Friday 14 February 2014

Toyota venza

The Toyota Venza drives like a car but offers the cargo space of an SUV. It offers more utility than a sedan, yet it's smaller and sits lower than an SUV. Venza seats five and comes with premium equipment and attributes normally associated with SUVs. 
For the 2013 model year, Toyota has freshened the styling of the Venza, and has added standard and optional features. The 2013 Venza comes with Toyota's Entune multi-media system. Otherwise unchanged, the Venza is built on the platform of the previous-generation (2007-2011) Camry, and is assembled in the same plant in Georgetown, Kentucky. 
But the Venza is more than an upscale, contemporary rendition of a Camry station wagon. The Venza is more original than that, and more functional, loaded with a mix of highly evolved features and fresh design ideas. Venza compares most closely with the Honda Crosstour, which is based on the Accord. 
Venza is essentially a tall car, with a roomy, cleverly designed interior, that can handle the hauling tasks that make SUVs a popular choice. It's a family car, a good daily runabout that's easy to drive and park. And it's highly useful, for moving people, pets and grocery-getting. We found it spacious and comfortable. And it's much better looking than the Honda Crosstour. 
Venza is available with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine or a 3.5-liter V6, both backed by a 6-speed automatic transmission. It's available in all-wheel-drive (AWD) and front-wheel-drive (FWD) configurations. 
The 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine makes 181 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque and gets an EPA-estimated 21/27 mpg City/Highway. The V6 is rated at 268 horsepower and 246 pound-feet of torque and is rated at 18/25 mpg with all-wheel drive. 
On the road, the Venza feels like a car. It rides smoothly and quietly and steers easily. We were impressed with its stability on slippery roads, whether equipped with all-wheel drive or not. Although there are some SUV attributes, such as the higher seat height and a high degree of cargo versatility, from the driver's seat you'd swear you were in a four-door sedan. 
A facelift can ruin a car when stylists exchange a good, original design for one that's merely different. Fortunately, that hasn't happened here. Instead everything the Toyota designers have done with the 2013 Venza has made a good design even better


Wednesday 12 February 2014

Toyota RAV4

The Toyota RAV4 was not only one of the original crop of compact crossovers brought into the world in the mid-1990s; it's been one of the best-selling ones ever since then. But with redesigned versions of the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape, it's time for some major change for the RAV4. And for 2013, it has arrived.
While the 2013 Toyota RAV4 has gained some ground in tuning in with what shoppers in this segment want today; it's also lost some features along the way--namely, its available third-row seat and its optional six-cylinder engine.
In short—literally—the Toyota RAV4 leaves room for the larger Highlander, and plants its feet even more firmly in the compact category this time around the subdivision. It also dumps its outdated automatic transmissions, and mixes in more safety and entertainment gear. On the whole, it's more efficient and a little more enthusiastic in its daily chores, with more room than the perky Escape and more alert road manners than the CR-V, though not vice versa.
It's simple to tell whether you're looking at a new RAV4: check out the rear. Older models had a tailgate-mounted spare tire, but this year it's gone, put where all other crossovers have it, under the cargo floor. That plus the gentle migration of the body to a more hatchback-style flow, and to a lower stance, pitch the RAV4 headlong into the lookalike bin filled with the Escape, the Santa Fe, even the subtler Mazda CX-5. The Toyota does a better job than the Escape at putting a carlike face on a taller wagon body, but doesn't win all day like the Mazda at wrapping its rear end seductively in glass and metal. The RAV4's tailgate is its sore thumb: the taillamps are pointy and shelf out, all in the name of meeting safety regulations. There's some discord in the cockpit too--not in the clash of lines and surfaces, but in the plastics that form them. It's rare we like cheaper plastic better, but too many kinds of trim turn us away from the Limited and its synthetic leather, and toward the more durable, less complicated-looking RAV4 LE.

It's a case of give and take in performance, where the RAV4 gives up its V-6 aspirations for better, more carlike handling. There's only a 176-horsepower four-cylinder under the hood now, but it's saved by a six-speed automatic with a sport-shift mode and a 0-60 mph time in the acceptable range (under 9 seconds). Smoother than it is swift, the drivetrain doesn't get in the way often, but never spurs the urge to drive more as we've felt in the latest Ford Escape. Revamped suspension tuning lets the RAV4 ride lower, and electric power steering has good weighting and centering feel. The choice at hand is whether to stand by the front-drive versions and their slightly lower curb weight, or opt for the upgraded, $1400 all-wheel-drive system, which not only locks the rear wheels in line in foul weather, but delivers some torque back there when the RAV4 tacks into a sweeping corner.  Whatever the choice, avoid the Eco mode button--it's called that because "joy extinguisher" wouldn't fit--and we'd stick with the 17-inch tires on LE and XLE versions for a more absorbent ride.

The RAV4 ups its safety ante with eight airbags as standard equipment, including knee airbags. Also standard across the board: Bluetooth and a rearview camera. Blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts are available on the top trim level. Safety ratings are top-notch for the most part, but they're sullied a bit by a single 'Poor' rating in the new IIHS small overlap frontal test.

Among other features, the base RAV4 LE also comes with power locks, windows, and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; tilt/telescoping steering; steering-wheel audio and phone controls; and an AM/FM/CD player controlled through a 6.1-inch LCD touchscreen. The XLE adds dual-zone automatic climate control; a sunroof; and fog lights, to which the Limited adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel.Major options on the RAV4 include navigation on the XLE and Limited, with Entune app connectivity and satellite radio; and on the Limited, a JBL audio system with 576 watts of power and 11 speakers.

The 2013 Toyota RAV4 carries a base price of $24,145 on the LE model. We'd choose it, or the $25,135 XLE, with or without all-wheel drive, and leave the Limited for the few who have to pay $27,855 for a power driver seat and those 18-inch wheels. Knowing the RAV4's core audience, the decider could well end up being satellite radio and navigation: they're unavailable on the LE, an option on the XLE. Choose well--or at least, choose your smartphone substitute well.



Friday 7 February 2014

BMW 507 Series

The post-war sports car in America is a thing of beauty, and the man almost singularly responsible for recognizing that American audiences would appreciate such beauty and performance was Max Hoffman, for whom the world’s automakers created art in metal for, for over two decades. He was the ultimate muse: a man who inspired beautiful machinery with a simple command and one that had the resources and influence to back up his inspirations.

It was the drumbeats from Hoffman’s New York office that led to the creation of the Porsche Speedster, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL and 190 SL, and this car, the BMW 507. BMW would have eventually recognized the performance capabilities of its engineering, or how the American market’s thirst for fast, beautiful open two-seaters had not yet been quenched, but it was actually Hoffman who spurred on the effort, by demanding stylish machinery that would bridge the divide between low-priced MGs, the Porsches, and the pricey 300 SL in his lineup.

The 507 would utilize the best of Bavaria, with mechanical components sourced from the 502 and 503 series, including a 3.2-liter, overhead-valve aluminum block V-8, which had been improved with twin carburetors in order to produce some 150 horsepower. Like most great automobiles, however, it would not have become a legend if not for its flowing, downright sensuous curves. It was Max Hoffman who had final approval of the design, so he requested the services of Count Albrecht von Goertz, a protégé of famed industrial designer Raymond Loewy, whose futuristic themes for Studebaker in the early fifties had caught Hoffman’s discerning eye. For Hoffman and BMW, Goertz imagined some of the most beautiful lines ever folded into metal.

The 507 was hand-built at a price that eventually reached over $11,000, which was a towering sum for a car in the day, and it was discontinued after only two-and-a-half years and 251 examples. Those 251 people looked at the car, soaked up its beauty, and likely forgot the price. Elvis Presley reportedly gave one to Ursula Andress, who was entranced with it. Eventual World Champion John Surtees received a 507 from Count Agusta, the motorcycle manufacturer. The basic lines of the 507 went on to inspire the greatest modern BMW, the Z8, which became its spiritual successor in the carriage houses of the wealthy and stylish.

Offered here is a desirable Series II variant with increased engine output and a little additional space behind the seats, offering those taller drivers a more comfortable seating position. It has been beautifully restored in striking Silver with contrasting handsome Green leather upholstery, making it an elegant, period-correct, and beautifully subtle alternative to the sea of white 507s more often offered. It is presented in excellent overall condition, and it has been nicely detailed, with correct steel wheels fitted and an original 507 factory hardtop. Importantly, the 507’s hardtop was “designed in” by Goertz, and the car is as striking with the hardtop fixed as it is when opened to  the  breeze.

Most importantly, in a recent road test by an RM specialist, the car started with ease and was superb in operation, with an easy clutch, responsive brakes, and exhilarating performance. Even at 60 mph, it traveled straight down the road, and heading into a curve, it handled adroitly, just as Max Hoffman would have expected of it.

In those days of the new America, as memories of World War II faded and the Baby Boom echoed through streets of prosperity, sports cars became a symbol not just of speed, but also of freedom. The BMW 507 has become an iconoclastic object of that time, and it is at home in history as it is in the garage.



Tuesday 4 February 2014

Authentic Jaguar Xkss

Jaguar’s D-Type was one of the landmark race cars of the 1950s. Not only was it beautiful, but it fulfilled Jaguar founder William Lyon's desire to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. D-Types won there in 1955, 1956 and 1957. That's only three of the D-Type's victories; many others came in the hands of private race teams.

In 1956, Jaguar suspended its factory racing efforts while 25 D-Types were still in inventory. Famed American racer Briggs Cunningham convinced Jaguar to add another 25 D-Types, the total of 50 meeting the Sports Car Club of America's rules to qualify for production sports car racing in the U.S.

The factory changed the model number of the cars from XKD to XKSS, the initials apparently standing for Super Sport. Externally, Jaguar added bumpers to protect the aluminum bodywork, a luggage rack for touring, turn signals, larger taillights and a full-width windshield. The distinctive D-Type headrest and fin were removed. For creature comfort, side windows and a folding top were devised, while the center divider between driver and passenger was removed and the rider got a proper door.
Basically unchanged were the technical specifications. XKSS customers received the same 250-bhp dry-sump 3.4-liter straight-6 engine that would move the Jaguar to 60 mph in just 5.2 seconds on the way to its 149-mph top speed. Also retained for the XKSS were the rack-and-pinion steering and disc brakes used in the competition D-Type.
Jaguar unveiled the car at the New York Auto Show and orders were taken, customers anxious to get their street-legal D-Types. Work began converting the 25 remaining D-Types to XKSS specification, but then disaster struck. A fire at the Brown's Lane factory in February 1957 destroyed not just nine of the cars, but all the necessary jigs and tooling needed to build them.

The 16 remaining XKSS were delivered and remain icons among Jaguar aficionados; the group was even honored at the 2010 Pebble Beach Concours. Most famous of their owners was Steve McQueen, who bought his XKSS in 1958 and twice almost lost his license driving the Jaguar. He sold the car...but so missed the XKSS that he bought it back.

Monday 3 February 2014

Honda NSX

Patience really is a virtue in this game. We first drove Honda’s magnificent factory-tweaked NSX in Japan in 2002, then again back in Britain in unofficial ‘grey’ import form later that year, yet we’re still waiting for Honda to give the green light to proper UK-supplied NSX Type-Rs. You can understand the lack of urgency when you consider that Honda shifts just 20 NSXs annually in the UK, but that number could potentially double if Honda announces the Type-R’s arrival.
The decision is expected to be made in May, and I’m sure that, like me, you’re desperate for that to happen, even if you’re not struck on the Championship White paint that all cars would wear. In spite of what Chris Harris said in his column last week, most cars too new to appear in an episode of Heartbeat really do look rubbish in white. But the R pulls it off magnificently, wheels and all, thanks in no small part to the black roof, pillars and spoiler that break up any slab-sided effect.

The basic silhouette is now 14 years old and looks it, despite going under the surgeon’s knife two years ago to have the old-fashioned pop-up lamps replaced by bubble-top jobs. It’s lithe, though, appearing both elegant and delicate beside more chunky modern machinery and, in this case, has a decent dollop of authentic Japanese street-racing charm.
The chances of seeing a regular NSX in white are next to zero, but you’ll be able to identify the Type-R by the red H emblem adorning the nose. It lies just ahead of the vented carbonfibre bonnet which, together with a hollow rear spoiler made from the same stuff, a lighter battery and the elimination of kit such as the central locking system, helps chop around 145kg from the standard car’s 1445kg kerbweight. That front scoop is more than just window dressing, too. It’s part of a series of aerodynamic tweaks, including a rear diffuser, that are claimed to keep the Type-R welded to the tarmac at high speed.
Peer inside and the fantastic Recaro bucket seats, titanium gearknob and yellow instrument dials should remove any trace of doubt over the R’s game plan, although the presence of air conditioning and electric seat motors seem odd given the weight savings made elsewhere. Sadly, the ‘grey’ car’s lovely Momo steering wheel has bitten the bullet to make way for an airbag-equipped item.
But you’ll forget that, and the slightly high-set seat, the moment you turn the key. Doing so opens the floodgates and unleashes a rich torrent of mechanical noise into the cabin. Engine tweaks are limited to blueprinting the internals, so Honda quotes the same ridiculously pessimistic 276bhp as it does for the standard car (torque is up 4lb ft to 224lb ft) but we’d put money on it making more.
Gear ratios are the same, too, but a lower final drive and that weight-saving program result in a tangible jump in performance over the 170mph and 5.7sec to 60mph claimed for the standard car. Talk is of a 4.8sec potential, but what really matters is that it feels deliciously fast as you slice up and down the six-speed manual ’box. It also sounds even better than before as the needle howls towards the number eight on the left-hand dial, accompanied by a frenzied crescendo of induction and exhaust rasp.
We weren’t able to try the NSX on the sort of nasty British A- and B-roads that have the potential to reveal an unpleasant side to stiffly set-up cars but, on track, the uprated springs, dampers, anti-roll bars and new bushes work brilliantly, making this a car in which even mildly handy drivers can lap quickly and confidently. Pedal spacing is ideal for heel and toe work and the ventilated brake discs feel massively powerful, hauling the R down from big speeds time and again without signs of fade.
But even better is the steering – unassisted on the R and hugely heavy when parking – which demands a fair amount of arm work even at speed, but rewards with an incredibly detailed and uninterrupted dialogue between you and the front wheels, leaving you in absolutely no doubt about events at the sharp end.
At a time when too many manufacturers are trying to fob us off with synthesised feel for the sake of saving the odd mile per gallon, it’s this single aspect of the Type-R that leaves the most lasting, and welcome, impression.
So incredibly capable is the chassis, though, that you just know it could handle a whole lot more grunt. Front-end bite from the special Bridgestone RE070s is phenomenal in the dry and, so good is the traction, you can safely employ full noise exiting quicker corners without unsettling the rears. The same technique on second-gear turns reveals the Type-R to be just as happy drifting as the NSX always was. The legality of those boots for European applications is still unclear: we genuinely hope they get the nod.
As you’d expect, there’ll be a premium to pay for all this extra ability. Full prices are still guesswork, but reckon on £75,000 for the R against £60,000 for a regular NSX. So good was the standard BMW M3 that we questioned the sanity of someone willing to pay over £60k for a CSL. Until we drove one – then its 50 per cent mark-up seemed almost justifiable.
A decade and a half after we drove our first one, the standard NSX still works as one of the most usable, affordable supercars on sale, but we have absolutely no qualms recommending you dig deeper for the Type-R. For all its honing, it’s still as usable as a regular NSX, and what little you lose in practicality you more than regain in sheer dynamism. All at a price little higher than you’d have paid for a standard car three years ago.
In terms of rivals, only Porsche’s hard-core 911 GT3 matches the Honda on price, ability, focus and sheer aural pleasure. Subjectively, the Porsche feels the swifter, but maintaining that pace certainly requires more learning, commitment and good old-fashioned skill.

If Honda does give the okay to sales in the UK, official Type-Rs could be available within a few months. We know we’re not alone in sincerely hoping that happens.