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First Drive

GT-R, Jaguar, red car, blue car

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh June 18, 2012 09:50 AM

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(All photos: Clifford Atiyeh for Boston.com)

One of these cars is easy to drive fast. The other is easy to slide off the road and kill you.

In the last week, I was fortunate to drive both red and blue cars -- a Nissan GT-R and Jaguar XKR-S. Both have more than 500 horsepower, sophisticated 6-speed automatics, monster brakes, and super wide tires that cost about $2,000 to replace. And judging by the way these two race-ready cars are meant to be driven, you'll be replacing them often.

First, the Nissan. I haven't driven this car on the street so I can't say what it's like in everyday situations. But on the track -- the Monticello Motor Club, a private race track in upstate New York -- it's supremely easy for a racing novice like me to drive fast. The all-wheel-drive pushes you out of tight corners, and the power comes on smooth and progressive (after a bit of lag from the twin turbochargers).

You can throw this car into a turn with little or no planning (or skill) and it'll claw out without complaint. It brakes so hard without fade and the suspension is so settled that it's hard to imagine this is a street car that's only $90,000, when its prime competitor, the Porsche 911 Turbo S, costs almost double.

Jaguar-XKR-S.JPG

The blue car I could only drive on the road, a place that can barely contain its 550 horsepower sent only to the rear wheels. Jab the throttle from a start or while cruising in second, and prepare to hang on. The traction control puts up a good fight, although it can't stop the Jag from wiggling and darting over the lane. It is properly scary, a car that could not be tamed on a winding, tough track like Monticello without someone with many more moons of experience than me.

The XKR-S wants to slide and do burnouts, as if it's some $132,000 Shelby Mustang (and its French racing blue paint is quite similar to the Grabber Blue on the 'Stangs). Of course, its suave aluminum body and supreme leather interior (even covering the roof) does not make this Jag a Ford. It's posh and civilized at all times, except when you make the motor angry. Then, unlike the Nissan, you cannot hope to predict what happens next.

With every track day I'd like to hope I become a better driver and more in tune with a car's responses and behavior. With the red GT-R, I thought I was much better than I actually was. The blue Jaguar is a sobering reminder that I'm not that good -- and that I'm mortal.

Quick spin: 2012 BMW 3 Series

Posted by Keith Griffin March 6, 2012 03:13 PM

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(All photos: BMW). Click photo for larger version.

MONTERREY, Calif.—For its all-new 2012 3 Series sedan, BMW is thinking big and small: an 8-speed automatic transmission mated to a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It's an interesting gamble to combine fuel efficiency with spirited driving.

There's also something unusual the German automaker is bringing: value. It’s a word product manager Oliver Ganser used over and over during the car’s media introduction in Monterrey.

Quick spin

Since when is the adjective “value” used to describe a BMW? If you’ve ever priced a 3 Series and wondered why you’re forced to pay $1,450 for leather in a $35,000 car, you know the answer. This is a car you want, not need, to drive.

Except, oddly enough, the 2012 3 Series sedan is a value, a weird thing to say for a car that competes against the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the Audi A4. BMW has managed to make a competitive sedan that performs well, has lots of luxury, and yet manages to be well-priced among premium compact sedans.

What is this world coming to?

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Quick spin: Mercedes-Benz S350 BlueTEC

Posted by Bill Griffith November 2, 2011 03:10 PM

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(All photos: Mercedes-Benz). Click photo for larger version.

To some folks, putting a diesel engine into the latest generation of the iconic Mercedes-Benz S-Class is akin to having cell phones ringing at a funeral.

Quick spin

To others — and the Mercedes folks feel that will be between 5 and 10 percent of S-Class buyers — the reaction is, “It’s about time to have a diesel option.”

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Quick spin: 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist

Posted by Bill Griffith October 14, 2011 04:35 PM

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(Bill Griffith for The Boston Globe)

It's taken a decade, but I'm finally a convert and believer in hybrid technology.

That said, along comes Buick's eAssist technology, available now on the full-sized LaCrosse and coming soon to the Regal and 2013 Chevrolet Malibu. The folks at GM don't want to go "all in" and call it a hybrid anymore — the former Malibu Hybrid didn't sell well — instead choosing to call the innovation "light electrification."

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2012 Subaru Impreza: Now driven outside New England

Posted by Keith Griffin October 3, 2011 04:49 PM

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(All photos: Subaru). Click photo for larger version.

NEW YORK—Subaru is a manufacturer near and dear to New England's heart. It's almost as if they were designed solely for this region. As the old joke goes, the Subaru is the state bird of New Hampshire.

Quick spin

Fans — mostly New Englanders and anyone in the snow belt — have loved them for their distinctive design and tough all-wheel-drive systems, but in recent years Subaru has begun to homogenize its cars to make them more appealing to the rest of the country. Case in point: The 2012 Subaru Impreza.

At its launch to the media in Manhattan last month, company executives said the previous generation model was, to paraphrase, ugly. And like all Subarus, it consumed gas at a horrible rate for a small car.

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2012 Fiat 500C: Spiffy top makes a truly smart car

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh May 30, 2011 07:40 PM

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(All photos: Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com Staff). Click photo for larger version.

NEW YORK — Surprisingly few people noticed the flock of Fiat 500 Cabriolets buzzing through Manhattan's SoHo district during the car's media introduction this month. Blame it on the car-averse, seen-it-all nature of most New Yorkers. But take the cute 500 to any other American town and it'll stick out like a fire hydrant in the middle of the Antarctic. It's way out of its element, but you might end up wanting one.

Fiat thinks the 500 can lure a new generation of singles and young couples who lapped up Volkswagen New Beetles and Mini Coopers. After a 27-year absence, Fiat has barely carved a name here — the first of four Massachusetts dealers opened in March — but this stubby car has a good chance. While mammoth crossovers and SUVs pack our roads, Americans have always found a soft spot for European hatchbacks with mildly zany personalities, no matter the price of gas.

And before anyone gets smart on me, know that Fiat isn't repeating the American failure of the ForTwo microcar. Despite being less than 12 feet long and as wide as my arm span, the 500 sports another cylinder, two more seatbelts, and the actual semblance of an automobile.

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2012 Acura TL: How do you like me now?

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh March 18, 2011 05:40 PM

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(All photos: Honda). Click photo for larger version.

Acura's "power plenum" schnoz got a decent nose job on the 2012 TL.

AUSTIN, Texas — No one likes admitting they look bad. But Acura's PR executives, jogging through a semi-awkward script and nearly 60 PowerPoint slides, actually had the bones to say it during a new car launch.

I'm paraphrasing, but for an hour it went something like this: "The 2012 Acura TL may look like the current car, but it's much less strange looking. When we redesigned the TL three years ago, we thought we were pushing the edge like Cadillac, except our harsh angles and that pointy, bulging snout weren't as attractive as we thought they were. Kind of ugly, really.

"So this mid-cycle update has lots of little design tweaks, not to mention better fuel economy and a new 6-speed automatic."

There, doesn't that feel better to let it all out?

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Christmas cruisin' in a Bentley Mulsanne

Posted by Bill Griffith December 20, 2010 04:47 PM

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(All photos: Bill Griffith for The Boston Globe). Click photo for larger version.

RYE BEACH, N.H. — We swung the Bentley Mulsanne into the driveway outside the pro shop behind the Abenaqui Country Club on a sunny but unseasonably cold and windy December afternoon. Christmas definitely was in the air, from the sleigh and reindeer outside the clubhouse to the golf wear and equipment in the pro shop.

Pam Sheerin, proprietor and co-owner of the shop, ran out to us, saying, "Ohh, is my husband sending me this as a Christmas present? Are you going to put a bow on it?"

We had to let Pam down gently. Jim Sheerin, the PGA Master Golf Professional at the club, had nothing to do with this car. In truth, we were looking for an ideal spot to photograph this spectacular vehicle.

The Mulsanne is the new flagship of the Bentley line, replacing the Arnage. (Any time people asked me what I'd buy if I hit the lottery, "the Arnage" was my answer.) We were told our test ride was one of the first Mulsannes to arrive in the United States. It also came with a low-key warning.

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Chrysler's comeback cars: Charger, 200, T&C, Challenger, Durango

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh December 8, 2010 08:00 AM

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(All photos: Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com Staff)

SAN FRANCISCO—Chrysler once wowed the market with its old-school car designs, but in the past three years, the company's just gotten old. Blame the divorce from Daimler in 2007, the clueless netherworld that ensued under Cerberus, and the shame of post-bankruptcy government bailouts from 2009 onward.

A surge in quality from Hyundai, Ford, and other large automakers left Chrysler embarrassed, and their near-silent PR team — which had nothing to introduce except new colors — had us convinced the company was finished.

Earlier this fall, a few months after the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee was unveiled, we were reassured at last: Eight brand-new or significantly-updated models have been rolled out this year, with more on the way in 2011. Nicer interiors, better engines, and new designs. We had to know if Chrysler was serious, or just mixing another batch of touch-up paint.

So last month, we flew to San Francisco to attend Chrysler's press launch (which we paid for). We had a few hours of seat time in each model, including high-speed laps at Infineon Raceway in Napa, and came back impressed and, sometimes, underwhelmed. Read on for our initial thoughts.

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About Boston Overdrive

Boston.com reports the latest trends, auto shows and wrings out the newest cars in our city's hellish maze — and across the great roads of New England.
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Contributors

Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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