• Lexus reveals LF-LC GT Vision Gran Turismo

    February 1, 2015

    The latest in the ever-expanding lineup of Vision Gran Turismo cars, developed for the hugely popular Sony Playstation racing simulator, is the Lexus LF-LC GT.

    Based on the Lexus LF-LC Concept, the sleek new virtual creation is what Lexus designers envision as a race version of what might be headed into production as a flagship sports coupe. It adopts the chrome-on-white livery seen on the RC F GT3 when Lexus announced a new worldwide racing program at the Detroit Auto Show.

    Lexus’s controversial spindle grille and fishhook daytime running lights fare better in this design, thanks to an aggressive front splitter, fascia, and side skirts. Against the more subdued styling of a street car, the grille and DRLs tend to jump out, but here the greater number of intersecting angles created by the aero kit actually help hide their in-your-face prominence.

    A massive rear wing, diffuser and flares are fitted to the rear, and and gray-finished racing wheels also serve the shape better than the blingy chrome rims of the concept. The panoramic roof and glass-heavy rear greenhouse of the concept are replaced by a large carbon-fiber panel, too. The LF-LC GT will be available for download this spring. There’s no work on whether a physical version will accompany it, but other automakers have been known to render their digital creations IRL.

    The Vision Gran Turismo project asks automakers to submit their ultimate expressions of racing machines for the Gran Turismo 6 video game. Thus far, automakers including Mercedes-Benz, BMW, VW, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Aston Martin, Toyota, Infiniti, Chevrolet, Mazda and Alpine have contributed.

  • Nissan creates track-equipped Juke NISMO RS

    February 1, 2015

    Just in time for the blizzards that have swept up much of the nation, Nissan has created a Juke NISMO RS fitted with snowtracks.

    Looking like an Imperial attack vehicle for the ice planet Hoth, the whimsically named Juke NISMO RSnow was revealed on Nissan’s Twitter account with little fanfare. Images of the bizarre blizzard assault vehicle soon spread quickly across social media with the hashtags #Snowmageddon2015 and #MyJanuaryIn5Words while official Nissan communications channels stayed mum.

    From what we do know, the RSnow is based on a production Nissan Juke NISMO RS. According to a Nissan spokesman, no modifications were made to the turbocharged 211hp (with CVT, 215 with 6-speed manual) engine, but changes had to be made to the front and rear fascias to accommodate the treads and the torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system reprogrammed. The tracks, built by American Track Truck and is called the Dominator Track System, limit the RSnow’s top speed to about 62 mph.

    Alas, it is a one-off creation. Nissan says that the RSnow was created as support vehicle an ice-driving event in Lapland, Finland. Further details will follow, but for now, all there is are some images and a few short video clips.

  • Dodge reveals Mitsubishi-based 2015 Attitude in Mexico

    February 1, 2015
    Dodge’s Mexican division has discreetly launched a new subcompact sedan called Attitude.
    Aimed directly at the Toyota Yaris and the Ford Fiesta, the Attitude is little more than a re-badged Mitsubishi Mirage G4. The front end of the Attitude stands out from the Mirage thanks to a hexagonal rendition of Dodge’s trademarked cross-hair radiator grille but the two cars are all but identical from the A-pillar to the rear bumper.

    The story is the same on the inside, where the cockpit is carried over from the Mirage essentially unchanged save for a Dodge emblem prominently placed on the three-spoke steering wheel. Attitude buyers can choose from two trim levels called SE and SXT, respectively.

    The Attitude is exclusively offered with a 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine that makes 79 horsepower and 78 lb-ft. of torque. A five-speed manual gearbox comes standard and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) is available at an extra cost on both trims. Dodge’s newest sedan returns 47 mpg in the city and over 63 mpg on the highway in its most efficient configuration.

    The 2015 Dodge Attitude is on sale now across Mexico with a base price of about 158,000 pesos, a sum that converts to roughly $10,500. Dodge is not planning on selling the Attitude in the United States.

  • Rolls-Royce introduces 2015 Phantom Drophead Coupe Nighthawk

    February 1, 2015
    Rolls Royce has introduced a limited-edition Phantom Drophead Coupe called Nighthawk. The model was developed exclusively for the North American market.
    Designed by Rolls’ bespoke division, the Nighthawk wears a sinister appearance characterized by a Diamond Black Metallic paint job with a Matt Diamond Black finish on the hood. The convertible is equipped with adaptive LED headlights and a windshield made from the same radar-absorbing material that is used on fighter jets.

    The interior has been upgraded with carbon fiber trim on the door panels, the dashboard, the three-spoke steering wheel, the instrument cluster and the center console. Black leather upholstery matches the Drophead Coupe’s paint job while red contrast stitching and inserts add a touch of color to the cockpit. The opulence continues under the trunk lid, where the entire cargo compartment is upholstered in soft leather.

    Rolls-Royce has not made any mechanical modifications, meaning the Nighthawk is powered by a stock Drophead Coupe-sourced 6.75-liter V12 engine that makes 453 horsepower and 531 lb-ft. of torque. Linked to an eight-speed automatic transmission that spins the rear wheels, the 12-cylinder sends the Drophead Coupe from zero to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 150 mph.

    Just nine examples of the Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe Nighthawk will be built and a handful have already been sold. The limited-edition convertible costs $569,000, over $100,000 more than a standard 2015 Drophead Coupe.

  • First Drive: 2015 Volkswagen Golf R [Review]

    February 1, 2015

    Volkswagen’s high-performance Golf variants have been staples of the enthusiast community since the debut of the original GTI 40 years ago. Since the MkIV Golf R32 debuted in the United States in 2004, Volkswagen has brought us each successive generation of its R-branded halo model to varying acclaim. The original R32 was a darling, praised for its torquey VR6 and 4MOTION all-wheel drive. The second-generation R32 was heavier and showcased Volkswagen’s DSG dual-clutch gearbox exclusively, which alienated a lot of core enthusiasts.

    VW’s third iteration bucked the formula. The VR6, long known as VW’s core performance engine, was out. The R32 became simply the Golf R. Powered by a two-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder, the R was lighter, faster, more powerful and offered exclusively with a six-speed manual.

    The revised formula was almost universally praised, and Volkswagen stuck to the plot when it came time to develop the fourth generation of its performance flagship.

    What’s new
    Building on the success of the MkVI, Volkswagen’s latest Golf R is its most capable. The four-cylinder, two-liter, turbocharged engine is shared with Audi’s S3. At 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, it’s noticeably punchier than the outgoing R’s powerplant (up 36 hp and 37 lb-ft). Power goes to the ground via the R’s 4MOTION all-wheel drive system, featuring XDS+ electronic differential control on both the front and rear axles. XDS+ operates like a limited-slip differential, working in concert with the Haldex center differential to vector torque to individual wheels on demand.

    For the first time in a U.S.-market R-model, two transmissions will be available. The initial run of 2015 models will all be equipped with Volkswagen’s six-speed DSG twin-clutch automatic, but buyers who are willing to wait for a 2016 will be rewarded with the choice of a six-speed manual transmission. If the stick-shift alone isn’t worth the wait, the 2016 update also includes Volkswagen’s new infotainment system featuring Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, along with other connectivity and convenience features (such as USB charging) to sweeten the deal.

    A choice of transmissions isn’t the only first for this generation of the R. Volkswagen’s DCC – dynamic chassis control is now available on top-trim models. Available on previous generations in Europe, DCC is an adaptive damper system with “Comfort,” “Normal” (balanced) and “Race” modes, allowing drivers to dial in their preferred performance level. Between DCC and Volkswagen’s Drive Mode selections, drivers can customize multiple independent settings, including steering weight and transmission shift points (for DSG models).

    Rounding out the list of unprecedented U.S.-market inclusions is the ability to fully defeat the Golf R’s electronic stability control system–an omission on the previous model that drew the ire of many enthusiasts.

    Volkswagen made much to-do about the R’s improved fuel economy. With the DSG transmission, it now bests 20 in the city (23 mpg) and returns and even 30 mpg on the highway, for a combined 26 mpg. Numbers for the manual will be available closer to the launch of the 2016 model. We observed 20 mpg in mixed (aggressive) driving–impressive given the hilly terrain and frequent acceleration.

    Evolutionary design
    The MkVII Golf R’s exterior is far from clean-slate. The rear pillar is more angular, recalling the 2004 R32′s iconic lines. The headlights are also squared off and the grille narrower, giving the front end a more aggressive look than the softer, rounder appearance of the outgoing car. LED turn signals and running lights are standard, along with Bi-Xenon headlamps. In the rear, two dual-tipped exhaust outlets complete the look.

    Unique trim and seating surfaces set the R apart from the standard Golf inside, but it’s otherwise a simple evolution of VW’s latest standard bearer. Piano black dash plastics are matched with R-branded accessories, “Carbon Touch” accents and steel-look trim.

    Structurally, the new Golf R is lighter (by 75 lbs in equivalent configurations) and stiffer than the outgoing car.

    On the road
    We started our day with a DSG-equipped 2015 model. Our route took us out of San Diego on our way to the small town of Julian. The R immediately impressed us with its collected, refined behavior even on broken surface streets. Despite its summer tires and 18″ wheels, road noise was not intrusive. With the drive mode set to “Normal,” engine noise was also kept to a minimum. Driver and passenger could conduct a normal conversation at highway speeds on concrete. For a performance-oriented car, the R is an excellent cruiser–calm, quiet and comfortable.

    As the roads turned rural and twisty, we dialed the drive mode over to “Race” and let the active sound management fill the cabin with engine noise. The R encouraged us to push deep into corners and simply point-and-shoot our way out of them. Volkswagen’s DSG gearbox is an excellent piece of engineering. Grabbing second gear in tight turns was drama-free and rewarded us with a solid punch in the back on corner exits.

    Indeed, it was very difficult to upset the little Volkswagen. Like any modern car, it will tend toward understeer when pushed beyond peak grip, but with proper inputs and vision, a competent driver can extract some serious speed. Corners with yellow “20 MPH” signs can be negotiated at speeds approaching (or perhaps surpassing) the actual posted 45 or 55-mph limit without committing center-line infractions.

    Volkswagen claims the Golf R will do 0-60 in 4.9 seconds (with DSG) on the way to a top speed of 155 mph. While we didn’t get a chance to test the latter claim, the Golf R’s launch control allowed us to explore the former. We didn’t have the opportunity to do full instrumented testing, but the launch control delivered repeatable, clean, quick sprints. We wouldn’t be surprised if controlled tests showed 0-60 times even quicker than VW’s claims in DSG-equipped vehicles.

    When we reached our lunch stop, we jumped into a European-spec R equipped with the six-speed manual so we could compare. Setting aside chassis tuning differences, the manual behaved exactly as expected. The clutch engagement point was low and easily discerned, the shifter throw light and fairly precise. Rev-matched shifts came naturally and quickly. The DSG may be a sublime transmission, but there’s no shame in opting to row your own if that’s your preference.

    What struck us the most, however, is the R’s overarching sense of competence. Like many German performance cars, it is best described as “capable” rather than “exciting.” It does not make a scene; it simply works. It can be grabbed by the scruff and thrown through corners, handling whatever you throw at it with aplomb, but it’s not a car that screams, “Play with me!” Even with all of the drive mode options ticked over to “Race,” it’s still a Golf at heart–fast and confidence-inspiring, but fairly clinical.

    Leftlane’s bottom line
    The Golf R is an immensely capable and refined performance car. While it may lack the raw charisma of some other sport compacts, its supreme competence and flexibility make it an excellent choice for the enthusiast who needs one car to do it all.

    2015 Volkswagen Golf R base price, $36,595. Destination fee, $820.

    Photos by Byron Hurd.