Behind the Wheel

Sharing my experience behind the wheel of a new car each week. Also exclusive access at auto shows and press events.

The Range Rover Velar is the best everyday Land Rover

Raise your hand if you are reading this and you live in an Amazon Jungle or Alaska. If you are raising your hand right now, skip to the next article. If you are NOT raising your hand right now, keep reading… You likely don’t need the full off-road capability of a traditional Range Rover. I am guessing that your daily commute involves beautifully paved roads and well manicured lawns to go beside them. And that is why Land Rover gave birth to their newest creation, the Velar. The engineering team was given a clean slate to produce a luxury SUV for the road. The Velar still has Land Rover DNA for getting you out of sticky situations, but it is first and foremost an on-road vehicle versus its older brothers, the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. Editors Note: The Evoque isn’t mentioned here, because it is technically a crossover.

The Velar offers a comparatively supple ride and limited body roll as you go around a tight corner. You also, don’t tower over vehicles on the road as much, which in my opinion is a good thing. My test vehicle offered three ride heights for city driving and limited off-road use. But because the Velar is design for high speed driving on tarmacs, the SUV will lower itself at high speeds in order to improve its aerodynamic design. This both increases fuel economy and stability of the vehicle.

There are a number of other unusual aerodynamic features, unusual for Land Rover anyway, that have made its mark on the Velar. My two favorites are the pop out door handles and a dynamic rear spoiler. Both of these items are traditionally reserved for high-end sports cars, but they are extra special when seen on an everyday luxury SUV. The door handles remain hidden within the body in order to maintain a sleek appearance (and improved aerodynamics) when the car is parked or in motion. But as you approach the car with your key in your pocket, the door handles magically pop out to greet you.

Once inside you are then greeted by the Range Rover design team with an all new interior. Three custom configurable screens on the dash and center console control near every aspect of the vehicle. Preferences and settings are controlled by either touching the screen or using the steering wheel controls – these controls have been enhanced over the Velar’s older siblings. The Range Rover team replaced the buttons on the steering wheel with a pressure sensitive light up pad, which allows you tap or swipe. As an example, turning up the music is more intuitive because you simply swipe your thumb in a circular motion left or right to change the volume. The only traditional controls on the vehicle are your window buttons, mirror buttons, turn signals, and a small volume knob. Even the gear selector is extra special, with a rotary dial to change from park to reverse to drive.

As you would expect from a Range Rover, the seats were dressed in ultra-soft leather and are available with cooling, heating, and massaging elements interested into them.

The Velar is priced slightly below the Range Rover Sport. Not because it is any less of a vehicle – the Velar is actually a better on-road vehicle than the Sport in my opinion. Land Rover was able to save you a few pennies because the Velar doesn’t need the advanced off-road capabilities of its older brother. It doesn’t need locking differentials and a low-speed transfer case for example.

So unless you typically have an African giraffes crossing the road on your way to work, my pick for the best everyday Range Rover is the Velar.

Visit your local Land Rover dealer or click here for more information.

Ultra Luxury meets Super Car Performance with the Mercedes S63 AMG Cabriolet

Life doesn’t get much better than cruising around in an S-Class… or does it? Well it does because the S63 AMG Cabriolet makes the ultimate daily driver, and here is why:

Mercedes has breathed new life into there flagship sedan by reducing the number of doors, increasing the horsepower, and giving it a ragtop. The S63 AMG is still every bit as comfortable (for the driver) as an S-Class sedan, but now the vehicle excites the driver. All of your senses begin to tingle as you lower the top and smash the gas pedal. Your head begins to stick like glue to the headrest as all 603 horses shift there brute power though a 9-speed automatic gearbox. Then when you least expect it, a curve in the road approaches you vehicle. As you begin to take it, the S63 AMG Cabriolet’s adjustable air suspension tightens in order to reduce body roll on your 4,800 pound rolling lazy boy sofa.

The Mercedes S63 AMG is work of art inside and out. The interior of my test vehicle was dressed in Napa leather, wood, aluminum, crystal. Every surface was designed to caress your body in luxury. It is a vehicle that makes you want to sit inside it all day. On a beautiful day, you will take the long way home because of the sheer pleasure of driving the S63 AMG. And to make sure you are refreshed when you get to your destination, the S63 AMG has massaging seats. Don’t be fooled by imitators, Mercedes’ massaging seats simulate a masseuse working on your back versus a vibrator going up and down your spine like on other cars.

Unlike standard issue S-Class sedans which cater equally to both the driver and rear passengers, the S-Class Cabriolet and Coupe are focused 80% on the driver and 20% on the backseat passengers. Rightfully so since most people buying an S63 AMG will be driving themselves, but it is odd to say that the backseat of an S-Class car is uncomfortable – which the backseat of the S63 AMG is downright unbearable unless you are a small child.

With all this luxury, technology and performance, it is hard to compete with the Mercedes S63 AMG in super luxury convertible segment. The only thing that comes close is the Bentley Continental GT. The Bentley is more posh, but the Mercedes S63 AMG wins in my book because it has more heart and soul.

Visit your local dealer for more information on the 2018 Mercedes S63 AMG Cabriolet or click here.

The Limited Edition Jaguar F-Type 400 Sport

Whether you are driving Jaguar’s large XJ sedan or their nimble F-Type roadster, there is no mistaking that you are driving something special. The F-Type is Jaguar’s modern day heart and soul. Its performance roots trace back to the D-Type (yes, I know that their is a C-Type), to a time when Jaguar was the king of sports car Jungle. It wasn’t just a LeMans race winning champion. The coolest of cool, such as Steve McQueen, drove Jaguar D-Types on their every day commutes.

The leader of the F-Types is the SVR with a 575 horsepower motor and all-wheel drive, but the 400 Sport takes you closer to Jaguar’s roots. It is limited edition variant that delivers 400 horsepower to the rear wheels and offer a top speed of over 170mph. The highly tuned 3.0L supercharged V6 engine produces 20 more horsepower than the standard 3.0L F-Type. The extra power paired with an intoxicating exhaust note make you want to smash the gas pedal every chance you get.

It is easy to get you carried away at high speeds in this car. Luckily Jaguar has done a suburb job with the brakes, delivering strong stopping power at a moments noticed. Even though cross-drilled or slotted steal rotors are not needed for the car, I would have loved to seen Jaguar utilize this technology in order to keep the brakes cooler should you decide to track this 3,514 pound car.

Increased performance isn’t the only thing unique about 400 Sport. There are little details scatter throughout the interior and exterior. For starters, you will notice unique badging on the from spoiler, side skirts, and brake calipers. The 400 Sport also only comes in three exclusive colors.

The interior boasts a unique finish that includes thick yellow stitching throughout the vehicle. The seats are just a comfortable on long trips as the regular F-Type seats, but the feel extra special because of the 400 Sport embroidered headrests. There is no questioning that this sports car feels more like grand tourer due to the ride comfort and luxurious interior, but the feeling you get behind the wheel is all sport.

The Jaguar F-Type keeps you grinning from ear to ear like a child a Baskin Robins. Jaguar doesn’t give you 31 flavors of the F-Type, but if the 400 Sport doesn’t take your fancy, you get to choose from 20 topping. The trim levels include a multitude of engine sizes, all-wheel vs rear wheel drive configurations, manual vs automatic transmissions, and coupe vs roadster. Editors note: The coupe is a sexier car, but the roadster wicked fun.

Visit your local Jaguar dealership for more information on the latest F-Type, or click here to get all of the specs.

I am loving this RED hot Mustang

Few colors are more passionate than, and few cars are more iconic than the Ford Mustang. While the vehicle has evolved over the years from boxy to round, and then back to a retro look across 6 generations, one thing has remained the same – the Ford Mustang creates an emotion connection to everyone who experiences it. You will be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t reminisce about driving on the open road with their friends, or burning rubber… after all it is a Pony car.

The latest incarnation is the 2018 Mustang, with engines ranging from a 310hp 2.3L turbo-charger 4-Cylinder to a 526hp 5.2L V8. But no matter which engine you choose, you get the distinct feeling of driving a modern Mustang. I specify “modern” because the current generation finally offers independent suspension across all models versus a straight axel (like on previous generations). This means you get a smoother ride and better handling. The new Mustang is not just for the drag strip, it can keep with the best of them on autocross and road courses.

In addition to enhanced drivetrain and suspension components, the modern Mustang offers an aggressive fighter jet style interior with toggle switches and the label “ground speed” on the speedometer. Peering over the dash, you still get a long deck lid and, which gives you a traditional muscle car feel.

The particular model I tested was a convertible, which was great because the Mustang can give you a sports car feeling, but it is also comfortable enough to relax in and simply cruise. The top goes up and down very quickly for a convertible – this is important because it allows you to soak up the sun or take shelter at a moments notice. With the top up, the cabin is surprisingly quite, but not as quite as a fixed roof Mustang. I found myself lowering the top as often as possible in order to enjoy the siren experience of the wind blowing through my hair.

There is just something magic about driving a red Mustang, especially when it is a convertible. It can turn a bad into a great a day with the press of a gas pedal and an engine roar, or by pushing the drop top button and basking in the sub. So if you are tired of boring old sedans and need/want an economically priced four-seater, than take a look at the 2018 Ford Mustang.

Visit your local Ford dealer for more info on the Mustang or click here.

The 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport Ticks All Of The Boxes

When browsing a corporate parking garage, it is easy to get lost in the sea of executive and middle management cars. Everyone tends to drive BMWs and Audi’s that cost north of $50,000, but have half of the features of this week’s test vehicle. And arguably, the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport looks better too. I am a big fan of the brand’s new design language, which appears to have a little German and Japanese influence in it. Yet, this crossover utility vehicle was assembled in the USA and is technically more American than the Ford Edge or a Chevrolet Equinox.

So there are three reasons why I think the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport truly ticks all of the boxes for an economical mid-sized CUV/SUV:

1. Hyundai paid close attention to detail when designing and building this car. It is a great value, but it is not cheaply made. They looked at vehicles with premium options such as heated and cooled leather seats, reclining rear seats, 360 degree cameras, LED headlights, a hands-free rear hatch, and a panoramic moonroof… and then Hyundai made all of those features standard on the Ultimate trim level. There are also smaller details, such as aluminum door sills and dual automatic climate controls. For the audiophile, you get a surround sound Infinity audio system. Oh!I forgot to mention that the Ultimate trim level on the Santa Fe Sport is price at only $35,650… with all of these features standard.

2. Every Hyundai comes with “America’s Best Warranty.” That is a 5-year/60,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty and a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty. That is amazing considering that cars from 15 years ago use to have some sort of major mechanical failure before they reach 100,000 miles.

3. You often times have to make a choice between fuel efficiency and power, but the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport gives you a nice blend of both. You get a 2.0L 4-cylinder motor that produces a respectable 240 horsepower, but the vehicle still gets 27 miles per gallon while carrying a family of five to Disney World.

Contact your local dealer for more information on the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, or click here.

It doesn’t get any better than the Mercedes-Maybach S650

Since the 1970’s, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class (Special Class) has been considered the gold standard in the full-size luxury car segment. Manufactures such as BMW and Audi regularly compare their finest vehicles with the S-Class because it is a benchmark vehicle in terms of engineering, technology and luxury. This segment is where advanced comfort and safety technologies are often times introduced to the public, such as massaging seats, lane keep assist, and pretension seatbelts.

But what do you if you want a luxury car that is better than “the best?” What if money is no object? Celebrities and flashy elites usually turn to a Rolls Royce, and more modest gentlemen will often times admire a Bentley…. but they are forgetting a brand that dates back to 1909, Maybach. The brand was once a stand alone marque, but Mercedes has resurrected the name for their ultra-luxury flagship sedan.

This sedan may look like an ordinary Mercedes on the outside, but it is extra ordinary inside. The cabin is handcrafted from top to bottom in nappa leather and features quilted diamond pattern stitching on select surfaces to add an extra touch of detail. All of the elements of this car screen quality.

Mercedes calls this a “trim level” but it is not… It’s like going from First Class on an American Airlines flight to flying privately on a Gulfstream Jet. Both are nice, but once you starting flying private, it is hard to go back.

In addition to Maybach styling and the special materials used, you will also noticed an enhanced ride. It is even more supple than a regular S-Class. This is because the S650 Maybach features a unique “Magic Body Control” system that scans the road ahead so the suspension can proactively counteract bumps and dips in the road. The system also has a very impressive “Curve” mode which will counteract G-Forces by leaning the car inwards like a motorcycle driver when making quick sharp turns. I tested this feature numerous times, and I still can’t get over how well it works!

What also works surprisingly well on this car are the brakes. The Mercedes-Maybach S650 weighs nearly 5,300 pounds, but it able to stop with sports-car like precision. This is a very important quality to have, because: One, the faster you can stop the safer you are. And two, this Mercedes likes to fly when you hit the gas pedal. Under the hood is a 6.0L Bi-Turbo V12 that pumps out 621 horsepower and over 700 pounds of torque – that is super car status – so you are going to need all that stopping power.

Hopefully if you have the means to afford such a beautiful machine, you will also have a chauffeur on hand, because the backseats are even more opulent than the front. From the back you get to enjoy reclining heated and cooled seats with built in massagers. Additionally you can sit back and put your feet up and take a nap because you got an extra 6-inches of legroom and a motorized footrest. If staying awake is more your style you can look up at the stars at night through the rear moonroof or entertain yourself with the rear video displays.

With a vehicle that is more understated than a Bentley and fancier inside than a Rolls Royce, it is hard not to want the Mercedes-Maybach S650 as your daily driver. The great thing is that it is also a relative bargain, my test vehicle was listed at $207,000 with options. Where as the Bentley Flying Spur starts at $189,000 and the Rolls Royce Ghost starts a $311,000.

Contact your local Mercedes-Benz dealer or click here for more information on the 2018 Mercedes-Maybach S650.

Droid not included… the 2018 Nissan Rogue with ProPilot Assist.

In a galaxy not so far away, the Nissan Rogue is helping drivers navigate life’s daily battles with the dark side. This includes crazy drivers switching lanes without notice, crazy rush hour drivers slamming on their brakes, and distracting kids in the backseat wanting your attention.

While this X-Wing Fighter doesn’t have BB-8 as your wingman, it does have Nissan’s new ProPilot Assist. The system provides assisted steering, braking and accelerating while at cruising speeds. Beware, you can’t take yours eyes off of the road. If you do get distracted though, this CUV will keep you in your lane and brake autonomously should the driver of the car in front of you make an emergency stop. That could mean the different between life or death in some situations.

I have seen this technology on a number of other vehicles – The $100k Mercedes-Benz S-Class for example – but what is amazing is that you can pickup one of these family friendly CUVs for less than $35,000.

This price tag gives you a Nissan Rogue SL Platnium with heated leather seats and a heated leather steering wheel, a 9-speaker Bose sound system, a 360 degree camera system for parking. It also comes with a fuel efficient 4-cylinder engine that gets 33mpg on the highway and a modern all-wheel-drive system to handle slippery surfaces…. the only thing you don’t get is a cute little Droid named BB-8 to help guide you on life’s adventures.

Visit your local Nissan dealer to learn more about ProPilot Assist on the 2018 Nissan Rouge or click here.

It’s hard not to fall in love with the TTRS!

We met on a winters day, with a cool breeze coming off of the ocean and the roar of a 5-cylinder Audi engine in the background. It may sound like a love story, and that is because it is.

The Audi TT was always a good car. Small, nimble, and German traditionally made its defining characteristics. But the TTRS is a whole new beast! It is like Audi’s Quattro Motorsport team has injected a super human serum into the gas tank.

The TTRS is bold, louder, and quicker than ever before. Behind the grill is a 20-valve dual overhead cam 2.5L 5-cylinder turbo-charged engine that produces 400 horsepower and 350 pounds of torque. That may not seem like an insane amount, but for this tiny car, but the TTRS weighs only 3,300 pounds and it has got a dual-clutch gearbox. That allows it to sling shot from 0 to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds. In comparison, the current generation Porsche 911 S with a PDK transmission goes 0 to 60 in 3.9 seconds. So the 911 is slower and it costs $40,000 more to buy.

I will admit, the TTRS does feel a little claustrophobic when you first get in it, but you quickly get use to it and eventually start to appreciate it. The small stature of the TTRS when combined with standard adjustable magnetic suspension and Quattro all-Wheel-drive make the vehicle feel like a go-kart. It brings pure joy to the driver and leaves you grinning from ear to ear as you power slide through a corner.

On long boring stretches of highway, the driver is still fully entertained. Front and center is a large virtual cockpit that displays all of your key instruments, as well as, your navigation, audio, and backup camera. This means you can just casually glance down for everything. Without a center screen, the passengers’ viewpoint is pretty bare. This can be great for them if they want to enjoy the scenery, but troublesome for the driver if the passenger is the one imputing navigation information due to the only screen being on the driver’s side. On the plus side, the driver the only who gets to control the music!

The seats in the TTRS felt very special. In additional to the futuristic and sporty shape, thick red stitching and dressed them for a unique look. The design is very Super Car / GT Car like. The backseat felt cramped for an average size adult, but it is way more usable than a 911.

With a starting price of $64,900, the Audi TTRS seems like the deal of the century! It doesn’t have the racing pedigree of the Porsche 911, Corvette (Grand Sport), or Jaguar F-Type, but on paper, it is faster than all of them and cheaper… so what is not to love?

Visit your local Audi dealer or click here to learn more about the 2018 Audi TTRS.

P.S. Remember to get it like it’s hot, because the first Audi TTRS was limited production.

The Chrysler Pacifica is a win for families

I don’t have any kids (yet), so a 31 year old male driving a mini-van isn’t attractive. But looking into the future, I understand why Moms and Dads have fallen in love with the vehicles.

Mini vans are the ultimate vehicle for parents, even more so than an SUV, because it is fuel efficient and versatile. The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid gets 84 MPGe and offers 33 miles of pure electric driving. That means if your daily commute is just around town, you could theoretically just use electricity day to day and reserve filling up at the pump for family road trips.

Speaking of family road trips, this versatile family hauler keeps everyone comfortable and entertained. With stow and go seating, you can seat up to 7 people, or you can fold the middle row into the floor and provide extra legroom for three kids and the dog. Or if you need an extra large luggage complement, keep the middle row up and fold down the third row. Either way, everyone can enjoy a movie during the day with multiple video screens and the stars at night with an extra large panoramic moonroof.

The beauty of mini vans is that they can conform to the needs of your growing family: from multiple young kids who need a safe vehicle to teenagers who need to get to soccer practice. Plus when your kids do start driving, they can’t get into too much trouble with a mini van.

Visit your local Chrysler dealer for more information on the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid.

The BMW i8 Is A Marvel Of Engineering & Design

The term “exotic” isn’t used lightly in the automotive world. But that is the best way to describe the BMW i8. When it first came out in 2014, it appeared to be a car sent from the future, and it still does today. Its unique design, complete with a flying buttress, and scissor door makes your jaw drop every time your approach the car. By the way if you don’t know what a flying buttress does, it is a design element on the rear of the car that allows for air flow moving through the body to create downforce at high speeds – essentially allowing you keep the car on the ground without the need for a rear wing or spoiler.

A combination of both gasoline and electric motors propels the BMW i8 from a dead stop to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. That is not supercar status, but it is a respectable time for a sports car – It is on par with a Porsche 911. But thanks to its hybrid drivetrain you can get 76 MPGe if you start out with a full tank of gas + a full charge. The i8 allows to drive the vehicle as an electric vehicle, traditional gasoline vehicle or a combination of both. The combination delivers optimal performance, while the all electric mode offers the best energy economy. I found driving the car in all electric mode to be very handy for around town. The car is nearly as quite as a Rolls Royce in electric mode and it cost virtually nothing to operate.

The fun of driving an exotic like the BMW i8 is when you are at speed. On a private road, I got to the car through its paces. And I have to say, it sticks to the road quite well. The car felt firmly planted and well balanced when going through a corner. BMW has always been known for producing great handling cars, but since the i8 is a hybrid with heavy batteries, I was expecting to feel significant weight transfer. I didn’t because BMW used advanced building materials such as carbon fiber and aluminum to keep the weight down to under 3500 pounds. That makes this car almost 250 pounds lighter than the Audi R8.

The interior of the BMW i8 also has a modern design. Everything from the seat shape to the dash makes you feel as if you are living in the future. You can tell very easily that BMW put a lot of thought into this vehicle. The only challenge is getting into the BMW i8. The extremely wide door sill means that you have twist and turn to get in and out of the car. Guys will need to work on their arm muscles in order to lift yourself out and girls will have to hold their skirts so they don’t flash the mob of people that take notice in your car.

With a starting price of $143,000, you are paying for the future. The BMW i8 doesn’t stack up well to the competition on paper. You can get a lot faster cars for a lot less money, but you are not paying for performance with this car – you are paying for engineering. It is a car that is driving the automotive industry forward with its design, drivetrain, and carbon fiber construction.

Visit your local BMW dealer for more information on the i8 or click here.