Wednesday, April 23, 2014

2015 Hyundai Genesis Sedan

The 2015 Hyundai Genesis premium sedan has taken the higher road in its second-generation. The exterior looks more refined, its handling has become a touch more sporty, and the interior more sophisticated. What this car may lack in sporty chops it more than makes up in high-tech features and a luxurious ride.

Hyundai is calling its new design language Fluidic Sculpture 2.0, which is the natural evolution of the overdrawn Fluidic Sculpture 1.0. That design language, which arrived with the outgoing Sonata a few years ago, proved the point that sometimes the best line is the line not drawn. All of those extra wrinkles have been ironed out of the 2015 Genesis, which looks elegant and smooth. There’s a pronounced centerline that moves the length of the car’s body and its roofline is graceful. The Genesis sedan keeps its long hood and short rear deck, while the grille is bigger and wider. There are some nice Audi-esque cues with this car’s design, but the car maintains its own identity.

The 2015 Genesis’ HID headlights with LED turn indicators draw attention to the car and everything is laid out in long horizontal lines that make the sedan look wider. At night, a custom Genesis puddle lamp serves as a nighttime reminder that this car is special. Hyundai did increase the car’s length by 0.2 inches, but that’s nearly negligible. However, the 2015 Genesis’ wheelbase has stretched by 2.9 inches to 118.5 inches to smooth out the ride and create more interior space. There were also some big improvements to the car’s frame and suspension. Hyundai uses more than 50 percent high-strength steel, more than any of its competitors. This improved stiffness by 40 percent and adds the car’s sportier performance. There’s an all new multi-link rear suspension and a beefed-up front suspension with aluminum shocks and greater wheel travel.

Drivers will feel more confident behind the wheel, though they won’t mistake the Genesis sedan for a sports car, even if they switch to Sport mode in one of the three selectable modes that include normal, sport, and eco. Those modes adjust a number of calibrations on the vehicle such as throttle response, transmission shift points, and other features. The changes are slight, but still noticeable. The 5.0-liter model also uses a continuous dampening control system to adjust to the road.

The 2015 Genesis V-8 sedan is  extremely quiet on the road, the 420 horsepower under the hood mated to a silky smooth eight-speed automatic transmission with standard paddle shifters provides more power than most people need, aggressive acceleration for high-speed passing and great cruising. The all-wheel-drive V-6 model, new to the lineup and a necessary for luxury buyers in certain regions, was also excellent, though the 311-horse 3.8-liter V-6 under the hood with the 3.8-liter felt underpowered after driving the bigger V-8.

Additionally, Hyundai has added a lot of technology for long hauls including adaptive cruise control and an aggressive Lane Keep Assist. The cruise control does a nice job of matching the speed of the vehicle in front and slowing down if that vehicle drops its speed.

The Lane Keep Assist uses a camera to monitor the car and make sure it is staying between the lines. If the car begins to cross a line, the system will shudder the wheel and let out an audible beep. (It does this as well with the blind-spot detection system.) There’s a more aggressive setting for the Lane Keep Assist, which actually steers the car back into the lane and forces you to fight it though the lane if you want to cross over it. You can actually let go of the wheel and watch the car turn through a corner in a very disturbing way. But you can only let go of the wheel for 15 seconds before the system announces it will shut down and you need to grab the wheel. It wasn’t engineers who devised this system, but rather lawyers who want the driver to still be responsible for the vehicle’s trajectory.

However, that backseat wrapped in leather is pretty comfortable. All of the seats are pretty comfortable for that matter. There’s certainly a lot of space with an interior volume of 123 cubic feet. That beats the Cadillac CTS (110.7 cubic feet), the Lexus GS (113.3 cubic feet) and the Mercedes E Class (113.1 cubic feet). More importantly, it feels spacious and open and the ride is insanely quiet, even quieting the big V-8. Inside the 2015 Genesis, there’s also a rear window shade that can be electronically drawn up or down, nicely done real wood trim with different grains on different vehicles, and the instrument cluster is clean and precise. The little details are executed very well in this cabin in both construction and choice of materials. Hyundai has done some ergonomic work on the steering wheel and many of the switches have been replaced to give them a better feel. There’s a standard 8-inch screen with navigation (as well as an optional 9.2-inch high definition screen available). Both are touch screens, though there’s also a control wheel that makes navigation easier. There’s only one USB port at the base of the center stack and it’s a little awkward to use, but if you need to charge more than one thing at a time, just get a 12V plug with USB ports for additional charging needs. It only takes a few minutes to adjust to everything inside this car, from connecting your phone to turning on your seat heater and turning off the Lane Keep Assist. The car is laid out in a very driver-friendly manner with no surprises or disappointment. All of the boxes have been checked. 

Perhaps the most intriguing feature is the automatic trunk opening. It sounds more like a gimmick than anything else but it’s certainly something your neighbor is going to show you if he buys a Genesis. Just walk up to the back of the car, wait to hear four beeps and the trunk opens. No foot waving or button pushing, it just opens like it is reading your mind. Very cool. But Hyundai has always provided owners something to boast a little about. More to the point, though, owners will be bragging about the purchase price. Starting at $38,950 and arriving loaded up with features, the Genesis remains a great near-luxury purchase with all of the trappings of much more expensive cars.

2015 Audi A3 1.8T

While people interested in the entry-level luxury class are all over cars like the Mercedes-Benz CLA, it's easy to forget that the segment existed long before Mercedes introduced its swoopy new four-door to the U.S. Audi was actually one of the first to enter the segment, way back in 2006 with the A3. The original A3 failed to leave its mark, though. It was a four-door hatchback, and because it was a four-door hatchback, Americans generally weren't that interested. The all-new 2015 Audi A3 sedan likely won't have that problem. With the entry-lux segment more important than ever, the 2015 Audi A3 1.8T proves that Audi's taking the segment seriously.

Powered by VW Group's new 1.8-liter turbocharged I-4, the front-drive-only 2015 A3 1.8T makes 170 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque, which it puts to the ground through a six-speed dual-clutch automatic. Accelerating from 0-60 mph in the A3 1.8T takes 6.8 seconds, and the base A3 is through the quarter mile in 15.4 seconds at 89.4 mph. In comparison, the A3 2.0T Quattro launches quicker thanks to its 220-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 and standard all-wheel-drive system, needing 5.4 seconds to hit 60 mph and 14.0 seconds to finish the quarter mile, with a 98.6 mph trap speed.

Though the A3 2.0T sports better performance numbers than the 1.8T, I think the A3 1.8T is the one to have if all-wheel drive isn't on your must-have list. The A3 1.8T doesn't feel noticeably slower while driving and its gearing feels shorter, making it feel perky around town. The 1.8T-equipped A3 also has lighter, more communicative steering than the 2.0T, which makes it much more fun on back roads, especially considering the A3 2.0T seems to have a bit of trouble transitioning quickly left to right on quick switchbacks.

Among the biggest changes to the 2015 A3 is the way it looks: the Americanized A3 now sports a traditional sedan body style, and for better or worse it looks like a three-quarters-sized A4. Parking the A3 next to an A8 gives an interesting look at how scalable Audi's design language is. While the A3 is certainly handsome, I can't help but feel like it's almost too conservative for the young millennial buyers Audi is targeting. Park the A3 next to Mercedes' CLA and I bet you the majority of passersby younger than 30 would choose the CLA over the A3 on looks alone.

Inside, the 2015 Audi A3 makes up ground compared to Mercedes. Though some members on staff are quick to call the A3's interior cheap, I think minimalistic is the right word. The Audi's interior is simple, looks nice, and is intuitively laid out. The CLA is beautiful and has a bigger trunk. In my opinion the interior of this Audi is terribly boring. It actually looks like a simpler version of the CLA's interior.

The Google Maps-based navigation system renders quickly, the Siri-like voice control is better than Siri, and its chock full of why-didn't-they-think-of-that-sooner features like picture destination, which uses GPS data saved on a photo you take with your smartphone to navigate the car to that exact destination. Trying to track down a lost friend? Have them text you a picture of where they are, import it into the A3's MMI system, and off you go.

While the 2015 Audi A3's bells and whistles are killer, there are a handful of issues with the interior – tire noise being chief among them. The A3 is already relatively heavy, an extra 10 or 20 pounds (just 171 eggs!) would make a big difference.

With a base price of $30,795, the A3 is pretty well-equipped. The neat flip-out screen in center stack is standard, as are leather seats, HID headlights with LED running lamps, automatic wipers, and a plus-sized "panoramic" sunroof.

2015 Audi A3 1.8T

BASE PRICE:  $30,795
VEHICLE LAYOUT: Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE:   1.8L/170-hp/200-lb-ft turbo  DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION:  6-speed twin-clutch auto.
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) : 3108 lb (60/40%)
WHEELBASE: 103.8 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 175.4 x 77.2 x 55.7 in
0-60 MPH: 6.8 sec
QUARTER MILE: 15.4 sec @ 89.4 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH: 106 ft
MT FIGURE EIGHT:  26.7 sec @ 0.67 g (avg)
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY:  147/102 kW-hrs/100 miles

CO2 EMISSIONS:  0.73 lb/mile

Saturday, April 5, 2014

2015 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG

Powered by a twin-turbocharged V-8, the C63’s performance will rival that of the Audi RS5 and the BMW M3. Traditionally, the AMG version is differentiated from regular C-class models by its large front air intakes, distinct grille, side skirts, and a different rear fascia with four large exhaust pipes, and this one won't stray from the formula. It may look pedestrian to the uninitiated, but closer study reveals the purpose-built nature of this wheeled missile.

This high-performance M3 fighter will be engineered for all-day autobahn travel at triple-digit speeds as well as serious track duty. Inside, it will be distinguished from its lesser siblings by sports seats, a performance steering wheel, and a centrally mounted gear selector.

                                       Top: 2015 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG (artist's rendering). 
                                       Bottom: 2014 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Edition 507

The AMG version of the C-class has delivered the goods in the past, and there is every reason to believe the new model won't disappoint. The bummer is that it loses its predecessor's naturally aspirated 6.2-liter V-8 engine, although the downsized, twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 that replaces it should pacify all but the most nostalgically minded brand aficionados. This car will aim to bring supercar power within the reach of upper-middle-class customers. And it will impart a considerable halo effect over the entire C-class lineup.

Platform: The C63 AMG is a derivative of the W205 C-class; as such, it shares many chassis, powertrain, and electronics components with the current and next-generation E-class and S-class. The AMG version will continue to be offered with rear-wheel drive, but a 4MATIC all-wheel-drive derivative is possible down the road.

Powertrains: The C63 AMG moniker will be even more misleading than before, given the displacement of the twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8. This new engine, which is shared with the upcoming AMG GT, will make well over 450 horsepower, and future Black Series iterations could easily pack and additional 100 horses. As with the current C63, the new version will only be available with an automatic transmission; there are no manuals in AMG's present or future.

Competition: Audi RS5, BMW M3, Cadillac ATS-V.

Estimated Arrival and Price: The Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG will be unveiled in the fall of 2014 as a 2015 model. Deliveries begin in the first quarter of 2015, and the base price of a sedan will fall slightly north of $60K