Showing posts with label news. Show all posts
Showing posts with label news. Show all posts

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Volvo V60 and S60 R-Design models look a good bit naughtier


2011 Volvo V60 and S60 R-Design


We recently drove the 2011 Volvo S60 in the wilds of Oregon and came away rather impressed with both its performance and in-person aesthetics. That said, we generally don't begrudge a bit more visual aggression, and to that end, Volvo has obliged with a pair of new R-Design models here at the Paris Motor Show that includes the S60 sedan and its not-for-North-America V60, a wagon so attractive that we couldn't help but lead off our live coverage with it.

In either case, the well-integrated R-Design package consists of a distinct front fascia, rear bumper cutout with diffuser and bespoke 18-inch alloys in a fetching smoked finish. While there isn't any more power under the hood, the 300-horsepower 3.0-liter inline turbo six should fit the bill rather nicely, especially with its generous 325 pound-feet of torque. No word on any shift-map changes for the six-speed automatic gearbox, but what we'd really like to see for this sportier S60 is a set of paddle shifters.

That aside, R-Design models ought to handle a bit better than their more common brethren, as they hug the ground a bit more closely thanks to shorter, stiffer coils and monotube shocks. The rest of the suspension gets beefed up, too, with firmer bushings and a front strut-tower brace.

Audi A1 1.4 TFSI


2011 Audi A1 1.4 TFSI


Despite the success of the Mini Cooper and America's newfound love of hatchbacks, Audi continues to deny us the all-new A1. There are a variety of reasons for excluding the pint-sized hatch from the U.S. market (marketing, brand image, average transaction price, etc.), but the introduction of the twin-charged A1 here at the Paris Motor Show has us questioning all of them.

Packing a 1.4-liter TFSI (read: both turbo and supercharged) inline four-cylinder engine, the A1 puts out 185 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque, sends it to the front wheels through a seven-speed S tronic gearbox and can sprint to 60 in 6.9 seconds on its way to a top speed of 141 mph. Think of it as the luxury alternative to the Ford Fiesta, with a price tag to match: €24,250 or just over $30k at current exchange rates.

Range Rover Evoque shows up ready for production


2012 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque


Land Rover's critical new Range Rover Evoque debuted today at the Paris Motor Show, ushering in a brave new world for the British off-roader brand. The debut continues the company's march toward the softroader segment, a movement first started with the LR2/Freelander and now resulting in the handsome new three-door seen here.

Slated to be joined shortly by a five-door version, the compact Evoque fits right into the Land Rover mold design-wise, albeit with a surprising amount of surface jewelry for such a sleek two-box shape. From the protruding fog lamps to the horizontal matte chrome-trimmed hood intakes to the unique divots atop the wheel lip moldings and the somewhat fiddly taillamp lenses, there's quite a bit to draw one's eye. The overall impression one gets of the vehicle on the show floor is one of imposing width, a feeling that's magnified when you realize that an individual of average height can see over the vehicle when standing next to it.

The drivetrain is no less revolutionary for the brand, with a 2.0-liter turbo four pushing out 240 horsepower through a new permanent all-wheel-drive system. Key options for the Evoque include Adaptive Dynamics and Magneride adaptive damping and a massive panoramic roof which makes the interior feel like a greenhouse even on the Paris show floor. While the littlest Rover lacks the full-on four-wheel-drive weaponry of its bigger siblings, it does feature the latest distillation of the company's Terrain Response Control, and with good arrival and departure angles, it should still be better than most crossovers when it comes to tackling off-pavement activities.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Mercedes-Benz CLS comes on strong


2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS


The 2012 Mercedes CLS is the second act of the car that invented both the market segment and the grammatical quandary known as the "four-door coupe." Made dramatically more bold for this go-round, it features an upright grille that flows back into a rump that disappears in photos but holds its own in person. The new sedan is also lighter, with aluminum doors that are 52 pounds less heavy and an aluminum hood, front fenders, trunk lid and parcel shelf.

Along with the design, the engines are the story. There will be four available, starting with two 3.5-liter V6 engines in Europe. One is a 265-horsepower diesel engine and the other a 306-hp gas V6 with standard stop/start. Next comes the 2.5-liter four-cylinder diesel with 204 hp, and last to arrive is the V8 CLS 550 putting out 402 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque.

LED High Performance Active Headlights, Direct-Steer electromechanical steering, a tweaked suspension lifted from the E-Class, and a host of interior trim options that range from carbon fiber to high gloss brown burl walnut are among the many changes on the car.

Facelifted 2012 Nissan GT-R

2012 Nissan GT-R

Well look what we found tucked away in a glass-enclosed corner of the Nissan stand. What you're looking at is the 2012 Nissan GT-R, complete with a fascia comprised of a restyled bumper, air-intakes and LED daytime running lamps. A new diffuser pulled from the SpecM is mounted out back, along with new lightweight wheels that may or may not be included in the final package. Our insider wouldn't give us any details on power increases, but they did say we should keep an eye out for an official announcement in the coming months.

Hyundai teams up with Brabus for sportier i20


Hyundai i20 Sport Edition


After a 2008 introduction, the Hyundai i20 is back at the Paris Motor Show but this time it's got a bit of an attitude. Hyundai has teamed up with Brabus to create the i20 Sport Edition. So far the only details released involve the appearance changes. The front skirt and wheel arches take on an angrier appearance while Yokohama rubber gets wrapped around a set of 17-inch Brabus alloy wheels. The black mesh looks good next to the black bezel around the headlights, as well as the added LED daytime running strips.

While the outside sports that subtly-cool hot-hatch look, the inside looks it was "designed" by the Great Pumpkin after a night spent throwing one too many back. Though the orange-black paint scheme is a little much, the sporty Recaro seats, leather-lined surfaces and seven-inch touchscreen are welcome additions.

We're still waiting to hear what is powering the Hyundai i20 Sport Edition, but with Brabus involved we can only hope for the best. The car will enter production during the first half of 2011, and it will be released as a limited-edition model, available in both three and five-door versions

Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale is not an Italian DJ, but is an upgraded super coupe


Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale


Maserati can produce some gorgeous automobiles. The Maserati GranTurismo is no exception, in fact we'd place it in the give-up-your-first-born-to-own-one category of beautiful. In addition to its looks, the GranTurismo is a powerful and luxurious grand touring machine that causes both eyes and ears to strain for more as it goes by. The 430-horsepower GranTurismo S was the king of the trident-wearing coupes, until today. Taking the stage at the 2010 Paris Motor Show is the all-new Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale.

The GranTurismo MC Stradale ratchets up the excitement by pushing power output to 450 horsepower. The chassis has been tweaked and the body slightly updated for increased aerodynamics. The MC Stradale manages to increase the levels of downforce without causing a noticeable increase in drag. The result is an elegant two-door that's begging for track time.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate

Our 2011 Hyundai Equus long-termer continues to pile on the miles in the effortless fashion that one expects of a premium sedan. August's main outing was a weeklong stint in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, about 800 miles from Detroit. All-in, the trip accounted for over 2,000 miles, during which the Equus stretched its legs as a capable freeway cruiser and even was pressed into undignified service as a surfboard transport (see above). In case you're wondering, no, an eight-foot rental longboard won't fit in a luxury sedan (not in this or any other we can think of), so you'll be forced to do the shish-ka-windows-and-empty-side-road-creep with the hazard lights on if you don't have any alternatives.

With the exception of a modest bit of track time at Hyundai's Seoul proving grounds in a few prototypes, this was your author's first experience with the Equus. As one might expect, it acquits itself better over-the-road than on the track, delivering a comfortable ride and plush confines in which to while away the miles.

What was surprising for this driver was how much attention our Equus garnered – it's rather innocuously styled, after all. But we hadn't been driving further than our first rest stop when a couple of attractive twenty-something ladies stopped to ask about our car as we got out in the parking lot. "What is it?!" they gushed. "Believe it or not, it's a Hyundai," we answered. Puzzled looks. "Wait... really? Well... it's still really nice, though!" We laughed a little inside and moved on, but their reaction was telling – "It's still really nice, though!" is both a credit to what a pleasant surprise the Equus is for Hyundai, as well as a subtly backhanded ding at the company's "off the radar" standing among many consumers. The same rest area yielded a discussion with a very enthusiastic Genesis sedan owner, and subsequent conversations were held at stoplights with frantic arm-waving Toyota Avalon drivers and more random people in parking lots, including a BMW E60 5 Series owner fed up with his ownership experience. We have to admit, we viewed the Equus as something of a generic knockoff design-wise, but our conversations suggest that the general buying public doesn't feel the same way (or doesn't care).



We do have some nits to pick with our big white whale, however. Others have mentioned this, but it's worth pointing out again – the adjustable lumbar support seems to be in perpetual state of overinflation. No matter how much we tinker with the air bladder controls, it just feels too prominent on our lower backs. It's so uncomfortable that it's led to both your author and Editor-In-Chief Neff to ponder drastic, pin-shaped countermeasures. We wouldn't, of course, but it's still bothersome. The best solution for long-distance comfort seems to be extending the bottom cushion a bit longer than we normally might, as this somehow alleviates the stress.

Otherwise, the interior offers plenty of amenities and creature comforts, though the controls, finishes and design aesthetic lack the same sort of aura of refinement as rivals. Overall, our Equus Ultimate succeeds at feeling like a great value, but stops short of feeling like a great full-size luxury sedan. That's partially due to the interior and partially due to the 4.6-liter Tau V8. Its 385 horsepower and 333 pound-feet of torque certainly aren't anything to sneeze at, but this is 4,600-pound mass of Korean real estate, and it simply feels adequate. Other media outlets have tested the Equus and found 0-60 times in the mid-to-high six-second range, so it's certainly not slow, but the ECU and transmission tuning makes both off-the-line acceleration and highway passing feel more leisurely than we'd expect. More chutzpah isn't far off, thankfully – the 2012 model is widely expected to adopt the 5.0-liter V8 and eight-speed automatic gearbox recently introduced in the updated Genesis sedan.

Despite sustained higher speeds, traversing Pennsylvania's Alleghany mountains, negotiating a dead-stop traffic jam and a lot of pottering along in beach traffic, we averaged a solid 21 miles per gallon, smack in the middle of the 18/22 city/highway mix the EPA predicts. During that stint, we saw sustained freeway running with indicated mpgs in the mid-to-upper 20s without even trying, suggesting that it's likely quite easy to beat the Equus' official fuel economy estimates if you take it easier than we did.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

We've given Volkswagen a fair amount of flack for the 2011 Jetta – and justifiably so. All the things we held dear in previous generations – high-end materials, solid driving dynamics and that general sense of premium the Germans do so well – were all nixed in the name of market share.



But as we suspected, it's working. Jetta sales in the U.S. are up 74 percent over last year as consumers view the redesigned, cut-priced sedan as an upmarket contender to the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Chevrolet Cruze. And honestly, more power to them.



What we've really been waiting for is this, the 2012 Jetta GLI. Packing VW's ubiquitous turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, a six-speed manual or optional DSG and an independent rear suspension, the GLI is here to assuage enthusiasts' fears that VW has lost the plot in its relentless pursuit of global market dominance. Just as Porsche hasn't given up on sports cars as it expands into un-Porsche-like segments, neither has VW in its efforts to appeal to more people. But unlike Ferdinand's second child, we still have the nagging sense that Volkswagen is leaving something on the table – despite the GLI's potential on paper.


From 40 yards out, it's hard to tell the GLI apart from a standard Jetta. Get closer and even the deeper front spoiler, honeycomb grille and vertical fog lamps pulled from the GTI do little to convey the same racy presence of its hot hatch stablemate. The standard 10-spoke, 17-inch wheels even look a little dinky in their wheel wells, despite the red brake calipers. Thankfully, an optional set of 18-inch, split five-spoke rollers (pictured below) up the aesthetic game and come coated in 225/40 R18 Dunlop SP Sport 01 AS rubber that makes for a worthy upgrade over the standard 225/45 R17 all-season Continental ContiProContacts.



2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI side view2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI front view2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI rear view



The Jetta's tune changes on the inside. And to excellent effect.



Behold, a soft-touch dash; convincing aluminum trim on the dash and flat-bottom, leather-wrapped wheel; bolstered seats coated in optional V-Tex leatherette; and contrast red stitching abound. It's all a massive improvement over the bargain-basement interior we've endured in our Jetta TDI long-termer, although the GLI's plastics go from high-class to low-brow as soon as your hand ventures south (perhaps to be expected considering its plebeian roots).



But why this endless discussion of interior materials? Here's a prime example: Volkswagen is introducing its Fender Premium Audio System into the Jetta lineup for 2012. It's solid, with crisp highs and a punchy low-end when equipped in the GLI Autobahn ($25,545) and Autobahn with Navigation ($26,445) models. Forget for a moment the ironic reason why rockers started using Fender amps to begin with – artful distortion – and let's focus on the lows. When the kick drum popped at a volume level over 15 in our tester, there was a subtle rattling from the passenger-side door. A few minutes of feeling around and we finally found the culprit. The map pocket is made of low-grade plastic and the vibration from the bass rattled the cubby against the cover. Not cool, but a perfect case-in-point about why we harp on discount materials.



2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI interior2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI front seats2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI dash2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI door speaker



But this isn't a story about a reworked interior on a $23,495 Jetta (although it could be). This is about how the GLI holds up as a GTI sans-hatch. And to that end, it's exactly what you'd expect.



Power from the 2.0T is unchanged for sedan duty, with 200 horsepower coming on at 5,100 rpm and peak torque – 207 pound-feet – flowing from 1,700 rpm and up. We spent about 20 minutes in the DSG model (+ $1,100) and found it... fine. But as per usual (particularly in this segment), the manual is the driver's choice – even in start-and-stop traffic.



Clutch take-up is on the high and light side, so puttering around town doesn't require a Tour de France-honed left leg. The shifter standard VW fare, with an enlarged knob and slightly long throws providing a choice of six forward ratios. Braking is handled by 12.3-inch vented front discs and 10.7-inch solid rear rotors, all of which add up to a predictable, linear pedal feel that only began to fade after two particularly torturous runs through the Virginia hills outside VW's North American headquarters.



2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI engine



While the 2.0T continues to gain accolades for its linearity and tunability, VW's tried-and-true turbocharged four-pot is starting to show its age, despite a recent reworking. Two hundred horsepower was plenty for a front-driver in 2005, but consider that the Kia Optima Turbo, BMW's new turbocharged four and – hell – even the old Cobalt SS all make more ponies with the same displacement, and the GLI can't help but feel somewhat ill-equipped for the modern age, even if it gets the job done nicely. We still managed some wheelspin in second gear when planting our right foot and you can hit 80 mph in third gear if you're so inclined, but there's not much happening on the far side of the tach, despite peak horsepower arriving further along in the rev range.



The other added benefit of swapping the GTI's drivetrain directly into the Jetta is the inclusion of the XDS cross differential that's engineered to reduce torque – and thus, wheelspin – to the inside wheel through a corner. As with the GTI, the ABS-based system works, but constant flogging means brake fade comes on stronger than in something with a mechanical torque-vectoring diff. We also experienced momentary traction control engagement with the left front loaded and the right coming over a crest. That's more a product of an uneven (and likely untested) surface than an engineering fault, but considering there's no off switch for the traction control, it's worth noting.



2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI headlight2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI grille2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI wheel2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI taillights



The other core driver bits, specifically the electrically assisted steering, 15mm lower ride height and bolstered seats, are more tuned to around-town runs and freeway cruising than all-out tarmac assaults. Feel from the wheel is above-average, if not overly communicative, and the seats do their best to hold you in place, unless your personal curb weight is on the malnourished side. On the topic of tonnage, the GLI with the six-speed manual comes in at 3,124 pounds, with the DSG-equipped model slipping in just over 3,150 pounds. Compared to the GTI organ donor (three-door manual at 3,034 pounds and up to 3,160 pounds for the five-door automatic), the weight increase is negligible.



Driving the GTI and GLI back-to-back, the suspension work performed on the Jetta combined with the extra 2.9 inches of wheelbase (101.5 vs. 104.4, respectively), made the GLI the more comfortable cruiser – but at the expense of engagement. The extra weight over the rear provided by the GTI's hatch and the shorter space between the wheels made it noticeably more chuckable, with the rear rotating ever-so-slightly and allowing the front to tuck in quicker when adjusting the throttle mid-corner. The seating position – admirable in the GLI – was exceptional in the GTI, and considering the added utility of the hatch and the nominal penalty rear seat passengers pay in the legroom department (35.5 inches for the GTI and 38.1 inches for the Jetta), only regular people-schleppers and hatch-haters would be better served with the sedan.



2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI rear 3/4 view



What we're left with is an overall impression that Volkswagen has made the 2012 Jetta GLI for people who just want more. More power, more flash, more amenities and an interior that doesn't make you retch. In that, they've succeeded. But what VW hasn't made is a real sports sedan. For those people, the Golf R – despite its hatchback – is the what they're after.



Yet for the masses, the Jetta GLI fits the bill. Like the standard Jetta before it, the GLI seems to leave some of what we appreciate on the table, but in exchange nets a total package that's more endearing to the average buyer. While the GLI is closer to what we want than the standard Jetta, it's still at least 20 horses and a stiffer suspension short of ideal. And what bothers us more than anything is that we know VW can deliver it.




Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Audi A7 3.0T takes on the Mercedes-Benz CLS550

"This car has an identity crisis. The aggressive exterior, brash exhaust note and firm ride say 'sport,' but the interior screams 'grandma!'"



The decision was made to review these "four-door coupes" not only from the driver's perspective, but from all four seating positions.
Strong words, especially when they originate from a stranger named Stephen sitting in the back seat of the $80,995 Mercedes-Benz some 80 miles from where we picked him up. The 31-year-old real estate broker and five other industry outsiders were invited to spend the day with Autoblog to help us compare the 2012 Audi A7 3.0T to the 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550.



These two vehicles have met head-to-head before, but not on these pages. To make things a bit more interesting, the decision was made to review these "four-door coupes" not only from the driver's perspective, but from all four seating positions. The unique comparison would require each of the vehicles to carry 700-plus pounds of passengers comfortably from the flatlands of the hot LA Basin up to the cool mile-high elevations of Big Bear Lake and back. The winner would be determined by a simple vote.



As this task called for six warm bodies willing to be chauffeured 160 miles over a long afternoon, Autoblog's Facebook page was enlisted to recruit. Within 24 hours, we had our six smiling volunteers fingered.

Our randomly chosen readers ranged in age from 22 to 35, and in occupation from a college student to a working professional environmental scientist. There were five men and one woman, each with a strong automotive passion and a willingness to hang with us for nearly six hours in exchange for some ice-cold bottled water and a free hot lunch. Our players:



· Alex, a 22-year-old student

· Erick, a 26-year-old graphic designer

· Ian, a 27-year-old information technology expert

· Lisa, a 35-year-old product specialist for an automotive manufacturer

· Manjul, a 32-year-old environmental scientist

· Stephen, a 31-year-old real estate broker



Fellow Autoblog scribe Jeff Glucker and I would be tasked with driving. The plan was to break into two groups of four that would each stick together for the duration of the review. We'd pull over every 30 minutes or so and everyone would swap vehicles - think of it as a modified Chinese fire drill, but with two cars.



To vary the driving environment as much as possible, everyone met at an In-N-Out Burger in Glendora (elevation 774 feet) at the foothills of the Angeles National Forest. Our route would take us across the LA Basin on freeways to the foothills of the San Bernardino National Forest. At that point, we would climb up the mountain to Big Bear Lake (elevation 6,750 feet), take in the scenery and eat lunch. Our return trip would trace our steps in reverse. Mother Nature had her own agenda, but more on that in a moment.







The Mercedes-Benz CLS550 is the veteran in this comparison. Credited with starting this whole "four-door coupe" segment back in 2004 when it was a knocked-off the W211 E-Class platform, the second-generation four-door (it has a conventional trunk) shares underpinnings and engine choices with the latest W212 E-Class. Sleekly styled with an aggressive facade, the four-passenger CLS550 is fitted with bright LED lamps at all four corners. It looks as modern as a Boeing 787 Dreamliner when it flies by. Under its hood is a new direct-injected twin-turbocharged 4.7-liter V8 rated at 402 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to the rear wheels through a wet seven-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for manual control. The suspension is independent at all four corners, with cockpit-adjustable air springs. Completing its performance package are four-piston brakes in the nose and single-piston units out back, all clamping down on cross-drilled rotors to slow down a set of staggered 19-inch wheels and Pirelli P Zero tires (255/35-19 up front and 285/30-19 in the rear).







The Audi A7 3.0T is the fresh new face in this pair up. Internally designated Type 4G, the first-generation five-door (it has a large rear hatchback) was introduced less than a year ago to worldwide acclaim. Sharing underpinnings with the MLB-based (Modularer Längsbaukasten) A6, the four-passenger A7 is even more beautiful in person than it looks in any picture. Under the aluminum hood is a direct-injected supercharged 3.0-liter V6 rated at 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque (ignore the odd "3.0T" nomenclature because this engine is not turbocharged). Power is sent to the automaker's Quattro all-wheel-drive system through a wet eight-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. An independent multi-link suspension, with fixed sport dampers, controls body movement and unnecessary roll. The brakes are four single-piston calipers actuating on ventilated rotors inside optional 20-inch wheels. The square tire setup puts the same size Yokohama Advan Sport (265/35-20) at each corner.







The price advantage goes to the Audi. Its base MSRP of $59,250 was bumped up with a Premium Plus and Sport package adding the navigation and 20-inch wheels, among other things. The A7's bottom line was $66,220 including destination. The Mercedes started with a base MSRP of $71,300. It was fitted with options including the P01 package, 19-inch alloys, active driver seat, rear side airbags, split-folding rear seats, parking assist, lane keeping assist, blind spot assist and a wood/leather steering wheel. The must-have equipment bumped the sticker price to $80,995 including destination.



We decided early in the game that the price difference, while large, wasn't significant enough to detract a buyer from either model – if you've got the means to spend $66,000 on a car, bumping up to $80,000 probably isn't too much of a stretch. (On a more grounded note, consider the percentage equates to the same dollar gap between a mid-grade Kia Soul Plus and a well-equipped Soul Exclaim.)



These German automakers have each taken slightly different approaches to the rear accommodations in their four-passenger coupes.



2012 Audi A7 3.0T headlight2012 Audi A7 3.0T wheel2012 Audi A7 3.0T taillights2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 headlight2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 wheel2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 taillights



The Audi's two front seats are identical to each other. Easy to slide onto, they are slightly bolstered with shallow bottom cushions that are surprisingly soft. The Mercedes-Benz, on the other hand, has an upgraded driver's seat with active bolstering and massage features (the front passengers make due with a standard 14-way power seat). While nobody complained about comfort in the front seats of the A7, switching quickly to the front seats of the CLS550 was a wake-up call. "I thought the Audi was comfortable. The seat isn't overly bolstered, the leather is soft and I can adjust it to my exact liking. Moving into the CLS550, however, is like trading a water bed for a Tempur-Pedic. Sure, the active bolsters get tiring after time, but turn them off and hit the massage switch and all is forgotten. After I got out of the CLS, I felt guilty for not tipping," said Autoblog Editor Jeff Glucker. "CLS seats were amazing," added Ian.



Our volunteers had a lot to say about the rear seats, mainly because they spent a lot of time back there. They particularly pointed out how the sharply sloped roofs and jutting seat bolsters made ingress/egress difficult. The CLS550, the most dramatically styled of the two, was singled-out first. "I had trouble getting in and out of the Mercedes... I hit my head twice. I had no such problems with the Audi," noted Manjul. Alex took the words out of most everyone's mouth when he stated, "It took something of a conscious effort not to bump my head every time I got in or out of the car." His comments seemed not only directed at both of the test vehicles but all four-door coupes on the market today.



2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 interior2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 front seats2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 rear seats

The Mercedes-Benz CLS550 is noted for its wood/leather steering wheel and a full rear storage console


2012 Audi A7 3.0T interior2012 Audi A7 3.0T front seats2012 Audi A7 3.0T rear seats
The Audi A7 features exposed grain wood trim and an open compartment between the rear seats


The center rear seat in the Audi has been replaced by a hard and rather useless storage compartment - but someone theoretically could sit on it (without a seatbelt) in an ill-advised pinch. On the other hand, the rear seat of the Mercedes is fitted with a more extravagant full center console. Not everyone was impressed. "I didn't like that the center console in the Mercedes took away any possibility of a fifth passenger, even if it would only be a child. It went all the way to the floor dividing the entire back seat in half," noted Lisa.



Motor Trend recently tested these identical vehicles and clocked the Mercedes-Benz CLS550 to 60 mph in a blistering 4.3 seconds. The Audi A7 3.0T also performed unexpectedly strongly, busting through the same acceleration benchmark in just 4.7 seconds (while noting most other A7's do it in 5.3 seconds). However, that was with one test driver on board. Our test cars were not only topped-off with fuel but we were flying with a full cabin, as they say in the airlines.



Seated in the CLS, I set the transmission to Sport mode for a first-gear start and floored the accelerator. The twin-turbo V8 under the hood of the Mercedes seemed only slightly annoyed with the added mass as it pulled strongly off the line and forced all four of our heads against the leather restraints. The Audi was a bit more taxed and burdened with the heavy passenger load, but its smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic kept it in the race several car lengths back as Jeff floored it up the onramp in pursuit.



Both vehicles were very competent highway cruisers, but far from flawless. The CLS has both Sport and Comfort suspension settings. I preferred Comfort for nearly all conditions, finding Sport simply too harsh. My passengers, watching the radar detector bounce violently on its mount while in Sport, agreed. The A7 has Dynamic and Comfort modes for its suspension, but the differences are very subtle – since nobody had brought along a seismograph we were left stumped by the difference.



2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 engine2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 engine detail
The CLS550's twin-turbo V8 produces 402 horsepower and 443 lb-ft torque


2012 Audi A7 3.0T engine2012 Audi A7 3.0T engine detail
The A7's supercharged V6 produces 310 horsepower and 325 lb-ft torque


Road noise is an issue in both vehicles. Huge tires be damned, as the summer compound slaps down on the grooved pavement reverberating through the passenger compartments of both vehicles. "I was really surprised by how much road noise was transmitted into the cabin of a car costing this much. I drive a 2003 Subaru with a loud exhaust, so my standard for peace and quiet is pitifully low. Our car was equipped with 20-inch wheels and summer rubber, so I'm sure that explains some of it... but still," Stephen sighed, while riding in the Mercedes.



Yet there are plenty of distractions to keep tire noise at the back of your mind. All occupants, including your Autoblog editors, agreed that the Audi took all the honors when the subject was on-board navigation and infotainment. It was impossible for the CLS550's seven-inch fixed display to compete with the A7's slightly smaller, but Internet-enabled, pop-up display in terms of graphics and content delivery. With its own T-Mobile data plan, Audi has not only integrated real-time Google Maps and search features into its system, but it has the capability to deliver WiFi to eight devices within the vehicle simultaneously. Everyone found the Audi's MMI interface more self-explanatory and appealing when compare to the COMAND system on the Mercedes. "Audi is much more stylish, and the infotainment interface is more user-friendly," said Lisa rather succinctly.



"I was blown away by the A7's navigation unit. The trick pop-out screen was cool, if a little gimmicky. Its integration with Google Maps was very well done, especially the topography. It also displays the posted speed limit, if you are into that sort of thing," commented Alex. "The first thing I did when getting in the back seat was hook up my iPhone to the A7's WiFi signal. In my opinion, the navigation system in Mercedes has always lagged behind. As someone who is into the latest-and-greatest in the tech world, this is a deal-breaker," mustered Lisa. "The A7 is akin to driving around with a portable Genius Bar plucked from an Apple store," said Editor Glucker, who didn't hold his punches. "Staring at the radio of the Benz reminds me of a dusty HAM radio. The map displayed by the Benz would have been great if navigation came standard on a 1989 560 SE. Meanwhile, we're not looking at a map in the Audi... we are looking at the actual earth, courtesy of Google."



2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 navigation system2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 center console

The Mercedes COMAND multimedia system falls short on innovative technology, but it is easier to use


2012 Audi A7 3.0T navigation system2012 Audi A7 3.0T center console
Audi's MMI is Google-enabled and broadcasts WiFi thanks to the vehicle's own 3G connection


After 30 minutes of near-straight freeway driving at speeds of about 75 mph, it was time to head into the mountains. The weather went from sunny and hot, to wet and cool.



Steady rain, and a long chain of weekend traffic heading up the hill, kept our speeds low as we followed the mountain's contour climbing towards the lake. Realizing hydrated passengers are happy passengers, I had brought along a cooler full of ice and 16.9-ounce water bottles. While the insulated chest was strapped tightly into the trunk of the Mercedes with tie-downs, the passengers were forced to find places to store their bottles. The cup holders worked well up front, but passengers in the rear did a lot of grumbling. The average-sized cup holders held firmly in the Audi, but gave most everyone headaches in the Mercedes. "As for the cup holders on the CLS550, the test bottles did not fit. Even on the highway at speed, a slight change in direction basically made them fall out. I ended up putting the test bottles in at an angle to hold them. Audi's bottles held up going up the canyon roads and never did move. It's a better designed cup holder. The Audi had a spring loaded clip that would close to the minimum position and would spring out to fit larger cups, kinda like fingers holding a cup," noted Manjul.



Jeff and I noticed that the Audi's standard Quattro all-wheel drive made a difference in the rain. Not as much on the high speed sweepers as it did around town - most obvious when launching from a standstill. The muscular Mercedes would just start to spin a rear wheel off the line before its traction control would immediately kill the fun, making for some "oh-crap" moments when pulling into traffic. The Audi, on the other hand, was able to manage its grip and put the power down even on wet pine needles. (The just-launched CLS550 4Matic, with permanent all-wheel drive, would have been an equalizer under these conditions, though more expensive still.)



2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 vs 2012 Audi A7 3.0T



After lunch, the clouds cracked open and rays of sun dried the road. It was the opportunity for Jeff and me to push the cars a bit harder. The CLS550 was the muscle car, delivering effortless thrust accompanied by an exhaust note that put smiles on everyone's face. The A7, on the other hand, was challenged to keep up and its exhaust note muted. "The A7 sounds pretty good when you rev it, but nothing like the Benz. The relative lack of exhaust tone in the Audi isn't a strike against the car itself - it wouldn't dissuade me from buying one - but it doesn't stack up to the music that was coming from the CLS engine," said Alex. "The CLS exhaust from the back seat is perfect," Ian agreed.



At altitude, and with all seats occupied by adults, the A7 was working hard. Stuck behind a slow car, but with a clear passing zone, the supercharged 3.0-liter didn't give me enough confidence to try the pass - the CLS550 would have taken it with ease. The engine in the Mercedes was strong, but I did find frustration with its seven-speed automatic transmission as it seemed more likely to unnecessarily hunt for gears. This was most apparent when compared back-to-back against the smooth eight-speed automatic in the Audi.



2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 badge2012 Audi A7 3.0T badge



Editor Glucker was just as impressed with the performance of the Benz. "It's hard to argue with the 4.7-liter mill mounted under the hood of the CLS550. In fact, you don't want to try and talk over it, because it's more enjoyable just to listen to it. Mean and low, the Mercedes rumbles like a tough guy in a tux. It pulls hard through the majority of the rev range. Audi's powerplant is a totally different animal, yet it is one that fights above its weight class. There is no supercharger whine, or grumbling exhaust note to speak of, but there is a wonderful application of power. Down 92 horses to the mighty Mercedes, the Audi somehow manages to feel nearly as quick. The quattro all-wheel-drive system certainly plays a major role, but I'm still a bit flabbergasted that a car this heavy manages to get along so well with just 310 horsepower."



The passengers relegated to the back seats, and getting tossed around like rag dolls in the process, preferred to ride out the twisty sections in the Audi. "On top of the mountain, the [CLS's] air suspension in the rear was constantly correcting for the car into the turns. I could hear it and while it wasn't bad the fact is that it felt like the sinking Titanic. Go into a fast left-handed turn, the car would sink on the right and then bounce up a bit to stabilize the rear. That's what made me seasick. The Audi did not have that feeling," said a woozy Manjul. He wasn't alone in his queasiness, as Erick agreed with him, "I noticed that sitting in the back of the Mercedes made me feel a little nauseous compared to sitting in the front... sitting in the back was very bouncy for me."







Reaching the base of the hill meant another 30-minute trek on flat 70 mph freeways. Not only did it give Manjul's stomach a chance to settle, but it allowed everyone time to think and compose their thoughts about each vehicle before we arrived back at our familiar In-N-Out parking lot.



A quick check of the trip computers revealed 152 fresh miles on the odometer. The Mercedes-Benz CLS550 returned 20.5 mpg calculated by its trip computer (against an EPA fuel economy rating of 17/25). The Audi A7 3.0T delivered 21.6 mpg over the identical route (against an EPA rating of 18/28). Everyone considered both figures very impressive when the payload, driving route and power output of each engine was factored in. The fuel economy numbers were also further proof that the Mercedes wasn't working nearly as hard as the Audi.



Our chauffeured volunteers, who spent five long hours without ever touching an accelerator pedal, were split four-to-two on their favorite. Lisa, Manjul, Stephen and Erick preferring the A7, while Ian and Alex - two of our younger guests - chose the CLS550.





2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 gauges2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 dash clock2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 start button

Bold analog gauges and a prominent start button are features of the Mercedes-Benz CLS550 interior


2012 Audi A7 3.0T gauges2012 Audi A7 3.0T dash2012 Audi A7 3.0T shifter
Impeccible detail, rich materials and a traditional shifter highlight the Audi A7's interior


Stephen, who was in the Audi camp, couldn't look past the CLS550's styling, both inside and out. "The interior of a car sets the tone in which it's driven. In this case, we've got a whole lot of contradiction. The exterior styling advertises this as a car for the moneyed life of the party and the exhaust note will put your stoplight neighbors on notice. Sadly, the cabin makes it nearly impossible to fulfill either of those prophecies. I cannot imagine sitting in the driver's seat and pushing that car hard. Such a lack of cohesion and display of disorder isn't just surprising in a German car, it's practically shocking."



Ian, who was on team Mercedes, had a contradictory view. "I enjoyed the Benz in almost every way over the Audi. I thought the seats were more comfortable and had more options, the ride when needed felt sportier, and when not needed felt more plush and subdued. The engine, while recognizing the Audi was down on horsepower, just felt stronger and more linear in the Benz. The Audi's only redeeming factor in my mind was its GPS."



The two Autoblog drivers, tasked with preserving life and limb of the valuable cargo, were also split. Jeff liked the A7, while I was mesmerized by the CLS550.



2012 Audi A7 3.0T and 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550



"On paper, the Mercedes-Benz CLS550 is a clear winner," said Jeff. "More power, rear-wheel-drive dynamics and the world-class luxury that comes with a big Benz. But this fight is Rocky verses Apollo Creed. Despite the power difference, the Audi managed to keep up on our canyon jaunts. The A7 is an absolute stunner in the exterior styling department and the interior gadgetry should make a Benz owner throw up for spending so much more. I also feel Mercedes should give up the copycat LED daytime running lights because Audi has clearly perfected them. If I were in the market for a four-passenger luxury sports sedan in this price range (let's quit calling them coupes), I would certainly consider both of these cars. Then I would take my first sip of coffee, buy the Audi, a new set of golf clubs, some aftermarket wheels, and put the rest of my cash into a high-yield mutual fund."



The Audi is undeniably sexy and its technology cutting-edge, but your author finds it impossible to overlook the twin-turbocharged 4.7-liter under the hood of the Mercedes. Mountains of torque rocket the four-door off the line with a squeal and it doesn't seem to ever run out of steam. While I am a tech-geek, the callous rumble of a refined V8 combined with hip-hugging seats and a thick steering wheel made me forget all about the Audi's Google-infused navigation system and eye-candy display. Sure, the Audi was quick in the corners, but the Mercedes is so much more fun to drive. If offered the choice, I'd grab the key fob to the CLS550 faster than you can say "managed collective investment," point the three-pointed star towards Vegas and go hang with the high rollers.



2012 Audi A7 3.0T and 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550



In the end, five votes went to the Audi A7 3.0T while the remaining three votes fell on the Mercedes CLS550 – the A7 owned the win.



The Audi's victory is surprising, but not completely unexpected. Many of us in the driver's seat automatically assume horsepower and a well-sorted chassis will dominate a comparison. This time, with all seating positions contributing a ballot, it was innovative technology and ride comfort that hoisted the leader to the podium.





Battle of the Four-Dour Coupes



The Audi A7 is simply gorgeous, both inside and out. Toss in a very competent supercharged V6 and the all-weather capability of Quattro all-wheel drive and the stunning four-door just may be one of the world's finest all-around vehicles. While down on horsepower, the A7 captured the win thanks to its passenger-friendly cabin and innovative technology - qualities that matter to all occupants, not just the driver.


The Mercedes-Benz CLS550 established the four-door coupe segment, so it finds itself in a defensive position against the newcomers who take carefully aimed shots at the veteran. The CLS550 is a driver's car, from the throaty V8 and rear-wheel drive powertrain to the cross-drilled multi-piston brakes. Those excellent attributes, however, don't change the outlook to those left staring out the window from the rear seats.