Foliage, Fantastic Roads and Food Await in Western Mass.

12 Oct

Fall foliage is reaching its peak throughout the majority New England this week. Sure, its a beautiful sight to see, but with the cornucopia of colors comes countless car fulls of leaf peepers searching out the best locations to see the changing of the seasons. However, this can lead to frustration in the form of slow moving drivers more concerned with looking at the leaves than the speed limit. What if you just want to take a nice long drive, all the while enjoying the excitement of driving spiritedly and enjoy the slight and sounds of autumn?

If this sounds like your cup of tea take a drive to Western Mass. for the day, or make it into a short vacation by staying the night. Although the Western part of the Bay State is well-known for producing breathtaking scenery this time of year, you don’t have to follow the masses like a lemming. Below you will find a list of restaurants and yes, even some touristy locates to visit during your stay. Many of these locations are in and around the small town of Amherst, home to the flagship university in the state system, UMass Amherst. But first you have to rear your destination, and here’s how to do it.

Heading to Amherst?

If you are traveling from the Northeastern part of Mass., Southern New Hampshire or even Maine and want to head into downtown Amherst before setting out for other surrounding areas be sure to come into town the right way. If you’re taking major roads and highways you will travel along Route 2 and Route 202 after exiting I-495 South. Route 202 will treat you to the ups and downs of large hills, and if you’re driving a manual transmission vehicle this is an excellent place to test the power and torque of your car. The speed limit in this area varies between 35-55 miles per hour so may sure you don’t exceed it, especially on the downhills.

As you move closer to Amherst you will be forced with a decision and two different routes into town. Pay attention. This is  important if you use a GPS to aid in your travels. From my experience (using a Garmin-brand unit) you will reach a point where the GPS instruct you to take a left onto a steep grade called Prescott Road. Make sure you take this route. After all, you want to have your foliage and motor themed cake and eat it too. Right? And you can’t do that if you continue straight.

The rolling, more elongated hills of the highway are nice, but of all the places on Route 202 where you can see how your vehicle handles hills, this is it. Throw it into second gear and head up towards the tiny downtown of Shutesbury, Mass. The elevation will continue to increase for approximately 1.5 miles until it levels off. As you reach the crest of the hill let off the accelerator. In this area lead footed drivers need not apply as your travels will take you directly by the Shutesbury police department and more populated areas with residential homes.

As you make your way out of town the road will begin to drop and you will enter the most visually stimulating and trilling part of the drive into Amherst, fondly known by some as the “Shutesbury Shute.” The relatively short, but perfectly sublime section consists of a series of beautiful rolling esses, allowing you to test out the agility and handling of your car. Directly next to the “shute” is a picturesque stream that runs parallel to the road. After your adrenaline rush the road will gradually become flatter, unless of course you turn around and drive back uphill, looking for one more rush… I stand guilty as charged.

Rolling Esses define the portion of Shutesbury Road known as “The Shutesbury Shute.”

The final few miles into downtown are less exciting as back roads and lush forest make way for residential neighborhoods, the UMass Amherst campus and finally downtown Amherst. With Amherst being a college town home to over 25,000 students there’s no shortage of delicious and cheap eats. Here’s some of them.

  • Bueno Y Sano – Massive, freshly-made burritos, quesadillas, tacos and salads. They have tons of choices of topping and options for anyone looking for some of the best Mexican food in the entire area.
  • Antonio’s Pizza – Think you’ve seen crazy pizza toppings? Think again. Antonio’s has dozens of combinations they serve by the slice. It doesn’t cost much and the slices are very large.
  • The Hanger – This franchise started out in Amherst. If you’re in the mood for bar food; wings, nachos and tons of beer then go here. Just like the other establishments listed, the portion are huge and you and a friend can leave stuffed on bone-in or boneless wings and beer for around $20.
  • White Hut - This family-owned business has been dishing out tasty burgers, hot dogs and french fries at their main location in Springfield for 72 years. The one-year-old Amherst location does just the same.
  • Joe’s Cafe – This tiny hole in the wall Italian restaurant is not in Amherst. It’s in nearby Northampton and definitely worth the 10 mile drive. Not only is the food superb and atmosphere cozy and inviting, but the prices are so low you might think they messed up the bill. (Opens at 4 p.m.)

If you get to Amherst, eat lunch and have the rest of the day to explore check out these neighboring towns and attractions. Also, if your staying for more then one day, you might want to save some of these for the second day.

View from the top of Mt. Sugarloaf with fall foliage and the Connecticut River below. Photo courtesy PVlocalfirst.com

  • Mt. Sugarloaf - The ideal location to look upon the entire Pioneer Valley and see the foliage from an elevated location. However, this is a prime tourist location this time of year, so expect a good amount of people.
  • Yankee Candle Company – Right up the road from Mt. Sugarloaf this is one of the most visited tourist locations in the state, and with good reason. It offers everything from well…candles of every shape, size and scent to food and gifts of all types.
  • Downtown Northampton - Northampton offers a great downtown with a host of unique stores, plenty of restaurants and lots of places to see. The Smith College Museum of Art and Smith Botanical Gardens are two places worth checking out.
  • Mt. Toby State Forest – If you want to physically BE in woods amongst the foliage, and have a vehicle capable of handling off-roading then Mt. Toby is a must. Trails are accessible from multiple locations, with trails ranging from easy for stock, non-modified vehicles and even some more difficult and challenging ones that will required such things as bigger tires and suspension lift.

Off-Roading in Mt. Toby State Forest can be a perfect way to see foliage up close, all the while testing the limits of your off-road vehicle.

Drive Review: Ferrari F430 vs. Audi R8

19 Sep

Scuderia Ferrari. No other name in the world of motorsport evokes the same level of pedigree, prestige and exclusivity as cars emblazoned with the famous Ferrari prancing horse. With 15 drivers’ championships and 16 constructors (manufacturers) championships in Formula 1 alone their reputation for winning is unsurpassed. So, when I had the opportunity to pilot on of their modern sports cars I didn’t hesitate.

Now, before I go on a longer rant about Ferrari you need to realize that as a journalist I need to be fair in my evaluation and assessment of both vehicles featured in this comparison. You also should know that Ferrari isn’t the only manufacturer with a laundry list of top-tier accomplishments at some of the world’s best automotive competitions.

Audi was founded in Germany by August Horch in 1909, a full 20 years before Enzo Ferrari established his own company in Maranello, Italy. And, although the Ferrari nameplate is synonymous with victory, it has been the company with the four rings that has dominated the world of endurance racing. Audi has claimed the overall title at the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans in 11 of the 13 races at the French track since 2000.

So, has all of the experiences these manufacturers have amassed on the racetrack really translated into their road cars. The answer is a resounding one, YES.

Both the F430 and R8 were driven on two different occasions at the Imagine Lifestyles autocross track at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. This allowed me to fairly test each car on an identical track.

The particular R8 I drove in June was an earlier production version that was equipped with Audi’s 4.2-liter V-8 engine, as opposed to the optional 5.2-liter V-10 found in the limited-production R8 GT. Because of this I had a total of 430 horsepower available at my disposal, compared to 525 with the larger V-10. Both engines have plenty of torque of tap, but I found these naturally-aspirated, rear mid-engine monsters really have to be revved up high to squeeze all the juice out. At W.O.T. (wide open throttle) the sound of the Audi all-aluminum V8 was wonderful, but it doesn’t match the sheer scream of the Ferrari’s V8, but was certainly satisfying.

The V8 in my R8 was mated with the optional six-speed R-Tronic automatic transmission. And, as I quickly realized the combination of the V8, R-Tronic tranny and Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system was a perfect combination of the tight, twisty corners of the autocross track. This was the first all-wheel drive vehicle I had even driven and I was smitten with just how good Audi’s quattro system really was. Behind the wheel I felt confident as I made my way around the course. The feeling of the all-wheel drive transferring power from one wheel to another depending on the situation presented. The transmission was in fully-automatic mode (not my choice), and while I didn’t get to test out the paddle shifters to maximize the power of the engine it performed well nonetheless. The biggest qualm I had with the R-Tronic was that upon applying full load the transmission took long than expected to kick down to the proper gear before launching the car forward.

The Ferrari was very similar in many ways to the Audi, with the main difference being it was a spyder (convertible). It performed well, but it had recently rained so the track was wet. Because of this I was unable to push the Ferrari as hard as I had with the R8, and thus it affected the test. It featured a high-revving V-8 that was only one-tenth of a liter larger (4.3-liter) than the R8. The F430 had a 53 horsepower and 27 lb-ft on the R8, but the difference was minimal considering the Ferrari was rear-wheel drive and the R8′s all-wheel setup allowed for less wheel spin and greater traction. Although in rain-mode the F1 transmission was much quicker and more razor-sharp than the R8′s R-Tronic box.

When thinking of the final verdict on these two cars it was hard to come up with a solid conclusion, especially because of the major difference it weather that had a large impact on the drive. I enjoyed the all-wheel drive of the R8 and the engine and transmission of the F430. The interior of the R8 was far superior to the F430, which had a ton of tan leather, but lacked the stylistic design of the R8 and felt almost plain. While the engine sound and transmission was better in the Ferrari, when I put all the pieces together I found myself drawn to the Audi. I attribute this to the style and setup of the track and the stark differences in New England weather. If the sky had cooperated and the venue had been large and more spread out with room to stretch the cars legs the outcome very well might have been different. I guess I just have to spend some more time in these wonderful machines.

Imagine Lifestyles Autocross Review

16 Sep

Many dream about driving or owning an exotic car. The aggressive looks, powerful engines and legendary names like Ferrari and Lamborghini are all something car nuts want. But unless you’re friends with the rich kid in the neighborhood or have plenty of disposable income your chance of getting into ones of these machines is slim at best. Unless of course you take part in something such as Imagine Lifestyles autocross event at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

THE COMPANY

Imagine Lifestyles is a luxury rental and charter company based out of multiple major metropolitan locations throughout the United States; including Miami, New York and Chicago. Their website states they offer everything from exotic car and yacht rentals to private jet charter and concierge services. However, for this review we’ll stick to the automotive driving events, or as Imagine Lifestyles calls them “Ultimate Driving Experiences.”

What is Autocross?

For those who are unfamiliar with what autocross is, it consists of a series of cones that are set up in a relatively tight configuration. At autocross competition the goal is to navigate the course in the fastest time without hitting any of the cones. Imagine Lifestyles isn’t exactly like that. Yes, there are still cones and they are set up to form a course, but you’re not racing either the track or anyone else.

The Venue

The Imagine Lifestyles Boston autocross event was held at Gillette Stadium, a place known more for New England Patriots football than automotive events. Ideally the event would be held at a slightly larger open area in the area, such as the United States Army base at Fort Devens in Ayer, Mass., a site for many autocrosses throughout the summer and fall months. However, since Devens is a popular location it was probably easier to rent out one of the large lots surrounding Gillette. I have taken part in Imagine Lifestyles’ autocross events twice, once in June and on Saturday. In both cases the track was set up in lot number 10, directly across from the main entrance from Patriot Place and Gillette Stadium.

The Cars

This is why you come to events like this, so they better be up to par. Thankfully all of the cars Imagine Lifestyle had at both events were what they should be. While walking to the entrance I even noticed a mobile detailing company cleaning one of the cars before it was set to take to the track. That’s a good thing because track time, from the bits of rubber from tires and other factors can do a number on a vehicle. All of the cars were in excellent working order and performed as expected. In addition to maintaining their vehicles they also had a decent lineup of different models and manufacturers to choose from. The event on Saturday only offered Ferraris and Lamborghinis, but among them was a Ferrari 599 GTB, two F430′s (one coupe and one spyder) and a F430 Scuderia. The Lamborghinis consisted of Gallardos, both hard and soft top. The one disappointing things was the fact that the Scuderia sat parked in the corner of the lot. I was hoping to drive it, and later learned that the vehicle was used later in the day when the weather improved. At the event in June there was a larger selection of manufacturers to choose from including an Audi R8, Mercedes SLS AMG in addition to the Ferraris and Lamborghinis.

The Driving Instructors

While you navigate the course you have a driving instructor in the passengers seat. Both instructors I drove with were both knowledgeable and knew what they were doing. Some of the staff claimed that the instructors are “professionals.” This title is somewhat misleading. You won’t find Michael Shumacher, Walter Rohrl or Tony Stewart giving you driving tips. They aren’t so much professional drivers as they as very experienced drivers who have been taking part in autocross and other high performance driving events for years. Professional might be a little stretch, but the instructors are all fully qualified for the job and provide useful information for getting around the track fast, safely and efficiently.

The Staff and Event

All of the individuals working at the Boston event were polite and performed well. There were plenty of “please” “thank you”  and “how was your ride.” The lines were relatively short and moved at a decent pace. On the Imagine Lifestyles website it says to allow adequate time (2-3 hours) from the time you arrive until you leave. The amount of time you wait will depend on what time you sign up for and what car you want to drive (Lamborghinis and Ferraris are popular). I have never waited even an hour and a half for the entire process. Sadly, the amount of time you spend driving the car all boils down to a couple minutes at most. The track isn’t very long and if you drive at a good pace the three laps goes by very quickly. You can purchase an additional three laps ($89), but even six laps doesn’t last long. The event takes place rain or shine, so if it pours (Saturday) then you just have to make the best of it.

The Cost

When you purchase the package on a daily deal website such as GroupOn it says $500 value. It’s not worth that, nor would I recommend anyone pay that to take part in an event such as this. Prices vary. The first event in June cost $159, but that isn’t the only thing you have to pay for. Autocross track insurance is required for anyone who is going to drive. Cost ranges from $49, which gives you $50,000 in coverage with a $5,000 deductible, up to $99 that covers you for the entire cost of the vehicle ($250,000) and only has a $1,000 deductible. If this freaks you out don’t despair. There is really no need to buy anything except the basic $49 insurance. The only thing you can hit are rubber cones, a chain link fence and a few light poles (you would have to have thing go very wrong to hit the latter two.)

The Verdict

If you’re looking to get a special birthday, graduation or other unique gift for the car-crazed person in your life then this would be a good thing to get them. The cost, while not cheap is not going to break the bank either. The Boston location at Gillette Stadium is a good location due to its generally located in the state and isn’t overly far from the North Shore, South Shore, Cape Cod or Metro Boston. The cars are fun to drive and you leave with a satisfied feeling that makes you want to drive more. On a scale of one to 10 I’d give the Imagine Lifestyles autocross event a 7.5/10, with the main downsides being it cost some $$ and it doesn’t last long.

© 2012 GermanAutoNews

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Any unauthorized reprint or use of any material is prohibited. No content information whatsoever may be reproduced or retransmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the express written consent of the creator of GermanAutoNews.com

The First Z: BMW Z1

7 Jun

The BMW Z1: Photo courtesy BMW Group

Unless your an avid follower, enthusiast or historian of BMW chances are you would think the E36/4 Z3, produced between 1996 and 2002 was the first roadster to be built by the Bavarian automaker in the modern era. However that is not the case. Unbenounced to many is the Z3′s predecessor, a futuristic and technologically-forward two-door roadster that paved the way for the successors that have followed, the BMW Z1.

Back in 1985, when BMW conjured up the idea of creating the company’s first two-door sports car in 30 years they wanted to design and build something revolutionary. Much like the Z1′s ancestor the 507, built during the late 1950s, the Z1 was meant to be a pinnacle of automotive design, engineering and forward-thinking. In order the achieve this harmony BMW gathered 60 of its best and brightest and created a think-tank completely separate from the rest of the company called BMW Technik GmbH.

With a strong group of talented individuals at its core it didn’t take long for the masterminds at BMW Technik to form sketches and preliminary designs for what would eventually become the Z1. The BMW to brass signed off on the initial renderings and just 12 months later the first prototype Z1 hit the streets.

The BMW Z1 with its vertical sliding doors down: Photo courtesy BMW Group

As soon as it took to the road BMW knew they were onto something special. The two-seat roadster was far more that just another vehicle designed to capture people’s attention while driving with your significant other at the beach. The Z1, with excellent weight distribution, a front mid-engine setup, low weight and center of gravity made it a driving enthusiasts wet dream. Sure, it wasn’t the most powerful thing to take to the road, but it didn’t need to be. A 2.5-liter inline six-cylinder engine with a peak of 170 horsepower made the Z1 more than capable of holding its own.

At the 1987 Frankfurt Motor Show the Z1 made its world debut with massive amounts of interest and fan-fare from both the automotive press and the public. And how could it not? The Z1 was light years ahead of it time, not only in its design but in it technology.

The most striking and awe-inspiring aspect of the Z1 was undoubtably its vertical sliding doors. If you think Lamborghini thought of a cool way to enter and exit a vehicle, just take a look at these (video below). By pressing the key hole located on the side of the Z1 the doors would retract into the side sills. Not only did this allow for easy access into and out-of the vehicle, but it enabled the driver and their passenger to drive with no doors. Now how cool is that?

The BMW Z1: Photo courtesy BMW Group

The frame of the Z1 was made from a self-supporting monocoque made of individual sheet-steel that was galvanised in an immersion bath to give the structure added rigidity and torsional strength. The floor of the vehicle was comprised of two layers of glass fibre-reinforced epoxy resin with polyurethane foam. This plastic concoction was not only lightweight, weighing in at just 33 pounds, but it was immune to corrosion and produced smooth underbody contours, making the vehicle that much more aerodynamic in the process. And no, not just the floor was made from plastic. Rather, the vast majority of the Z1 was made up of different types of the material. The front and rear sidewalls, the doors and the side sill covers were made from a high-tech thermoplastic with high impact strength. On the complete opposite end of the plastic spectrum was the front and rear bumpers, made from a highly flexible and elastic plastic that could return to it original shape following collisions of up to two and a half miles-per-hour.

While the extensive use of plastics made the Z1 stand out, it wasn’t the only part of the vehicle that made the Z1 one-of-a-kind. The four exterior colors available; Green metallic, Dream Black metallic, Fun Yellow and Top Red was specially designed to adhere to the variations of plastic used on the body.

BMW Z1 Interior: Photo courtesy BMW Group

Despite a hefty sticker price of 83,000 German Marks (approximately $53,000) the demand for the Z1 was immediate and pronounced. When the first production models rolled off the assembly line in 1989 4,000 of the eventual 8,000 Z1 to be produced already had been purchased, causing the vehicle to be sold out until the end of the following year.

Unlike its two successors, no M variant of the Z1 was ever put into production. BMW Motorsport did produce a one-off Z1 M prototype, with a wider sport chassis a more powerful engine, larger wheel arches, a low-slung front end and twin headlights. Two air scoops arched behind the head restraints, and sitting atop either side of the deep rear apron were two pairs of circular rear lights.

Although the production run of the hand-built Z1 was short (1989-1991) the two-door roadster had created a new segment for BMW, and would pave the way for the Z3 and Z4 to follow. It might not be the more widely known BMW ever made, but it is one of the most important.

© 2012 GermanAutoNews

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Any unauthorized reprint or use of any material is prohibited. No content information whatsoever may be reproduced or retransmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the express written consent of the creator of GermanAutoNews.com

Calling All Enthusiasts: 2013 BMW 135is Coupe and Convertible

15 May

2013 BMW 135is Coupe: Photo courtesy BMW Group.

If you’re one of the many who missed out on the one-year, limited production 1M coupe you’re might just be in luck. The 2013 BMW 135is will be making its way stateside later this year and will offer customers a beefed-up, more powerful and performance oriented version of the regular 135i. It’s not the 1M coupe, but it’s the next best thing.

On the exterior the 135is stands out with 18-inch wheels, high-gloss black kidney grill and mirror caps along with special exterior badges and the standard M Sport Package components. Interior highlights include stainless steel pedals, special interior badges and optional black leather sport seats with blue stitching.

All of that eye-catching exterior work is just fine if you’re looking to pick up a date, but that’s not what the BMW “is” line was made for. After all, this is an enthusiast car, made to be driven hard both on the road and race track, and because of this BMW has made sure to provide adequate performance upgrades and modifications.

Under the hood the 135is is powered by the latest version of BMW’s 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine with BMW’s TwinPower Turbo Technology, designated the “N55″ internally. Unlike the previous “N54″ turbocharged unit the 135is gets a single twin-scroll turbocharger, as opposed to the two found in the 1M coupe. Despite a missing hairdryer, horsepower and torque figures have been increase over the 135i leaving the 135is a close second to its Motorsport-derived sibling. The 135is produces 320 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque, an increase of 20 hp and 17 lb-ft respectively and not far behind the 1M’s 335 horsepower and 332 lb-ft. Besides the engine improvements the 135is also features a performance exhaust system and a more robust cooling system with a larger and more powerful radiator fan and an auxiliary radiator.

2013 BMW 135is Convertible: Photo courtesy BMW Group.

Power is transferred to the rear wheels via a standard six-speed manual gearbox or the optional seven-speed double clutch transmission. Helping all 320 horses get to the ground is a new differential with new optimized final drives and an electronic rear brake management system that is used to simulate a differential lock for stronger acceleration in turns and low-traction conditions.

Finishing off the performance goodies is a sport aluminum double-pivot front suspension and a lightweight five-link fully independent rear suspension. Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) that includes Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) will help the driver maintain control of the vehicle, but it does so at a higher threshold than the regular 135i and thus adding to the driving experience offered with the 135is. Of course, if you don’t want to worry about these safety systems interfering with your spirited driving you can turn them off completely.

The 135is coupe and convertible are scheduled to appear in U.S. showrooms beginning this fall with a base MSRP of $44,145 and $48,845 respectively (including $895 destination and handling).

Concepts Abound at 2012 Beijing Auto Show

24 Apr

It’s not surprising the world’s largest automobile market would receive one of the most expansive and encompassing auto shows, and that is exactly what’s taking place at the 2012 Beijing International Auto Show. With the Chinese market growing by leaps and bounds each month German manufacturers Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche all have debuted new vehicles at this year’s show, with a large majority being in the form of concept vehicles.

Audi A6 L e-tron Concept: Photo courtesy Audi North America.

Audi’s has a total of three concepts, the first is the A6 L e-tron, based on their luxurious full-size A6 sedan. The the other is the RS Q3, a high-performance variant of the already-existing Q3 crossover SUV and the last is a Chinese-exclusive Q3 model.

The A6 L e-tron is a plug-in hybrid capable of operating for just over 49 miles exclusively on electric power, while maintaining a consistent speed of 37 mph. That’s not practical for highway use, but with the amount of vehicles on China’s busy roads it’s perfect for stop-and-go traffic and low-speed driving. In addition to the 95 horsepower electric motor the A6 L e-tron has a 2.0-liter TFSI gasoline engine with a maximum of 211 horsepower. Audi’s decision to produce an e-tron on the A6 platform comes as no surprise. The A6 is extremely popular among Audi’s Chinese clientele, and the Chinese have always associated the A6 with success, prestige and power.

Audi RS Q3 Concept: Photo courtesy Audi North America.

On the other end of the spectrum is the RS Q3. This tuned version of the Q3 is powered by a 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder engine with a peak output 360 horsepower, 152 more than the top engine option in the regular Q3. The power plant together with a seven-speed S-Tronic automatic transmission allow the RS Q3 to accelerate from 0-60 mph in 5.2 seconds and hit a top speed of 164.66 mph. Like many performance models, the modifications extend beyond what’s found under the hood. The suspension has been lowered by 25 mm as well as being widened to improve handling. Weight has been reduced with the use of carbon fiber reinforced polymers (CFRP). The front spoiler, door mirror housings and diffuser on the lower rear bumper all employ the use of this lightweight material. As with other RS models like the TT-RS the engine bay of the RS Q3 has a valve cover painted in red with carbon fiber trim pieces adorning various other parts.

Mercedes-Benz Concept Style Coupe: Photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz North America.

Not to be outdone Mercedes-Benz introduced their Concept Style Coupe. The four-door concept has a number of unique design features that could potentially make their way onto future Mercedes vehicles. The front end of the Concept Style Coupe has two distinct powerdomes that are slightly reminiscence of the one on the current BMW M3. Below the hood, the grille is nearly identical to the Concept A-Class that made its world premiere at the 2011 New York International Auto Show. Under the hood is a new 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline engine with 208 horsepower and Mercedes’ 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system. The headlights are aggressive in their design and are illuminated in red when in standby mode. Ultimately the Concept Style Coupe has many features normally found on concept vehicles. The majority of these won’t make their way onto the production model due to government and safety regulations, but they’re are always cool to look at.

Finishing off the list of German concept vehicles is the BMW i8 Spyder. The two-door, drop-top hybrid is being proclaimed by BMW as their vehicle of the future along with the i8 Coupe and smaller four-door i3. At the front of the i8 Spyder is a 131 horsepower electric motor, and at the rear is a 223 horsepower turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine. Together the unit is estimated to achieve 70-80 mpg.

BMW i8 Spyder: Photo courtesy BMW Group.

2013 G63 AMG: The G-Class With Some Serious Grunt

20 Apr

2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG: Photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz North America.

Seven days after unveiling the six-figure-expensive 2013 G550 Mercedes has officially gone off the deep end with the introduction of the extremely costly, exclusive and powerful G63 AMG, the high-performance variant of the G-class. With its over-the-top performance and luxury, combined with its serious off-road capabilities the G63 AMG is like nothing else on the road. The G-class has always been in a league of its own, ever since it was first released in 1979. However, unlike the new G550 which varies ever-so-slightly from the previous generation the new G63 AMG has received significant exterior design changes making it all the more bad-ass.

Along with the SL65 AMG, which made its world premiere on April 4 at the 2012 New York International Auto Show the G63 features a signature high-gloss black “twin-blade” grille, making it much sharper and more aggressive looking than the standard G550 grille with four horizontal slats. Below the grille are large, masculine-shaped air inlets integrated into the bumper.  With its brutish appearance the front end looks leaps and bounds better than the 2011 G55 AMG, fulfilling the image conjured up when thinking of Mercedes’ box on wheels, and reinforcing the G-class’ reputation as the go-anywhere, do-anything vehicles in the manufacturer’s lineup. Rounding off the exterior changes are 9.5 x 20 five-spoke wheels finished in titanium gray, and a huge brake system consisting of six-piston fixed-calipers in front and single-calipers in the rear.

2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG with redesigned front grille and bumper: Photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz North America.

Under the hood the new engine backs up the exterior styling with a V-8 growl. Unlike the 2011 G55 AMG that was a powered by a 5.4-liter supercharged V-8 engine capable of producing a peak of 500 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, the engineers at Mercedes-AMG have left supercharging on the shelf this time in favor of turbocharging. The new form of forced injection along with a slightly larger 5.5-liter V-8 has boosted the maximum output to 544 horsepower and 560 lb-ft. Besides the added output figures the new power plant allows the G63 to cover the 0-60 sprint in 5.3 seconds, one-tenth quicker than the G55.

544 horsepower, 5.5-liter BiTurbo V-8 in the 2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG: Photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz North America.

Mercedes has claimed an overall efficiency improvement of up to 13 percent. That’s not spectacular, but when you can afford to spend well over six figures for an uber powerful SUV gas prices shouldn’t be a concern. The jump in fuel economy can be attributed to newly introduced spray-controlled gasoline direct injection and the same “Eco” stop/start function found on the majority of AMG’s gas-thirsty models.

The engine isn’t the only part of the drivetrain that has been updated. Gone is an outdated five-speed automatic and in its place is the AMG SPEEDSHIFT seven-speed automatic transmission with three driving modes; Controlled Efficiency (C), Sport (S) and Manual (M). The unit has been additionally beefed up with a new torque converter with centrifugal pendulum, friction-reducing bearing and transmission oil thermal management, just in case you want to take this baby off-road.

Designo leather interior in the 2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG: Photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz North America.

As with the new G550 the interior offers occupants a new instrument cluster and infotainment system. Unique to the G63 are AMG door sills illuminated in white and shift level with AMG logo. The seats are covered with designo leather upholstery with fluted leather door paneling, and customers have the option of a variety of trims including carbon fiber, champagne white lacquer or light brown satin poplar.

The G63 AMG certainly isn’t a vehicle for everyone. If you don’t like showing off to the Jones’ across the street or refuse to make frequent visits to the gas station then this four-wheeled, all-wheel-drive monster might not be the right cup of tea. However, if the G63 AMG suits your fancy then just be prepared to pay. As with the G550, no official pricing has been announced, but based on the 2011 G55 AMG expect for the G63 AMG to have a base MSRP of at least $125,000 when it goes on sale in August.

2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG: Photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz North America.

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