Entries in top gear (21)

Monday
Feb132012

Reviewed: 2011 Lexus IS-F, Japan's Stealth Fighter

With the exception of the LF-A when you think Lexus, you think conservative, understated luxury car.  Lexus has always been the "safe" choice when you wanted a luxury car, but didn't want something from Germany.

The IS range from Lexus tends to fly under the radar.  Most people tend to focus on three models in it's lineup.  The top end LS, the mid level ES and the RX crossover.  While there is nothing wrong with those vehicles, they don't come within a solar system of what you might consider engaging drivers cars, but that’s not what they were designed to be either.

The IS is the exception to that rule.  Even in it's standard IS 350 guise, the IS does not feel "blandtastic" it does have strong elements that at times make you scratch your head and wonder how did this one make it through.  That's before we get to the IS-F.

If you like fun and engaging cars to drive, then the Lexus IS-F is for you.  It starts under the hood with a 416 horsepower 5.0 liter V8 which sends power to the rear wheels via an eight speed automatic gear box.  It should be required in owning or driving this car that you either (a) have a radar detector, (b) have an attorney on retainer, or (c) be on good terms with your local police department. 

Why you ask?  Because once you hit about 3500 rpms the exhaust note is so glorious, that you want to keep hearing it!  We hope which ever engineers were responsible for tuning the exhaust note got a large bonus because this is one of THE GREAT V8 exhaust notes of all time!

The suspension also gets an upgrade over the standard IS 350.  The ride is firmer, but it is also not harsh, it is something that is very livable in everyday driving.  The IS-F does corner flatter and is quicker to change directions when called on to do so quickly.

As fantastic as the engine is, the brakes on the IS-F are equally as good.  The pure stopping power can generate enough negative g-forces to make you think your eyeballs will come out of their sockets.  Yet unlike many big brake systems, it doesn't feel light a light switch which is either on or off, there is a nice linear travel, with excellent feedback.  The brake system is sourced from Brembo and have 14.2 inch discs up front with six piston calipers and 13.6 out back with two piston calipers.

Inside the car has all the luxury touches one would expect in a $60,000 car.  The leather is of good quality and the micro-fiber inserts in the seats give it an even more upscale touch.  In hot or cold clients the micro-fiber is much more comfortable than leather, while waiting for the cabin to come up or down to temperature.  It also offers better traction for your backside when you decide to push the car hard.

Looking onto the instrument cluster, a 9000 rpm tachometer is dead center and dominates your view.  While the tach may go to 9,000 shift are handled closer to 7,000.  There are a series of lights that change from yellow to red as you close in on the redline helping you if you are choosing to shift up manually in the gearbox.  

Best be quick with those shifts as the engine revs very quickly!  In first or second gear it is not difficult to bounce the engine off the rev limiter because the engine revs so quickly.  There is a digital readout on the tach to tell you your speed, to go along with a smaller speedometer to the right of the tach.

The IS-F has an optional Mark Levinson audio package that comes with navigation.  If you are familiar with the system in other Lexus models, it's features are similar.  To our ear, it could use a little more base, and a little more "presence" in delivering the audio, and that is true in listening to several different genres of music, from classical, to jazz, rock and trip hop.

Fuel economy is not unreasonable for the IS-F, the EPA rates the car at 16 city/23 highway/18 combined.  Our experience with the car says those numbers are very close, and that is when were were not shy with the right foot!  Take it a little easier on the loud peddle and you will see the number increase.  We saw fuel economy at almost 20 in the city and 24 on the highway driving in a more restrained manner.

The IS-F has to rate as the most fun cars to drive in the Lexus lineup outside the $400,000 LF-A.  The best part of the LF-A is that it doesn't scream performance car, even though there are some very aggressive styling cues.  There will be many a shocked BMW M3 driver when they see the IS-F's taillights disappearing into the distance, and that may be the point, excellence in performance doesn't have to be flashy, just quiet professionalism.


Monday
Oct312011

Reviewed: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

Earlier this year we had the opportunity to spend a week with the all new Jetta, in this case the 2011 2.5 SEL model, and came away with some good impressions.  We also got some great feedback from that post which was most appreciated.  What we really wanted to try though was the TDI Clean Diesel version of the car.

Recently we got to spend a week with the TDI Jetta and these our our thoughts:

Thursday
Oct202011

First Drive: 2012 Scion iQ Small Package Big Ideas

How much car do you really need?  That is what Toyota’s Scion brand is asking with the iQ it’s bringing to the market beginning in December.  Available in Japan and Europe for several years now this micro-compact is being targeted at Gen-Y buyers who live in very condensed urban environments.

At just 10 feet long the Scion iQ is the shortest car being sold in North America save the SMART FourTwo, and the less said about the SMART car the better.  While in theory the iQ and the FourTwo are priced similarly and are targeting a similar demographic, the Scion iQ is so far and above the SMART as to make the FourTwo look as sophisticated as the Wright Brothers Flyer in the world of the 787 Dreamliner.  

Priced at $15,995, which includes destination charges, the iQ is not the cheapest car on the market, but it is very well equipped and very well built.  Standard features include vehicle stability control, electric power steering, keyless entry and Bluetooth connectivity.  While there are no soft touch surfaces in the iQ, one wouldn’t expect them  at this price point either.  That said, the quality of the materials along with the fit and finish of the interior are certainly better than in larger and more expensive B and C segment cars we’ve driven in the past year.  "It's a real car," Scion Vice President Jack Hollis said. "It drives and feels like a Corolla, but it's in this tiny package."

The iQ will not have any factory options available, however, like all Scions there were be a plethora of accessories for the iQ available at Dealers to customize and personalize the iQ.  There will be one option, which is a lowering kit for the iQ, along with larger 18” wheels which Jack Hollis said looks “amazing on this car”.

In North America where bigger is always better, and in cars and trucks perceived as safer, the iQ comes will 11 airbags, and is expected to achieve an IIHS Top Safety Pick when it’s results are released.  There are are the usual airbags for driver and passenger knees, side bolster and side curtains, but two innovative airbags in the iQ are ones in the seat bottom that lift the knees up to prevent the driver from submarining under the steering wheel and a rear curtain airbag that covers the rear glass area to protect rear seat passengers from a rear end crash.

While technically the iQ is a four seat car, it is really a 3+1 as only the smallest of people will be able to sit behind the driver.  The rear seat room behind the passenger is acceptable for anyone under six feet tall.  

The packaging of the iQ is very clever.  The two front seats are offset (the passenger sits farther forward) to create rear seat leg room. The fuel tank is located under the passenger floor, the engine and transmission have been engineered to push the front wheels as far forward as possible to create more cabin space by eliminating wheel well intrusion into the cabin.  It allows to iQ to be very short, 10 feet in length, but, the iQ is very wide for such a short car.  In fact, the cabin width is as wide, if not wider than a Toyota Corolla!  You would think that driver and passenger shoulders would be touching in the iQ but it feels very much like a C segment car from the front seats.

Driving the iQ as we did, mostly in an urban setting, is quite enjoyable.  Given how short the wheelbase of the car is, the ride is not overly choppy or harsh.  The ride is firm, but acceptably so.  The steering in fairly direct, maybe not go kart sharp, but still very good.  The only transmission offered in the iQ for North America is the Toyota CVT.  We have to say that the CVT in the iQ may be the best we’ve ever driven!  It was for the most part a non factor, and that may be the highest praise we can give that style of transmission.  When asked about the availability of a manual transmission for the car, Jack Hollis said that while he, and many others at Scion North America would like to see that as an option, the fact that 95% of Gen Y’ers don’t know how to drive a manual, is an issue, plus the fact that the car is targeted at the urban environment, a CVT was a better choice.

What is astonishing about driving the iQ is just how tight the turning radius is.  It’s not a joke to say that the iQ can “turn on a dime and give you eight cents change”.  The actual turning radius of the car is 12.9 feet!!  The iQ can almost turn within it’s own length!  Parking the iQ is very easy as well.  While you can’t see the nose of the car while seated behind the wheel, the nose of the car isn’t much past your feet being on the peddles.  Rear visibility is good as well, and again the rear bumper is four inches past the rear glass, so distance is easy to judge.

The engine powering the iQ is Toyota’s 1.3 liter inline four cylinder, and with the CVT transmission it returns fuel economy in the iQ is 36mpg city, 37 highway and 37 combined.  Acceleration feels good in urban environments.  While the actual 0-60 numbers are around 10 seconds, the iQ feels much zippier than that.  On the freeway the iQ wasn’t buffeted around by large semis.  While our highway segment was short with the car, it was enough to get a good take away.  We wouldn’t want to take a four hour drive on the highway all the time with the iQ, but if your commute includes highway time, this Scion will do just fine.  Wind noise at speed is also very low, in part due the aero sculpting of the the car in the wind tunnel.  It’s had to believe, but the iQ had a drag coefficient of just .31!

The Scion iQ will be available in dealers on the West Coast beginning in early December, and roll out across the rest of the country in stages through March.  Scion are looking to sell about 2,000 iQ’s per month once the car is released across the country, and they do expect sales to be concentrated in areas like L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, New York and Chicago, areas where the iQ would fit well into tight urban environments.

Going in we didn’t know what to expect with the iQ, really all we’d ever really seen of it were segments from Fifth Gear and Top Gear.  It will make a great commuter car, a great car for college students, or a car for people who live in cities who need cars for things like going to the grocery store, or running a number of errands where a Zip car service or public transportation wouldn’t work out.  We have to say walking away from our drive, that the iQ is a very impressive little car. 

Have a look at the full gallery of pictures of the iQ.

 

 

Thursday
Mar312011

Reviewed: 2011 Ford Edge

Rumblestrip.NET had a chance to spend a week with the refreshed 2011 Ford Edge.  This Crossover is a keystone in Ford's lineup, and we wanted to see if Ford could take this from just another Crossover to something that would stand out against the rest.

Ford has been on a huge roll these past couple years, will this newly sharpened Edge continue the trend?  Find out in our video review.

Friday
Feb262010

Mustang Launch

Sure you've watched cars pull massive wheelies when they launch on a drag strip, but how many do you see get up in the wheelie bars at the 1/8th mile!!  I think this car is making a bit of boost about 700 feet out!

Even Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson yelling POWER might say, oh, that's a bit much maybe.