Friday, October 7, 2016

Becoming One With The BMW M2 – A Transcendental Exercise

Time behind the wheel of the 2016 BMW M2 is transformational. You can review a car by the numbers or you can review a car by the seat of your pants. For me to tell you that the M2 produces 365 horsepower and 343 pound-feet of torque becomes a tedious exercise in trying to prove something that only has meaning when it's experienced first hand.
After all, a Ford Mustang GT makes 435 horsepower, and a Dodge Challenger Hellcat is beastly powerful with 707 horsepower, but neither make me feel the same exhilaration I have felt the past week every time I've been at the wheel of the M2. This is a car that flirts with nirvana.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

2017 Subaru Outback Creates Enduring Impression

The 2017 Subaru Outback lends lots of credence to the maxim that first impressions are lasting impressions. The substantial click-swoosh on first opening the driver’s-side door, the easy ingress onto a comfortable, firm leather seat, and the plush, soft-touch surfaces all around proved to be markers for a rewarding five-day test-driving experience.

The 2017 Outback 2.5i Limited never gave me reason to think I had merely been overcome by the rush of new-car scented air.


New Englanders are no strangers to the Subaru Outback. Consistently among the top-selling vehicles in this part of the country, this 5-passenger midsize wagon thrives in all seasons, showing the kind of pluck we’d like to think is our birthright. On the surface, though, the Outback is not a car that quickens one’s pulse as a spiffy sports car might.

I’m sure that’s not what I expected either, as I pressed the push-button starter for the 4-cylinder Boxer engine and prepped for my daily trek from Acton down Route 2 to Interstate 95 and eventually home. Surprisingly, I felt a bit relieved. My somewhat worn, end-of-day concentration made easy sense of the array of vehicle systems before me.


Judiciously laid out, it was without a cavalcade of buttons running down the console from the voice-activated 7-inch touch screen multimedia system with optional navigation to the dual-zone climate control. The Outback Limited demanded little but simple intuition to connect my Bluetooth enabled phone, tune the radio, and set the air conditioning. Later, when I needed to dive into the inner workings of either the navigation system or vehicle settings, the multi-touch display served up the necessary menus logically and quickly.

The entry-level Outback 2.5i receives a smaller 6.2-inch touch screen display while a new-for-2017 flagship Touring trim includes navigation as standard.
Notwithstanding the setting sun behind me causing occasional glare on the LCD display that made it difficult to view, I settled into the drive home with a feeling of confidence inspired by the commanding ride height and expansive view all around the vehicle. The 175 horsepower 2.5-liter engine provided sufficient thrust to prevent any sense of straining to get up to speed or to pass other vehicles. The continuously variable transmission delivered none of the racket often associated with this type of powertrain. Meanwhile, paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel offered a pleasant alternative when a little more driving engagement was desired, allowing manual shifting through six pre-set gear ratios.

Output jumps to 256 horsepower when equipped with the 3.6-liter 6-cylinder Boxer engine available on Limited and Touring trims.

It doesn’t take long to appreciate the poise of this vehicle. With its raised four-wheel independent suspension, symmetrical all-wheel-drive, and electric power-assisted rack and pinion steering, the Outback Limited seems to glide down the highway in a way that defies its price point.

Take it on a longer trip, as I did, going to the Cape Cod National Seashore and Provincetown, and the benefits of its many available safety systems prove indispensible for making the day’s driving more stress-free.

Subaru’s award-winning EyeSight® Driver Assist Technology, optional on Premium and Limited trims and standard on the Touring, is the centerpiece, providing conveniences such as adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane departure warning, and lane keep assist functions. With cruise control, the camera-based technology monitors the speed of forward traffic. When traffic slows it will reduce vehicle speed to match that of the vehicle ahead, resuming set speed when passing or when traffic speeds up. The system performed flawlessly all along the crowded Mid-Cape Highway.

At one point, in stop-and-go traffic, an EyeSight® alert popped up in the display telling me that the car in front of me had moved, an indication that I should move forward, too. It is a much preferred way to get my attention than having the driver behind me blast the horn.

Standard on the Limited and Touring and optional on the Premium is blind spot detection with rear cross traffic alert. As careful as I’d like to think I am as a driver, these systems gave me eyes behind my head, whether it was seeing an approaching vehicle that I missed or detecting a bicyclist zipping across the parking lot out of my field of view. I avoided accident scenarios like these more than once in the busy National Seashore parking lot and in the crowded Provincetown public parking lot. The high resolution, wide-angle rearview camera that’s standard equipment was mightily helpful, too. Fortunately, it never came to deploying the new reverse automatic braking.

You always run the risk of getting stuck in Cape Cod traffic, especially on Labor Day weekend. An extra half-hour averaging 10 miles-per-hour might not only be exasperating but can get expensive if the vehicle isn’t very fuel efficient. Fortunately, I didn’t suffer on that account in the Outback. Even with two extended episodes of bumper-to-bumper traffic, on the way in and on the way out, the Outback rewarded me with a combined average fuel economy of 28.2 miles per gallon. That’s right in line with the EPA rating for this vehicle.
There are many ways to leave lasting impressions. A key utilitarian feature that I didn’t have a need to use during my test of the Outback was the step-style doorsills. Not only do they make it easier to access the roof rails, retractable crossbars, and tie-downs, they also are a lot safer. Then there are the 73.3 cubic feet of available cargo space and the removable, washable cargo area tray that speak loudly to the car’s versatility. Finally, there are the heated front AND rear seats—surely proof that the 2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited is a family-friendly, all-weather warrior ready to impress New Englanders.
This review first appeared in the Boston Globe, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Thrill of Compromise in the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

All the excitement of driving the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider can be addictive up until you take it for a weekend retreat that's more than 90 minutes away. Then you'll be second-guessing its practicality.


This is a magnificent vehicle that belongs on a road course track, not on a crowded freeway and certainly not in your driveway for the neighbors to gossip about your finances while ogling its curvaceousness.

Despite the 4C Spider’s primitive intentions, you'll get no complaints from its 237 horsepower 1.7 liter turbocharged engine as it launches you from zero to 60 in something like 4 seconds, and you'll quickly find that manual paddle shifting is actually the way a car like this was meant to be driven, even if the hardcore among us would prefer a foot-operated clutch instead of the one electronically controlled by the 6-speed automated-manual transmission.

Don't look for comforts, either, notwithstanding the Alpine audio system. This is a car where you need to contort yourself not only to get into either of the two seats, but also every time you want to grab your beverage from the cupholder that's just behind your shoulder.


Are the compromises worth it? Absolutely. There are more thrills to be had from the 4C Spider than what might be considered legal. Just engage dynamic mode, set manual drive and stomp on the accelerator. Hyperventilating is not covered under the four-year, 50,000-mile warranty.

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