Put through the paces: Jaguar XKR-S

In the country of England, there’s a growing disinterest among young people in getting a license and owning their first car. There are a few theories on why this is: high gas prices, increasing trends in ‘going green’ etc. But the one that sticks out for me is the epic amount new drivers have to pay for insurance over here. New drivers have to shell out thousands in insurance, sometimes adding up to more than the actual car they’re paying to insure. In the U.S we long for the day where we don’t have to take that big yellow eye sore of a bus to school, no matter the cost. I’m glad to say getting my license was one of the greatest and most freeing experiences I ever enjoyed; getting out of the house whenever I wanted, unnecessarily racing my friends home in their cars, going to parties and not getting dropped of or picked up by the ‘rents. Not getting my first car? I can’t even fathom the thought. It actually took all my strength to type that first sentence with out being sick.

It’s because of this and being 23 that I have such a hard time driving worthwhile cars at press events. The first monthly Jaguar press event I went to, I could only drive the 2.0-liter diesel engine cars. Not exactly what I had in mind, especially since the monstrous XKR-S recently came out. No, because I was under 28 they barely trusted I could feed my self and go to the bathroom all on my own let alone drive their super-coupe. I tried to tell them that I’ve worked as a valet and had driven everything from Pontiacs to Porsches to Rolls-Royces (albeit only 300 ft to park them). It took a few more appearances at these monthly press events and some American charm but I eventually swayed the lady in charge of the keys to hand over the rest of Jaguar’s fleet.

After months of being jealous of all the veteran journalists getting a go in it, I finally got my ride in the XKR-S.

I don’t care how old you are or how many discounts you get on your insurance; everyone is 23 when they walk up to it and immediately 12 years old when they sit behind the wheel of an XKR-S. Jaguar built this car with one thing in mind and that was pure performance. A facelift at the front sees aero aids on the sides and a new splitter under a revised front fascia. Around back, a carbon fiber spoiler makes an appearance and quad exhausts hug the rear diffuser as well. All of which hint at Jaguar’s proven racetrack heritage.

I barely got out of the complex and on the main road before I jabbed at the accelerator and unleashed all 543 horses. The sound that came as a result was instantly addictive (epic WW2 fighter planes come to mind). 0-60 takes a mere 4.5 seconds and 100mph in 8.7. Trust me, I tested it and retested it and then my colleague tested it some more. The claimed top speed is 186mph, but I’ll take Jag’s word on that one.

Engineers just didn’t simply add more horsepower though; through the corners the Jag stays flat and planted. Stiffer suspension and retuned adaptive dampeners help keep the front facing forward and the rear tires behind you. I couldn’t even tell the car had any body roll until I saw the cornering shots. A lot of people have complained that the suspension is too stiff. But that’s like ordering apple pie and complaining that it has apple in it. The roads weren’t exactly smooth where I tested it but I just might be used to the track tuned suspension of my Kawasaki ZX-10. Therefore my spine is permanently lodged in the top of my skull and my pelvis had turned to dust long before I sat in the sporty bucket seats of the R-S. The steering wasn’t as confidence inspiring as I would hope in a high horsepower rear drive sports car, there wasn’t much feed back when something went out of line. Luckily the car is easy enough to handle that you can react quick enough and not do doughnuts every time you turn in to a corner.

This is where I question the dedication of the car though. Most sports car companies have sportier versions of their best cars and then track oriented versions on top of that. Porsche’s 911(the main competition) has the GT3 and then the GT3 RS. The problem with the XKR-S is that I don’t think the suspension was stiff enough. The GT3 RS is a much larger step up in the way that there is literally nothing left in the car except the essentials: seats, steering, A/C…and thats pushing it. Things that have been added are along the lines of a roll cage and a fire extinguishing system. The metal Porsche emblem on the hood is even replaced by a sticker just to save weight. Looking at the back seat that should have been the first thing to go in the Jag since it barely exists in the first place. The dedication towards the track is a little half-assed. If the R-S is going to be a top of the range, track oriented car, I wish it would separate its self from the next model down with a little more than tuned suspension and 30 extra horsepower.

For what it’s worth I’ve never had nearly as much fun in any other car, being a valet or journalist. I want make the exhaust note my ring tone and call myself over and over just to hear it on a regular basis. That’s what Jag did get right with this car, the whole sensory experience; the exhaust bark, your head getting pinned back when you hit the gas and the seats hugging you when you get side ways. Just making you feel like a kid and enjoying the ride. In an era where planned obsolescence is all too common I’m afraid the XKR-S may have fell victim to it, hinting Jaguar could have done more. But as a 12 year old, the XKR-S is one of those cars that would have me longing for my license and an empty stretch of road.

 
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Following Cadillac: Looking Forward

“History repeats itself”, one of the most used cliché’s in the English language. Nevertheless, a cliché that proves itself true time and time again. For a certain car company, I would imagine they are banking on that.

In 2002 Cadillac unveiled the Cien concept at the Detroit Auto show. With a 950 bhp, mid-mounted 7.5 liter V-12, a design inspired by the F-22 Raptor and an exotic European stance, it looked like the epitome of what a performance car should be. Sadly, though, it was never to be put into production. It was more of Cadillac just flexing their muscles.

Now jump forward 8 or 9 years. Cadillac has, arguably, one of the best performance sedans and coupes in its class. Coincidence? I think not. When car companies produce a concept never to see light or even a halo car that makes it to production, the trickle down effect is inevitable. The CTS-V may not have a 950 horse V-12 in the back seats, but if you dilute and filter the Cien enough you sure would come close to it. And that’s saying a lot.

The point I’m trying to make is that Cadillac is at it again. Cadillac unveiled the Ciel at the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. One of the most prestigious car shows in the world. It is home to the most expensive and luxurious cars known to man, past and present.

The Ciel is powered by a twin turbo 3.6 hybrid V-6. I know that doesn’t sound like much compared to Cadillac’s of old nor does it even hold a candle to a Rolls or a Bentley V-(insert large number). But that’s because Cadillac is aiming this luxury car at the 99%ers, if you will. The level of luxury however could easily be mistaken for a 1%er. From the swooping lines and suicide doors on the outside to the smooth olive wood dash and elegant yet simplistic interior, it robs from the rich and gives to the middle class. Passengers, who you might mistake for the owners, have more   than enough room for comfort. The headroom has to be measured in miles due to the drop top.

If Cadillac follows a similar path to that of the Cien to CTS-V route, starting with the Ciel, the possibilities are limitless. At the very least I would suspect a car that could easily compete with the top range BMWs, Mercs and Audis in the luxury and grandeur department yet still be half the price.

If history has anything to say about it, the Germans should start to worry… again.

Following Cadillac: A Look Back

“The test of success is not what you do when you’re on top. Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.” – General George Patton.

All companies have dark periods. Some slumps are deeper and some last longer. Nonetheless if one must judge a company on its perseverance and quality of life when things begin to brighten, Cadillac is in the upper echelon.

A few years back when the U.S auto industry was in a slump all of its own, Ford and GM were forced to axe some of their sub brands. Cadillac was speculated to be an option at one point due to it not being able to compete with the foreign luxury brands. It escaped with only having to cut a couple of models from the line up.

Since the bailout period that plagued GM, Cadillac has come back with promise and profit. The first quarter of 2011 saw GM gain around 30% in profit and Cadillac, alone, bounced back with a 70% increase in sales. This massive turnaround was not due to dumb luck. Cadillac did a total overhaul on its approach to the market. The new design philosophy combined with up rated interiors and forward thinking has the automaker being compared to its European counter parts once again.

Cadillac’s short falls were found in the interior and performance areas. In the 80s and 90s no one would dare compare a Caddy to a Merc or BMW. Now that comparison is commonplace in all magazines reviewing the performance-luxury segment.

At the beginning of the 20th century Cadillac was the standard of the world. At the beginning of the 21st  century European comparisons were nowhere in sight for Cadillac. Towards the end of this past decade there was a point where some believed Cadillac would not live to see the end of it. At the beginning of this decade, what Cadillac has on the show room floors now is a testament to how high they have bounced.

Interview with Matt Humphries : Morgan Motor Company chief designer

Sense of humor. Something you don’t associate with a car company that’s existed since around 1900. Mercedes, Ford, etc. are all corporate companies with no funny bone.

Morgan Motor Company has been around since 1910 and they pride themselves on just that, their sense of humor. It’s clear after talking to Matt Humphries, the chief designer and relatively new face at the company, that jokes are still to be had.

Before Matt graduated from Coventry University in 2005 he started at the boutique car company on student placement. As part of his placement he had to present a design idea to the owner. The student project would later make it to production with Matt in charge.

“There was no official design department when I showed up.” Matt explained. Before he was employed the engineers and workshop teams just tried ideas out and saw what worked. Matt and his team of 3 stylists that are employed now try “to make the wooden frame a feature of the cars interior” Matt claims.

Using an ash wooden frame might seem idiotic to base a modern days car frame off of but not entirely. Matt defends “Compare wood to modern materials such as carbon fiber or aluminum. They’re all lightweight, strong and flexible.” He continues “now think of all the items in your house and think of which are wood…there is a reason we have been using it for centuries”. Sensibility and sense of humor can go hand in hand. “ Think of the wooden frame as a coat hanger for the aluminum chassis”.

Old-fashioned construction and 1920s styling are major parts in the character of Morgan. This is why it’s one of the few companies that can get away with bringing back the 3-wheeler. Essentially a tub with a Harley-Davidson engine in front flanked by 2 wheels and a third belt driven wheel in the back. With a design inspired by a B-52 bomber and a separate younger generation excited about it the 3-wheeler is the epitome of Morgan.

Three new models are in the pipeline at Morgan. All planned with wooden chassis. But as far as the styling they are extremely forward thinking. “As long as you have some of the Morgan elements you don’t need them all for it to be a Morgan.” Humphries explained. The designs more or less capture elements of the past with out being completely old fashioned. Matt uses the term “Story telling through design”.

A twenty-something as the chief designer at a car company from the early 20th century… a perfect fit at this plucky British Motor Company.

Ferrari Tailor-Made

  Automotive companies, in the past few decades, have adopted special branches to their companies. For the most part these special sectors of the company specialize in performance upgrades; Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT), Chrysler LLC’s Street and Racing Technology (SRT), BMW’s M division and Mercedes’ AMG division.

Earlier in 2011 McLaren Automotive started up McLaren Special Operations. Which deals solely with visual upgrades. Let’s face it the MP-4 12c doesn’t really need performance upgrades.

So it’s no surprise that long time rival company Ferrari has recently started up Ferrari Tailor-Made. FTM is Ferrari’s customizing service for clients who want to go the extra mile to make their baby unique.

Tailored to suite individuals’ tastes by the Ferrari styling center, clients can follow the car through every step of production. Each client also gets his or her own personal design advisor.

When talking personal tastes of Ferrari owners the spectrum can range from classy and subtle to a flamboyant eye sore. Which is why Ferrari has covered all the bases. Three categories of styling exist: Scuderia, Classica and Inedita.

Scuderia reflects the sporting heritage of Ferrari. With options such as carbon fiber, Alcantara and kevlar trims along side satin and matte finishes one can easily land at either end of the spectrum. Get it right you can have a subtle track weapon that makes you look like a driving legend.

Classica allows the client to put a vintage twist on a new model. Kashmir roof lining, a teak-trimmed trunk and interior inserts that match the exterior can easily make a classic looking GT.

Inedita is described as “experimental” and “innovative”. This is where the flamboyant eye sore options come into play. If a client wants his pale blue Ferrari convertible to have matching blue rims, sure. If said client then wants matching blue leather seats with denim trim alternating through out the cabin, no problem. But if blue denim isn’t your style ferrari have other suite fabrics at you disposal.

The idea behind this program is to create a more bespoke Ferrari for every customer. Every car is different. From the cool racer to the hip-hop mogul, Ferrari has options for you.

Following Cadillac: Forerunners Again

My ’93 Cadillac STS had loads of luxury items that lots of other ’93 cars did not. This is in part because GM would always test new options on Cadillacs as standard equipment. In High School I was rockin’ out with Bose Gold series speakers, CD and cassette player, heated seats and adjustable lumbar support to go with it. Even though I graduated in 2007 I imagine I would have been the coolest kid on the block in 1993.

But this luxury equipment was all with in GM. Countless other luxury cars had these options as well. Cadillac didn’t stand out as it once did. They weren’t the first to do anything ground breaking for a long time.

As of recently that has all changed. Cadillac has introduced CUE. The Cadillac User Experience. Cadillac has just become the first company to use tablet technology that is fully integrated in the car right off the production line. The system simplifies the user experience of in car infotainment. Cadillac has gone back to its grass roots and brought to production something that will be copied and imitated by other car companies. And all for the better. They’re back as forerunners in in-car technology for once. With help from CUE Cadillac is dusting of there old motto of being “the standard of the world”.

 

Following Cadillac: Converj – A New Direction

“Today marks the new beginning of GM”. The GM boss Rick Wagoner said this at the first showing of the Converj concept in early 2009. To put the scale of the situation and the weight of those words into context, a very brief Cadillac history lesson… Through out it’s prime Cadillac was known for its big displacement engines and countless cylinders. But in the late 70s the US went into a fuel crisis and Cadillac had to down size its whole line of cars and engines to cope. Sadly, it seems, Cadillac was not prepared. Small cars and small engines?, un-traveled territory for Cadillac for many decades. In the following years Cadillac fell far from ‘The Standard of The World’ pedestal that it had long been perched on.

Fast-forward to today’s fuel crisis and Cadillac faces a similar problem. Having reinvented themselves recently they are poised to win this title rematch in the global arena.


 GM have recently approved (then canceled, then re approved) the Converj concept for production. Having the under pinning of the successful Chevy Volt, the Voltec hybrid system. The system is described as a fuel assisted EV. Which essentially means, on paper at least, it is a plug in hybrid that scarcely visits the pump (once a year theoretically). The exciting bit and the part that plays into Cadillac’s hands is that’s where the Chevy stops.

Aside from what makes it go everything this car is a Cadillac. With the new direction of styling that Cadillac is going in and their new level of luxury, this is exactly what Cadillac needs to come out on top. When the average person thinks of a hybrid, nothing exciting or grand comes to mind. Sure there is a Lexus or two that uses a hybrid system but they’re over priced and not nearly as efficient.  Cadillac is using a unique system that works which is built upon the brand’s new standard of luxury.

The Coverj concept is definitely the 1-2 combo Cadillac needs to battle through this generation’s fuel crisis. It shows that you don’t need to sacrifice style and luxury for efficiency. Well played Cadillac, well played.