While these aren’t full-blown tests, the short drives do give us a chance to get a feel for the newest cars and the progress (or lack thereof) we see from the automakers. Imagine it like a visit to an ice cream shop, where you get a big dollop of each of the newest flavors. In some cases, you’ll want to come back for more. In other cases? Not so much.
Here are the flavors we sampled:
BMW 430i convertible – Combine sloppy steering, a chassis that feels loosely bolted to the body and a sticker price well north of $50K, and you get the feeling that the vaunted and much-admired BMW has lost its way. And we’re not alone. On these past drives, our fellow auto writers would often let the Japanese brands sit on the lot while they jostled to drive the Bimmers. But now that Lexus and Infiniti have gained some German-style soul, the tables are turned.
Cadillac CTS Vsport – This was one of many drives we’ve had in Cadillac’s V-cars, both on street and track, and it was still sublime. At $75K well-equipped, the 420-horsepower Vsport is the one to go for if the CTS-V’s 650 Corvette horses are too much for you. Attention, Mercedes and BMW loyalists! Break from the crowd and take any of the V Caddies for a test drive. You’ll thank us.
Dodge Challenger GT AWD -- The Hellcat and the other Hemi Challengers make us feel 18 again. This one makes us feel retired. Oh, it’s a nice car alright. But it drives like a Buick LaCrosse in a muscle car costume. If you want an AWD car, get a Subaru. If you want a muscle car, buy a real one.
Genesis G90 -- Genesis is clearly nipping at the heels of the German and Japanese luxury marques, but they still have a way to go. This big sedan gives you all of the interior amenities you could want, as well as a nice stance. But the floaty ride reminds us of granddad’s Electra 225. The folks who build Mercedes’ S-class don’t have much to worry about . . . yet.
Honda Clarity Fuel Cell – After a hot, noisy day of driving, this hushed, well-appointed hydrogen-powered sedan was a delight. We would lease one (it’s lease-only for now) if only we could find enough hydrogen stations and if the fuel cell economic proposition would work for daily drivers (it doesn’t yet). We had a similar plus/minus experience last year in Toyota’s Mirai.
Infiniti Q60 Red Sport AWD – This stunning coupe delivers more-than-ample luxury, not to mention solid power and sports-car handling. And you can drive it in the snow to boot. Both Infiniti and Lexus have finally found the way to dial some Teutonic goodness into their chassis. The writers are beginning to notice and they kept this car on the road for most of the day.
Jaguar F Type SVR roadster – Oh, yeah, baby! What else can you say? You’re driving a 575-horsepower, all-wheel-drive roadster through the twisties on a gloriously warm day in the forest. While we love the Corvette and consider it a bargain, think about this Jag as a significant step up if you can stretch to the $128,800 base price. Believe us. It’s worth the difference.
Land Rover Discovery – Land Rover has done a great job with its downscale lineup and the Discovery is no exception. We loved the torque of the 340-horsepower V-6 and the decent handling (except for the body roll) of this large SUV. We also liked the exceptional fit and finish of the interior. It was a typical Land Rover job well-done.
Lexus LC500h – Watch out, BMW i8. Lexus is delivering a hybrid sport coupe that looks and drives as well or better for a sticker price that’s about $40,000 less. In terms of design, execution and feeling, this was the star of the day and the waiting list was long. The 354 horses tied to two transmissions made us feel like we had more than 500. This is a fantastic alternative if you can forgo the i8’s scissor doors and sales exclusivity. You will definitely stand out in the country club parking lot with this new Lexus and you'll do so with a green conscience.
Mazda CX-5 -- Mazda's luxurious mid-sized crossover sends a strong message to the luxury brands: you don't need a three-pointed star on the hood or a $40,000-plus price tag to get a sumptuous interior and solid ride. We've driven the similar Mercedes crossovers, for example, and we see no reason to go upscale when you can get the high-value Mazda for the mid-30s or less. This ride is a good example of the narrowing technology between the mainstream and luxury brands.
Mazda Miata RF – As with the regular convertible, this targa version was still a whole barrel of fun. Great engine. Great manual transmission. Wonderful handling. A cockpit that fit like a glove. Unfortunately, the solid top also delivers a whole barrel of wind noise. We don’t see its benefit. Put us down for the standard soft-top roadster, which looks just as good and is a little easier on the wallet.
MINI Clubman John Cooper Works All4 manual – You never leave a MINI without a smile on your face. And this Clubman was no exception. We love the way it scats around the corners with a blaaat of exhaust as you hit the pedal. And we love the usual excellent interior execution. Unfortunately, the $35,000+ price tag takes a little bloom off the rose.
Subaru Impreza – We were impressed with the way Subaru has moved its compact model upscale. Handling was tight and the interior was whisper quiet on the Limited 5-door we drove. There are touches of luxury throughout the interior. This was no economy car. Unfortunately, someone at Subaru decided to replace the formerly comfortable seats with something that resembled a plywood bench. These new seats would be a deal-killer for us.
Volkswagen Golf Alltrack – Speaking of Subaru, VW has set its sights on the Outback with this new all-wheel-drive wagon. The interior has plenty of luxury, the drive is definitely Germanic and the engine offers good power. It’s a really nice ride, if a little pricey. But it’s gonna take an awful lot of lovin’ to pull people out of their Subarus. And the VW diesel scandal doesn’t help.M