F-150 outpoints the second place Chevrolet Avalanche by a wide margin.
Large Light Duty Pickup
A Light Duty Pickup has a gross vehicle weight ratio under 8,500 pounds and includes the likes of the Ford F-150, Dodge Ram, and Chevrolet Silverado. These pickups can be used for both commercial and personal use and have a wide range of capability and pricing. Towing and horsepower both rank supreme for buyers of these trucks.