There was a figurative and literal dark cloud that floated over us as I was on the plane to Ottawa. A choice of newspapers were offered to me, both of which had front page news, as well as many ...
 
 
A tiny island off the coast of Gander, Newfoundland with about 2,500 mostly sea-faring residents may just have been one of the last places on earth that any traditional cost/benefit analysis would ...
 
 
I have many fond memories of the Maxima from my high school days. It was the mid-to-late ’90s when my best friend often arrived in my driveway or out front of school to pick me up in his mom’s ...
 
 
Looking for a newer used factory-tuned performance car? Five options stand out when it comes to delivering world-class thrills. Winter is coming, and it’s going to suck, super El Niño or not. ...
 
 
There are few automobiles more iconic than the Mini. It’s been celebrated in popular culture, driven by the famous and not-so famous, and has always transcended social class. That’s because it ...
 
 
Carroll Shelby would be proud. No question. Were the Godfather of factory performance still here to take one of these out for a rip, he’d be impressed. Undoubtedly. Perhaps even in tears. They’re ...
 
 
Super-Spoiler Alert: I believe the 2016 Cadillac CTS-V is the best all-around performance car in the world right now. Now, a caveat that requires mentioning: While I haven’t driven all of the ...
 
 
Although its start is still months away, 2016 is shaping up to be a challenging season for the Verizon IndyCar Series. In addition to the Groundhog Day-like concerns that seem to cling to the ...
 
 
$41,950 AS TESTED Queue Gonzalez: The 2015 B 250 4MATIC received a facelift to fit with Mercedes-Benz’s present design language, not to mention the addition of the convenient all-wheel drive ...
 
 
$20,595 AS TESTED Alas, the era of the infamous 2.slow is over. The lethargic four-banger that took up residence in base Jettas of yore has been replaced with a newer, turbocharged 1.4L mill, and it ...
 
        
 
There was a figurative and literal dark cloud that floated over us as I was on the plane to Ottawa. A choice of newspapers were offered to me, both of which had front page news, as well as many different angled stories inside that covered what many are calling “diesel gate” (#dieselgate if you’re hip). It just so happened I was flying to Ottawa to drive some of Volkswagen’s newest offerings. Awkward. If you somehow missed it, here’s a summation: a bad guy (or multiple villains) designed emissions software to cheat the EPA’s testing systems, which made all of Volkswagen’s diesel vehicles seem to make amazing fuel efficiency with little environmental impact. This, of course, was not true. Outrage and overprotective mothers covering the faces of their children as TDIs passed on the street followed. What a lot of people don’t realize is that it wasn’t the work of the whole company; it was the work of one, or of a small few. Truth is, the rest of the company has a genuine love for what they do and the vehicles they produce. This passion was unhindered by recent events when we arrived to drive the new Golf R. The Golf R is pretty legendary in the VW community. From 2002 to 2008, the Golf was offered in a pumped up version called “R32.” From 2009 and on, the Golf would drop the two numbers on the end, but keep all the performance. From 2002 to 2015, the Golf R(32) has been a fairly limited release, with all examples being snatched up to either be stored or ripped around a track. The 2016 Golf R separates itself from its predecessors by the fact that it will be available by demand. You can go to a dealer right now, order one and have it delivered after a bit of a wait. The striking thing about the 2016 Golf R is actually its lack of striking-ness. The Golf R isn’t more or less flashy than a regular Golf. There isn’t a huge “R” decal on it anywhere, or some gaudy “race me” skirt kit bolted on. There are some small body restylings here and there with a subtle, red “R” on the right side of the rear hatch. One wouldn’t think that there are 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque inside this seemingly civilian body, and it’s perfect – an unsuspecting grocery-getter with rocket-like power. Part of that rocket-like launching is thanks to its delivery system, VW’s 4motion all-wheel-drive. The other part is parcel to the all-new MQB platform, which is the lightest and most rigid yet to underpin the Golf. Taking the R to Calabogie Motorsports Park really put this combination to the test, with spooky results. This car wants to stay planted. And it will stay planted. You want grip? The Golf R will give you all of the grip. All of it. With almost 300 horses in the stable and a car that sticks to asphalt like Velcro, I could really take the R to its limits, which resulted in maximum smileage (not yet rated by NRCan). Coming off the track, the Golf R proves that it’s a car that can be taken anywhere. Its adjustable chassis control allows you to choose from three modes (Comfort, Sport and Race) to dial in your desired suspension damping and steering response. Switching from “Race” to “Comfort” is entirely noticeable and dials the Golf into a more relaxed state. Almost all of VW’s 2016 line will feature multimedia units in the dash that feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so you can entertain yourself with a tailored entertainment experience via your smartphone preference. And while banging through the six-speed manual gearbox will never get old, I found myself wishing I had snatched a DSG model as we hit some traffi c on our way back home. The DSG is also no slouch on the track, providing some serious and instant power delivery. The R could help reduce your lap times and make your grocery trips or afterschool pickups a little more fun, and the switch between the two is instant. As I see it, the Golf R is a hero car for VW right now. It’s an everything car for anyone, and although its release didn’t coincide with the emissions scandal, it came along at the right time. The new R blows through the black smoke and negativity to show (past a couple of bad apples) VW for who they are – a group of enthusiasts that can build some pretty wicked cars. BY THE NUMBERS$136.97 /HP (CALCULATED W/ BASE MSRP) 146 HP/L 176.72 HP/TON 5.13 KG/HP SPECIFICATIONS 2016 Volkswagen Golf R BASE PRICE: $39,995 AS TESTED: $42,010 ENGINE: 2.0L TSI I-4 HORSEPOWER: 292 hp @ 5,400-6,200 rpm TORQUE: 280 lb-ft @ 1,900-5,300 rpm DRY WEIGHT: 1,499 kg CONFIGURATION: Front engine / all-wheel-drive TRANSMISSION(S): 6-speed manual, 6-speed DSG automatic FUEL ECONOMY (CITY / HWY.): 10.9 / 7.7 L/100 km WARRANTY (MOS / KM): 48 / 80,000 km ALTERNATIVES: Audi A3, Ford Focus ST, Hyundai Veloster Rallye, Mazda3 GT, Mini Cooper / JCW NOTABLE OPTIONS: TECHNOLOGY PACKAGE ($2,015) Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Detection, Discover Pro infotainment system (8-in. touchscreen radio with proximity sensor, CD player, satellite navigation, and 2 SD card slots), Front Assist: Autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring with City Emergency Brake, Lane Assist, Park Distance Control (PDC).
A tiny island off the coast of Gander, Newfoundland with about 2,500 mostly sea-faring residents may just have been one of the last places on earth that any traditional cost/benefit analysis would place an architecturally stunning luxury hotel. But that’s exactly what former Fogo Islander Zita Cobb did after making millions in the high-tech fibre optic industry in Ontario. Mercedes-Benz may just be taking a similar flier with the introduction of the 2016 GLE Coupe, a slightly swoopier version of the regular GLE, which itself is the mid-size SUV formerly known as the ML. This all-new GLE Coupe crossover runs the same formula that spun off the swoopier CLS ‘coupe’ so successfully, with a lower roof plus diminished rear seat and cargo room, though this same formula didn’t work out well at all for Acura’s ZDX, a short-lived but fairly attractive version of the more staid Acura MDX. Mercedes-Benz Canada hosted the Canadian launch of the GLE Coupe at the demurely-named Fogo Island Inn that has become the centrepiece of Cobb’s cultural and economic revitalization effort, in an area decimated by a government-imposed moratorium on cod-fishing – the main economic staple of the island for decades, if not centuries. The Inn is not the only stunning yet visually jarring element of Cobb’s revitalization project: several angular post-modern pods have been placed around the island, all of them perched seemingly precariously by the crashing waves of the North Atlantic. But all of them reflective of the island or its maritime roots in some way, and are used by visiting artists as hosted design studios. The GLE Coupe may be similarly post-modern to some eyes, an evolution of the traditional two-box SUV, but still with all the four-door practicality of a midsize SUV. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, and though it still has nothing to do with any true ‘coupe’ in the traditional/ proper two-door sense of the world, its lower roof height and tapered rear end does make it stand out more in a sea of quickly multiplying luxury SUVs.  And unlike traditional coupes, there’s little practicality penalty for more adventurous styling, outside of the GLE Coupe’s price that starts roughly nine thousand dollars north of where the regular GLE starts with the same 3.0-litre diesel engine. The base GLE Coupe starts at $72,300, and we spent most of time in Fogo with a diesel tester that came in with an as-tested price of $85,125. We also sampled the gasoline-powered GLE 450 AMG in Fogo, which starts at $77,600, and in the wake of the Volkswagen diesel scandal sounds like a very reasonable premium for a much smoother, more socially acceptable and more powerful 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 engine. The latter produces 362 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque. Unlike most automakers that place a premium on diesel powertrains, Mercedes-Benz uses them as the base engines in its SUVs. This one off ers 249 horses, with an impressive 457 lb-ft of torque on tap at a low 1,600 rpm. Granted, it’s not the smoothest engine in Benz’s lineup, and there’s still a hint of turbo lag, as the 8.2-second 0-100 km/h time it recorded at the AJAC’s recent Canadian Car and Truck of the Year testing attests. That’s not necessarily slow, but at this price level, it’s certainly not quick. Where the diesel obviously shines is in its fuel efficiency numbers: it officially averages 10.4 L/100 km in the city, and 8.2 on the highway, versus the GLE 450 AMG’s 13.6 and 10.2 numbers, respectively. Both GLE Coupes revelled in the long highway drive north from St. John’s to reach Gander, packing away kilometres in smooth and luxurious comfort. The AMG in the 450’s name refers to its inclusion in the new AMG sports line, which turns the performance spiciness quotient up from the base GLE Coupe quite a bit, but down to medium from traditional AMG highs, with therefore less of a comfort and cost penalty, similar to rival BMW M Sport and Audi S-Line models. The GLE 450 comes standard with the rotary Dynamic Select knob that allows for a range of transmission, suspension and throttle maps, making it feel notably more responsive after hopping out of the GLE 350, even before playing with any settings, both throttle response and especially body lean much better controlled. Space-wise, both my passenger and I manage to fi t fine in the rear seat, even if the headliner is more snug than the regular GLE would have been. Cargo space in the GLE Coupe is listed at 650 litres with all the seats up, compared to 690 in the more square GLE. So, is the GLE Coupe worth the price premium and loss of interior room compared to the GLE? Or, perhaps more importantly, do its looks and performance seduce more than the BMW X6, its most natural rival? This all seems to depend largely on the eye of the beholder, and one’s own appreciation for the artfulness of these exteriors. Somehow, after driving these post-modern crossovers, the Coupe designation that seemed so wrong when first introduced in the context of swoopier crossovers, now at least seems like less of a risky flier than ever. BY THE NUMBERS$290/HP83 HP/L 109.2 HP/TON 9.15 KG/HP SPECIFICATIONS 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350d 4MATIC Coupe BASE PRICE: $72,300 AS TESTED: $85,125 ENGINE: Turbocharged 3.0L diesel V6 HORSEPOWER: 249 @ 3,400 rpm TORQUE: 457 @ 1,600 RPM CONFIGURATION: Front engine / all-wheel-drive TRANSMISSION: 9-speed automatic DRY WEIGHT: 2,280 kg FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (CITY / HWY.): 10.2 / 8.1 L/100 km WARRANTY (MOS. / KM): 48 / 80,000 ALTERNATIVES: BMW X6, Infiniti QX70, Porsche Cayenne, Tesla Model X
I have many fond memories of the Maxima from my high school days. It was the mid-to-late ’90s when my best friend often arrived in my driveway or out front of school to pick me up in his mom’s third-generation 1992 GXE model. He also owned a Mazda RX-7 10th Anniversary Edition (may it R.I.P.) during our school days, and I could go on and on with stories about his second-gen Nissan Pulsar NX. It was when we were cruising around in the Maxima though that we felt like rock stars rollin’ ’round in total luxury. It had lots of cool features, including a sonar system to help navigate tight confines, and windows and a moonroof that could be opened without the key. I used to liken it to riding on a big, puffy couch with wheels – one that could haul ass when needed thanks to its 190-horsepower three-litre V6 engine. It had a four-speed automatic with comfort and sport modes, and Nissan even stuck a 4DSC sticker in the window, thus denoting is as the “four-door sports car.” And, in our minds, it was just that. Today, the Maxima comes in four trims – SV, SL, SR and Platinum – starting at $35,900 and rising to $43,300. All of them come with the venerable VQ35DE 3.5-litre V6 engine making 300 horsepower and the latest Xtronic continuously variable transmission. Like it did on the third-gen Maxima, Nissan is once again playing the 4DSC card for all trims, essentially trumping up the performance potential of its beloved four-door sports car. The sportiest member of the clan is the SR seen here. This 4DSC gets a number of exclusive touches, including a stiffer sport-tuned Macpherson front and multi-link rear suspension with a hollow front stabilizer bar and beefier solid rear sway bar, as well as a front performance body damper with front strut tower and trunk reinforcement. It’s a sporty setup that handles corners confidently, but Nissan hasn’t tuned out all of the torque steer. One transmission is available across the range. The CVT comes with a dynamic mode selector (normal or sport) that does its best with an integrated dynamic control module, which keeps tabs on a number of active safety technologies, including ride control, trace control and engine braking. Though I wouldn’t call it a performance unit, it does have a manual shift mode and paddle shifters that are mounted on the back of the steering wheel. The rest of the interior is laid out logically and looks nice, almost too nice for a sports car. For example, the premium Ascot leather-appointed seats with diamond-quilted Alcantara inserts and heating and cooling functions come standard. They’re well-bolstered and extremely comfortable; however, I was expecting cloth with perhaps a hint of Alcantara, which would be a bit sportier in terms of body-holding capability. That said, what weekend racer doesn’t pine for air conditioned seats? The matching steering wheel includes the obligatory redundant controls for the infotainment and communications functions; and is complemented by Liquid Chrome trim and aluminum sport pedals. For a sport-focused model the interior is pretty dapper, though it is unavailable with a moonroof. To me, the exterior doesn’t look muscular, which is the intent, but rather portly or stocky, much like a natural middleweight boxer that’s packed on some extra poundage to fight in a higher weight class. Despite looking like an overstuffed in-law that’s eaten too much turkey and stuffing during a holiday family feast, it does have some redeeming qualities. The 19-inch diamond-cut aluminum-alloy wheels, LED headlights, daytime runners and taillights (look closely and you’ll find the 4DSC moniker hidden here) are good examples. Even the front and rear sonar system is standard on the SR. The chrome-tipped dual exhaust system is a nice touch but, again, power heated side mirrors with LED turn signals are more luxe than sport. The Maxima has been a very important vehicle for Nissan for a long time. As its range-topping, mid-size family sedan, it is a quite reasonable entry into the pre-luxury segment. I say pre-luxury because, when you drive it back-to-back with its cousins from Infiniti, you really do notice a difference in that department. I’m not going to compare it to the Q50 sedan. I certainly would have, had I driven the Maxima Platinum. Okay, let’s be honest, this is no Nismo product, and the thought or tracking this car (even for a handful of laps) makes me cringe. It’s not that it couldn’t hack it (with the right upgrades, any car can be made track ready), it’s just not its strength. So, what is this car’s strength? Being sporty with a large helping of comfort and convenience features, of course. To that end, Nissan has you covered. Along with the aforementioned goodies, some more highlights include a remote engine starter with intelligent climate controls, advanced drive assist display with seven-inch colour screen in the cluster and an 11-speaker Bose audio system with active noise cancellation and sound enhancement. Throw in an eight-inch colour touchscreen with voice recognition, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Sirius XM satellite radio readiness and NissanConnect with mobile apps and you’ve got a veritable mobile entertainment centre on wheels. All this is very important when you have a vehicle full of munchkins, tweens or even adults that can’t sit still for more than a few minutes at a time. You’re not going to win any races with this car, but you might win some rallies if your passengers are any good at calling out directions. In terms of seating and spaciousness, there no shortage of the latter (fore or aft) and the big trunk looks capable of swallowing several suitcases and such – there’s more than enough room for your average family to load up and get out of town for a weekend or longer. Would having all-wheel drive, more power, torque or even a manual transmission make this a more sporty car? Yes, indeed. Does it still feel like you’re driving around on a big comfy couch? Yes, just not as puffy. At least on the inside. Rather than 4DSC, a better description for me is ‘family fun-haver.’ I guess I’m just getting old. BY THE NUMBERS$137/HP (CALCULATED W/ BASE MSRP) 85.7 HP/L168.3 HP/TON 5.39 KG/HP 11.2 L/100 KM (OBSERVED – COMBINED) SPECIFICATIONS 2016 Nissan Maxima SR BASE PRICE: $41,100 (plus $1,720 destination and delivery) ENGINE: 3.5L DOHC 24-valve V6 HORSEPOWER: 300 hp @ 6,400 rpm TORQUE: 261 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm CONFIGURATION: Front engine / frontwheel- drive TRANSMISSION: Xtronic continuously variable transmission DRY WEIGHT: 1,617 kg FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (CITY / HWY.): 10.9 / 7.8 L/100 km OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 11.2 L/100 km combined over 325 km WARRANTY (MOS. / KM): 36 / 60,000 ALTERNATIVES: Acura TLX, Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Buick Lacrosse, Chevrolet Impala, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Kia Cadenza, Lexus IS, Toyota Avalon
Looking for a newer used factory-tuned performance car? Five options stand out when it comes to delivering world-class thrills. Winter is coming, and it’s going to suck, super El Niño or not. Thing is, nothing combats the winter blahs like researching used factory-tuned performance cars, especially when the goal is to make one of them your own as soon as the springtime weather hits. If you’ll keep warm this winter dreaming of a springtime filled with motoring thrills in a new-to-you rocket sled, read on. Let’s take a look at five popular models, specially set up by each automaker’s in-house performance division, and a few tips on how to shop smart for the one that interests you. 2013-14 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 This isn’t the sort of Mustang you buy your daughter before she heads off to college. A supercharged 5.8-litre V8 is good for 662 horsepower. Engineers removed the front grille to facilitate high-performance airflow and a 200-mph top speed. If you’re after a used ride with more horsepower than just about anything with four wheels and a warranty, this one’s for you. Test Drive: Most owners report solid reliability and minimal issues, but feel the clutch and shifter for signs of slippage, grinding or biting back, which could indicate clutch problems or gearbox trouble, which aren’t entirely uncommon and likely stem from abusive driving. Look Out For: Scrutinize the paint finish, and track down a model at a Ford dealership as part of a Certified Pre Owned program for maximum confidence. A full mechanical and electronics inspection by a Ford technician should be considered mandatory for maximum peace of mind. If you’re after a used ride with more horsepower than just about anything with four wheels and a warranty, this one’s for you. 2007-13 BMW M3 This one packs a high-strung, hand-built screamer V8 that displaces four litres, outputs 414 horsepower, and spins to an 8,300 RPM redline. Coupe, sedan or convertible models were available, reliability looks solid, and the M3 blends daily-driveable manners and thrilling performance into a highly covetable package. Test Drive: Using the iDrive display, click ‘Menu’ then ‘Vehicle Information’ then ‘Check Control’ to see if the candidate has any issues hidden away. This on-board interface can alert you of some problems or overdue maintenance work, and a highly-advised ‘scan’ of the M3’s drivetrain computer systems at a BMW dealer should be considered mandatory, too. Seek out a model with all service records and, especially, proof of regular oil changes, for maximum peace of mind. Look Out For: Vertical scratches on the windows of a two-door model typically result from the need for revised window seals. Finally, prod the throttle hard, several times, in first gear, where appropriate. You’re listening for a clunk or pop through the rear floor, which could indicate a worn differential mount. A model purchased through a certified pre-owned program with full service records is your safest bet. 2008-14 Dodge Challenger SRT8 Used copies will have no less than 425 horsepower from a 6.1-litre V8, and more recent copies got a 6.4-litre unit that made it 470. Look for available dual-mode dampers, Brembo brakes and a variety of track-tuned chassis upgrades to complete the package. There’s room on board for four, and browsing the Challenger SRT8’s forward gears with your boot to the floor is an experience not to be missed. Test Drive: Most owners report minimal issues, but note that big, heavy, high-powered cars like this can chew through tires, brakes and clutches like a pitbull through a soup bone, so approach a used Challenger SRT8 assuming the seller is trying to pass o the replacement bill until you prove otherwise. Look Out For: Confirm that all window seals are present and in good shape, unless you like water leaks. Inspect the plastic rocker panel covers for signs of cracking, and scrutinize the driver’s seat for signs of ripping or excessive wear. Any biting back or grinding during gear shifts could indicate gearbox trouble. Listen for a troublesome whining or groaning sound from the differential while turning tightly at a low speed, and check all on-board electronics twice for proper operation. 2008-15 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG With no less than 451 horsepower from its massive 6.2-litre V8, expect 0-100 km/h in about four seconds, en route to a quarter-mile pass in the 12-second range. This rocket-propelled C-Class is a total beast when pushed, though civilized and sensible enough for day-to-day errands, too. Test Drive: Some owners report issues surrounding head studs, which hold the engine together internally. If these studs fail, catastrophic engine failure can result. Low coolant levels could be signs of this pricey problem. Ditto poor performance, or difficulty in getting the engine to start, or stay running. If any of these signs are present on your test drive, run don’t walk away. Look Out For: Sporadic performance and poor throttle response could also be the result of a bad throttle position sensor, which may trigger a check engine light. Be sure to have a dealer technician double-check if any issues are noted. Any unwelcome noises or sensations while steering may be the result of a power steering pump that’s about to fail, likely as a result of systematic aggressive driving. Shoppers are advised to seek out a newer, lower-mileage unit from a certified pre-owned program, and to opt for any extra warranty coverage available. 2012-15 Chevrolet Camaro ZL-1 A supercharger the size of a toaster oven drives output from this top-dog Camaro’s 6.2-litre V8 engine to 580 horsepower, backed fully by chassis, structural and aerodynamic upgrades. The most powerful factory Camaro variant yet packs acceleration and handling that’ll peel your face o and leave it in the back seat. Test Drive: Ensure the seller hasn’t pre-warmed the car ahead of your arrival. Start the engine from dead cold, pop the hood, and listen for any whining or rattling sound from the supercharger, on top of the engine. Unwelcome sounds could be the result of a supercharger defect, which can result in engine damage. Chevrolet dealers have replaced superchargers on affected models under warranty and, with the VIN number of your used ZL-1 candidate, can check to see if it qualifies. Look Out For: Check the air conditioner for proper operation, and scrutinize the alignment of body panels and the condition of the paint. Most shoppers should avoid a model that’s been modified to run higher-than-factory levels of boost, which could void the warranty and adversely affect durability. The most powerful factory Camaro variant yet packs acceleration and handling that’ll peel your face off and leave it in the back seat. Contributors: Justin Pritchard, Chris Koski
There are few automobiles more iconic than the Mini. It’s been celebrated in popular culture, driven by the famous and not-so famous, and has always transcended social class. That’s because it represents so many different things to a broad spectrum of drivers, whether it’s basic transportation or a racecar capable of besting big horsepower competitors. With the introduction of a new, third-modern-generation Mini, also comes the hi-po variant for drivers like us. Now simply called the Mini John Cooper Works, it takes the basic three-door recipe and adds a whole lot of firepower to take on all comers in the hot hatch wars. It’d be easy for Mini to set this model a little lower to the ground, slap on a set of flashy wheels, fit a louder muffler and call it a day. That’d be too easy, of course, and certainly not in line with John Cooper’s heritage. The Cooper Car Company was founded in 1946 and was soon building racing cars for Formula 1 and the Indianapolis 500. In 1961, at the behest of the Mini’s original designer, John Cooper turned his attention to dialling up the performance of Minis and his name has been associated with the marque ever since. The modern Mini brand embraces that history and has engineered a hot hatch worthy of the JCW badge. In fact, this 2015 model is the fastest regular production Mini built to date, and consideration has been given to every facet of this little three door that has an impact on performance. Still, the JCW approach to performance is holistic, where the end result isn’t simply greater than the sum of its parts, but rather a truly distinct go-fast Mini. Starting with the turbocharged 2.0-litre four cylinder, it makes an impressive 228 horsepower and 236 pounds-feet of torque. And with just 1,300 kilograms to move, this JCW is a quick little machine. What’s more impressive is how the power is delivered. You see, peak torque – all 236 pounds of it – is delivered from a mere 1,250 RPM and carries through to 4,800 RPM. This defines the notion of a flat torque curve. There’s a choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions, and before you decry the automatic, you have to appreciate that Mini customers love to shift themselves – the majority of JCWs sold to date have been ordered with manuals. It’s a fine manual, too, and it does all the right things. Clutch take-up is light, ratios are well-chosen for enthusiastic driving, and shift action is superb. The six-speed auto, however, is exceptional for a traditional, torque converter box. Most impressive are the rapid shifts – they’re near dual clutch quick – and yet it’ll still shift smoothly when you’re cruising. While I drove both transmissions at the car’s launch in Connecticut, I recently revisited the JCW in automatic spec and, for this driver, one who spends far to much time in stop and go traffic, I enjoyed the auto box so much that I didn’t really miss the manual. Sure, it’ll do 0-100 km/h in around six seconds, but what’s more interesting is that this drivetrain is remarkably fuel efficient and with this hot hatch, it’s truly like having your cake and eating it, too. In mixed open highway and densely urban driving, your lead footed writer averaged a real-world 8.8 L/100 km. Mini says this JCW is good for 9.2 city and 5.3 highway, and those numbers appear too be achievable, too. Not that many years ago, it was impossible for such a fun car to be so frugal. Perhaps this is the unequivocal evidence proving we are indeed living in the greatest age of motoring. I’ve always favoured a good limited slip differential in powerful front drivers, and when they’re omitted for reasons of cost cutting or underestimating their customers’ desires it leaves me more than a little disappointed. You just know the powertrain engineers know better, but for some reason – perhaps the moment bean counters get involved – a good diff gets left on the engineering room floor. Sometimes the result is a disaster, like the torque-steering hot mess that is the Ford Focus ST with its brake-based system – one that slows the spinning wheel with the brake rather than simply transferring power like a good diff does. Each time I drive an ST, the smell of brakes is prominent because its faux limited slip brake actuation is just too aggressive. When I learned the JCW used a similar system, I wasn’t expecting much, but somehow, some way, Mini’s engineers have figured it out. Torque distribution across the front axle feels seamless from the driver’s seat and torque steer is almost entirely absent. In fact, it feels so good and so natural, that you could have fooled me into thinking it used a mechanical limited slip differential. It’s that remarkable, and if you fancy yourself a bit of a driver, you’ll enjoy the JCW’s ability to aggressively put power to the ground. Naturally, the suspension is lower and stiffer, and it’s stiff enough that on rough surfaces, the ride gets tiresome. Still, if you’re coming to this JCW from a larger car – and most other cars are indeed bigger – you’ll say it handles like a go kart. A big, 1,300 kilogram go kart, but a go kart nonetheless. It corners with the flatness of the prairies of Saskatchewan, and turns in with lighting-like immediacy. The electric power steering has three different levels of assist and in my testing I found that I didn’t prefer one over the others. Since it’s such a small and relatively lightweight package, chassis feel is superb, to the point where you’re absolutely confident in your ability to place this Mini anywhere on the road you desire. The dampers have two modes, but you’ll be hard pressed to notice a difference between either setting. Brakes are by Brembo, perhaps the most famous name in brake technology, and are sublime. Pedal feel is high bit rate and that gives the driver remarkable control and confidence. Of course, Mini fits the JCW unique wheels, with your choice of either 17- or 18-inchers. They look great, but neither size does ride quality any favours. Go with the size or design of wheel you prefer. Mini didn’t forget the JCW’s aero package either and, undoubtedly, you’ve already noticed the massive, raccoons-wallowing lower front air intakes. There is also a larger rear spoiler atop the hatch that Mini says reduces rear axle lift by 30 percent. While that’s probably a good thing for a road car, I’ll let you in on a little secret – any front-drive racer worth his or her salt spends a lot of time and money reducing the grip of their racer’s rear tires. Perhaps it’s best said that the rear spoiler just looks cool. The most notable change inside the cabin are the excellent, JCW-specific sports seats. They’re properly supportive for aggressive, g-loaded driving, but also spectacularly supportive for those long haul highway runs, as I discovered. The vast majority of drivers will be perfectly satisfied with the seating position and first level ergonomics are top notch. As with all Minis, second-level ergonomics are unconventional and quirky, most of it unusual to give the cabin some real character, but it doesn’t go so far as to be ineffective. It’s just refreshingly different that mainstream automobiles, and the world needs more fun cars with abundant character like this one. BY THE NUMBERS$145.8/HP (CALCULATED W/ BASE MSRP) 114 HP/L 158.13 HP/TON 5.74 KG/HP SPECIFICATIONS 2016 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop BASE PRICE: $33,240 AS TESTED: $44,740 ENGINE: 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder HORSEPOWER: 228 hp @ 5,200-6,000 rpm TORQUE: 236 lb-ft @ 1,250-4,800 rpm DRY WEIGHT: 1,308 kg CONFIGURATION: Front engine / front-wheel-drive TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic TIRES: Michelin Pilot Super Sport (205/40 R18 front and rear) FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (CITY / HWY.): 9.2 / 5.3 L/100 km WARRANTY (MOS / KM): 48 / 80,000 km ALTERNATIVES: Ford Focus ST, Hyundai Veloster Rallye NOTABLE OPTIONS: Wired navigation package ($1,450); Essentials package ($1,000); Loaded package ($1,150); Visibility package ($1,250); Red roof and mirror caps ($0); Performance tires ($50); Bonnet stripes ($150); 18” JCW Cup wheels ($800); Harman Kardon sound system ($750); JCW exclusive paint ($1,000); Automatic transmission ($1,650); Dinamica leather ($2,250).  Contributor: Brian Makse
Carroll Shelby would be proud. No question. Were the Godfather of factory performance still here to take one of these out for a rip, he’d be impressed. Undoubtedly. Perhaps even in tears. They’re that good. The 2016 Mustang Shelby GT350 and GT350R are not only the most powerful naturally-aspirated ’Stangs Ford has ever built, they are the best. Full stop. Shelby, as you probably know, is infamous, and he’s been involved with some of America’s most famous muscle and performance cars since Shelby American was formed in 1962. Does the Cobra 427 S/C sound familiar? The AC Shelby Daytona Coupe? How about the Series 1? Shelby GT? GR1? Dodge Viper? The Super Snake? No!?! Go ahead and slither back under your rock, will you? The ex-racer turned factory tuner was 89 when he died on my birthday in 2012 – the same year I got my first taste of Shelby’s prodigious performance with track tests of the then-new 2012 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 and Boss 302 at Calabogie Motorsports Park near Ottawa. The latter was considered a benchmark for these latest Shelby models. The new version pays homage to the original 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350, and not only builds on Shelby’s original idea of transforming a great every-day car into a dominant road racer, but takes it to even greater heights with the “R” version. Like the ’65 Shelby GT350 Competition Coupe, this thing is practically ready to race. To the uninitiated, these cars are not built by Shelby American, Inc. in Las Vegas, but rather Ford Performance in Flat Rock, Michigan. Shelby American (as well as Roush Performance) are both secondary manufacturers. They start with basically the complete Ford platform, modify and tune it extensively and then re-VIN the car before it can go on sale. The Fords, however, are fully designed, engineered and built to spec in house by Ford Performance. Both methods are turn-key, and both offer full warranties. The targets for this car were to have a lightweight engine with at least 500 horsepower, an 8,500 RPM redline and a broad, free-spinning powerband. Hence, the heart of the 2016 GT350 and GT350R is a modified version of Ford’s naturally-aspirated aluminum Coyote V8. It starts off as the same engine that goes into the Mustang GT, but the block is bored two over to 5.2 litres and fitted with a flat-plane crank to produce 526 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque that goes through a Tremec six-speed manual transmission. The engine is lighter than the one in the Ferrari 458, and the transmission is 4.5 kilos lighter than that in the Mustang GT. What’s so special about the flat-plane crank? Ford Performance engineer Eric Ladner explains: “The crank pins are arranged in a single plane, which sets up a different firing order. We get even firing, even pulses and better breathing, resulting in better performance. Its balance also allows us to use smaller counterweights, which reduces weight and rotational inertia, so it revs faster.” Other improvements include forged aluminum pistons with low-tension rings, forged steel connecting rods with a fracture split cap, a new cylinder head with larger valves, increased breathability and more oil capacity – the pan, baffle, pickup tube, windage try and gasket have been combined into a single composite assembly that can hold two more quarts than the pan in the 5.0, yet is about 20 per cent. “The piston dome has cutouts for the valve pockets and a pent roof, which gives us a 12:1 compression ratio.” Ladner continues, “But to really maximize this we moved them out, so the valve positions and sizes are completely new and unique. The cylinder heads are CNC-machined and the ports have been optimized using computation fluid dynamics. We’ve also machined off some unnecessary material to reduce weight.” Stronger, larger half shafts beef up the powertrain even more, and a brand new dual mass clutch and flywheel assembly were designed to withstand the high heat and stress of track use. The flywheel is a non-damp system, which works with the clutch to provide a smoother driving experience. The clutch feels perfectly weighted; and the two elements combine to provide a very responsive, low inertia system that helps get to the redline as fast as possible. As for the Torsen rear differential, it uses a unique internal differential gear set with a bias ratio, which helps transfer the most torque to the wheel with the best grip on the track. The GT350R wheels are truly special – the first carbon fibre wheels to be offered on a production car — and a huge performance enhancement for this car! They’re very light and very strong. “It isn’t only saving weight, but also inertia,” explains Brian Zorman, Ford Performance Engineer, citing 40 percent less inertia and 60 per cent reduction in unsprung weight. “When you’re accelerating these wheels, we save 22.7 kilograms (50 lbs.) versus the aluminum wheels. They’re also extremely reliable and robust.” They’re not cheap though, and cost roughly $3,500 per corner according to Jamal Hameedi, Ford Performance Chief Engineer, compared to roughly $1,800 per aluminum wheel, which come standard on the GT350. In either case, the wheels are fitted with a bespoke Brembo braking system comprised of two-piece, cross-drilled, directional vane rotors — sized 394 mm diameter in the front and 380 mm in the rear – that are specific to the left and right sides of the car, and solid aluminum calipers to maximize feedback as well as stopping. The wheels are paired with Ford’s MagneRide suspension (standard on GT350R and available on GT350) that monitors and automatically adjusts itself thousands of times per second to provide a reasonable street ride and ultimate racetrack performance. “The fluid contains metallic particles and we can change its viscosity by adjusting the [electric] current into the damper unit,” says Brent Clark, yet another Ford Performance Engineer. “This adjusts the ride, and we can also tune it to help manage the vehicle’s roll and pitch under braking and acceleration. "Our attention to detail drove us all the way down to which way the springs coiled; therefore, requiring new lower control arms. This racer was designed, engineered and built so the springs, sway bars and dampers work together as one finely tuned system. We also added new lightweight chassis components and a set of Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires.” Cooling is of paramount importance on a vehicle such as this. “The only way to get rid of [the heat],” Zorman chimes in, “is with miniature coolers. On the front of the vehicle we have a transmission cooler. We’ve mounted the rear differential cooler and pump in the rear, which saves on weight of coolant, routing and hoses. It has a special diff user that pushes air underneath the vehicle through the radiator and out the back of the rear fascia so we don’t have to worry about debris getting caught in the radiator in the front.” The bespoke nature of this car continues. In fact, every component and shape has been optimized to perform on the world’s best race tracks. The aerodynamics package drives this point home, and is as aggressive-looking as it is functional “The underbody belly pan is the foundation for our front downforce,” says John Pfeiffer, Ford Performance Engineer. “It’s nice and flat to create that negative pressure so it sucks the car to the road... [and] we made this R splitter a little larger to create a bit more downforce.” An aluminum front bumper bar (traditionally it is steel) also helps shift the weight to the rear where the keen observer will notice the spoiler is actually an airfoil. “We needed to balance out the greater downforce from the larger splitter in the front,” Pfeiffer elaborates. “[It’s] like an upside-down airplane wing. Instead of lifting off the ground it brings the car down. That creates a good balance and a bias. So at speed the back end just sticks through the turns.” Every component is has been painstakingly designed to work in total harmony. The wide aluminum front fenders, the unique and more aggressively raked aluminum hood, front and rear fascias, splitter, rockers and rear valance with integrated diffuser all function as a team – an all-star team if there ever was one. Other small but important aero features, for example, include front and rear kick-ups that aim air at the front brakes and the tunnel where the drive shaft and exhaust pipes are to cool them. Following its week in the spotlight during Monterey Car Week where the GT350 enjoyed its 50th anniversary, Ford chose the nearby Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca raceway for its media launch event. Though I have turned thousands of virtual laps in the Forza Motorsport, Gran Turismo and iRacing, this is my first time at Mazda Raceway in real life. And before long I find myself buckling into a the GT350R for a couple hot laps. Upon firing the ignition, the rumble of the exhaust hits me in the chest like a stampede of wild mustangs as I slowly exit pit lane. After rejoining the track just before turn three’s right-hander, it’s on like Donkey Kong! The car takes off like a shot and, after just a few corners, I’m feeling comfortable and even more confident. The chassis feels well-planted and fast with virtually no understeer in any of the 11 corners. There’s also no lift because it has actual downforce, and the brakes are powerful, very consistent and maintain reliable pedal feel under hard braking. It pulls hard heading up the hill on the Rahal Straight, and it doesn’t wiggle or squirm under braking when setting up for the world famous Corkscrew. Perhaps even more impressive with respect to the brakes is that they didn’t fade or show any signs of warping at all despite a heavy workload throughout the day. From the well-bolstered Recaro bucket seat you can tell the MagneRide suspension is on point, the 11.5-inch wide Michelins helping provide an astonishing amount of grip on the track. The EPAS steering is accurate and provides good feedback, but I still prefer the hydraulic power steering setup in the Subaru WRX STI for its sensitivity. According to my stopwatch, my fastest lap, and my second of just two flying laps on the 3.6-kilometre (2.24 miles) long Mazda Raceway blacktop, clocked in at 1:44.5 seconds. To put this into perspective, I would have qualified for the 2015 IMSA Continental sports car race in Laguna Seca, albeit at the back of the grid. Consider though that the second fastest qualifier was a GS-class Boss 302R, which ran a 1:36 in full race configuration, and you can see there’s plenty left of time on the table. That said, the Multimatic-backed GT350R-C didn’t make its debut until the following race at Watkins Glen, but has been on pole in all three of its appearances since, and is poised to be the car to be the car to beat in 2016. I am pretty pleased with my unofficial for-real Laguna Seca lap time. Make no mistake, the 2016 Shelby GT350R is faster than me. Faster than its predecessors too. Of all the street-legal wannabe racers I’ve driven, this is the most serious. Probably because it’s not a pretender. It’s pretty good on the road, too. Steering, braking, accelerating (sounds amazing!) and shifting are all superb, and that clutch feels perfect! Sport mode adds more grrr, and the car actually feels quicker than base GT350 with same power – carbon fibre wheels do make a difference. The ride is a bit bumpy, but not to the point of annoyance or discomfort. Feedback through the chassis and steering wheel is excellent. Considering what it can do on the track, it’s almost hard to believe this is a street car. Sure the interior is a bit cheapish (it is a Mustang and not an R8) but the driving dynamics and actual performance more than make up for it. No smoke and mirrors here. The 2016 Mustang Shelby GT350 will be built to demand, but Ford is expecting numbers similar to those of the last-gen Shelby GT500, which is between 4,000 and 5,000 units per year. The racier GT350R will be available in a more limited quantity, comparable in numbers to the Boss 302 Laguna Seca. The lesser model starts at CAD $62,599 with a track package available for $8,100, or the technology pack for $9,400. The GT350R is already equipped with everything needed for the track, and starts at $79,499 with an electronics pack available for $3,800. The GT350 will be sold in North America only, and the Shelby GT350R will be sold only in the U.S. and Canada. Between the two models, Canada expects to sell at least 700 units starting, well, in the fall. So, if you want one, you better get out your snowshoes and waddle on down to your local Ford store to see if there are any left. BY THE NUMBERS$141.6/HP (CALCULATED W/ BASE MSRP) 101.1 HP/L 287.8 HP/TON 3.15 KG/HP SPECIFICATIONS 2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R BASE PRICE: $79,499 (plus $1,650 destination and delivery) ENGINE: 5.2L flat-plane V8 HORSEPOWER: 526 hp @ 7,500 rpm TORQUE: 429 lb-ft @ 4,750 rpm CONFIGURATION: Front engine / rear-wheel-drive TRANSMISSION: 6-speed Tremec 3160 manual transmission DRY WEIGHT: 1,658 kg FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (CITY / HWY.): 16.3 / 10.7 L/100 km NOTABLE OPTIONS:ELECTRONICS PACKAGE ($3,800) — 7-speaker audio system, SYNC 3 system, SiriusXM Radio, dual-zone electronic automatic temperature control (DEATC), universal garage door opener (UGDO), turn signal mirrors; black roof ($850); stripes ($600).
Super-Spoiler Alert: I believe the 2016 Cadillac CTS-V is the best all-around performance car in the world right now. Now, a caveat that requires mentioning: While I haven’t driven all of the current crop of performance cars, I’ve driven my fair share and then some. But there are a few new entries I haven’t sampled, the Cadillac ATS-V being a notable miss. I hear the ATS-V is a tremendous performance car; having sampled its big brother, this would not surprise me at all. But let’s turn our attention to the CTS-V exclusively and pick up on our theme. The supercharged 6.2-litre V8 engine under the bulging hood of the Cadillac is shared with the current Chevrolet Corvette Z06. Due to differences to the intake and exhaust systems, the version in the ’Vette makes slightly more horsepower (+10 Shetlands) and torque (+50 lb-ft). Nevertheless, the V8 puts a full 640 horsepower at the driver’s disposal, along with 630 lb-ft of torque. In other words, plenty. To put this into greater perspective, the first-generation CTS-V boasted 400 horsepower and the second-generation iteration made do with 565 Clydesdales. Horsepower figures above the magic 600 mark ventures into some pretty serious territory occupied by the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini. The CTS-V develops more power and torque than its two main rivals, the BMW M5 and the Mercedes E 63 AMG. The Cadillac can rocket from 0-60 mph in 3.7 seconds and has a top speed of 322 km/h. This is a level of performance normally reserved for honest-to-goodness supercars – and this is just part of the reason why the Cadillac is so damn good. The car features five different drive modes from the modest to the outrageous. A performance data recorder (PDR) with lap timer and video camera is an option. Take a lap of your closest track and the CTS-V will save all the evidence, including top speed achieved and g-forces generated, for posterity. The Cadillac features Brembo brakes (the largest set fitted to any current production sedan brand) and 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires (with three different compounds for street, track and wet-weather driving). Yes, this thing is the real deal. Further proof: The CTS-V also boasts the latest-generation of Magnetic Ride Control, now with 40 percent quicker damping response. When driven on a less than super-smooth surface, the Cadillac shows far greater ability to create a consistently smooth ride than its direct rivals with their stiffly sprung suspensions and punishing run-flat tires. Back on track, though, the CTS-V reveals its true worth. Of course, it’s wicked fast in a straight line. At the end of the long front straight at the diabolically fast Road America, the Caddy hits 249 km/h (155 mph) on the dial before the anchors have to be deployed. (Cripes, this is fast when you stop to think about it.) But the real surprise is how well the car carves corners. The steering is remarkably precise, the handling incredibly neutral and, despite being a true mid-size sedan with room for five, the CTS-V feels very light on its feet. Even when entering some of the tighter turns with too much speed and all the driver aids switched off , the car proves itself to be predictable and easy to control, the back end breaking away just when expected. (The electronic limited slip rear differential, no doubt, deserves some of the credit here.) After about 20 laps at exceedingly high speed, the Cadillac proved that it was the very best mid-size performance sedan in the world. There was no need to drive the other competitors in this class because the others would not be able to keep pace – especially when it comes to braking performance. Lap after lap, time after time, the CTS-V could be sent hurtling into the track’s notoriously challenging braking zones and come out of them looking like a superstar. During the development of the car, Cadillac engineers came to Road America to verify the performance of the brakes. It’s no surprise, then, that the results have been so spectacular. (Truth be told, certain modern supercars would be unable to attain this same level of performance; they would’ve been secreted away to the garage area for maintenance in half the laps.) In fact, here’s a great measure of just how good the new CTS-V is – the launch event included virtually unlimited laps of one of the more challenging tracks in North America. Other manufacturers have a way of controlling the level of attack at such events: a pace driver, a co-driver, a set number of laps, a trip through the pits every time out. There was none of that here. Clearly, Cadillac knew it had a winner on its hands before planning for the launch event had even begun. They were right to be confident. Cadillac has been knocking on the Germans’ (four) doors for years now; with the CTS-V, they have broken through to other side. To top it all off , the American take on performance sedans costs less than its direct rivals. Yes, this could very well be the best all-around performance car in the world. No. It is. BY THE NUMBERS$141.3/HP (CALCULATED W/ BASE MSRP) 103.2 HP/L 308.83 HP/TON 2.94 KG/HP14.1 L/100 KM (AUTO – COMBINED) SPECIFICATIONSVEHICLE: 2016 Cadillac CTS-VBASE PRICE: $91,685 ENGINE: Supercharged 6.2L V8 HORSEPOWER: 640 hp @ 6,400 rpm TORQUE: 630 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm DRY WEIGHT: 1,880 kg CONFIGURATION: Front engine / rear-wheel-drive TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic TIRES: Michelin Pilot Super Sport (265/35 ZR19 front, 295/30 ZR19 rear) FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (CITY / HWY. / COMB.): 16.6 / 11.1 / 14.1 L/100 km WARRANTY (MOS. / KM): 48 / 80,000 ALTERNATIVES: Audi RS7, BMW M5, Mercedes-Benz E 63 AMG, Volvo S60 Polestar NOTABLE OPTIONS: ADVANCED SECURITY PACKAGE ($685) Shielded theft deterrent system, vehicle tilt sensor, steering column lock, locking wheel package, laminated rear door glass; Carbon Fibre Package ($6,330) – Carbon fibre front splitter, hood vent, spoiler and rear diffuser; Recaro Performance front seats ($2,645); Luxury Package ($1,635) – Automatic tri-zone climate control with air filtration, heated seats (outboard positions), split folding rear seat, rear window power sunshade, manual rear side window sunshades, 110V AC power outlet; Brembo Red Calipers ($625); Crystal White Tricoat ($575); Performance Data Recorder ($1,430). PERFORMANCE DATA RECORDEROver the years, many cars have featured lap timers, but no car has featured a factory-supplied performance recording system like that available on the new CTS-V. Controlled via the CUE system touchscreen, the Performance Data Recorder (PDR) captures real-time video, cabin audio and 30 channels of data, literally while on-the-fly. The video recording can then be reviewed by the user on the screen when the Cadillac is parked. While some might think of the PDR as a gimmick, it’s yet another clue that this is a serious performance car. For more information on the 2016 Cadillac CTS-V, go HERE.
Although its start is still months away, 2016 is shaping up to be a challenging season for the Verizon IndyCar Series. In addition to the Groundhog Day-like concerns that seem to cling to the Series like a stubborn toe fungus, the Series is still dealing with the loss of one of its most popular and well-respected drivers, Justin Wilson, who died after being involved in an on-track incident at Pocono Raceway last August. With Wilson’s untimely passing still hanging over it, IndyCar, led by President Mark Miles, forges ahead and change appears to be the order of the day. Here are three key storylines to watch as the season progresses. 1. SCHEDULE SHUFFLE As is customary with IndyCar schedule building, the 2016 calendar has been revealed in jigsaw-puzzle fashion over several months. In late October, Miles confirmed the complete schedule and there are some noteworthy changes. One of the biggest – Miles’ aversion to racing after Labour Day – appears to have subsided. Slightly. Although the number of races remains unchanged (16), the calendar is 36 days longer in 2016, beginning in mid-March on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, and concluding in mid-September at Sonoma Raceway in California. As is often the case, there are some casualties. Auto Club Speedway, NOLA Motorsports Park and the Milwaukee Mile won’t be back due to varying degrees of poor attendance, promoter issues and the inability to find workable dates. In their places are three new venues: Phoenix International Raceway (April 2), Road America (June 26) and Boston (September 4). Phoenix and Road America are old IndyCar venues that haven’t hosted a race since 2005 and 2007, respectively. Boston is a new date that will see racing on streets in the city’s Seaport District. All three venues (Phoenix and Road America in particular) have been rumoured to be coming for some time, so it will be interesting to see how the ticket-buying public responds. Phoenix and Road America already have very successful NASCAR dates and, perhaps because of that, IndyCar may have more time to build an audience for its events. Either way, all three events will be closely scrutinized as management continues its search for the 16- to 18-race schedule that balances road courses, street circuits and ovals. The steady churn of events coming and going, and dates being flip-flopped around the schedule (like Auto Club Speedway, which raced on four different dates in four years), isn’t sustainable and Miles needs to find venues with long-term potential. Another thing to keep an eye on in the coming year is the status of potential 2017 venues. Mexico City’s Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez (which last hosted an IndyCar race in 2007 and is the current site of the Mexican F1 Grand Prix) and Gateway Motorsports Park (last hosted an IndyCar race in 2003, and will be used as a test facility in 2016) are both in play. 2. REPLACING DERRICK WALKER When Derrick Walker announced his resignation as IndyCar’s President of Competition and Operations last August after three years on the job, the news caught many observers off-guard, myself included. Walker, a motorsport lifer with decades of experience as owner and operator in IndyCar and sports car racing, was viewed by many to be the perfect person to manage the clashing egos and agendas that roil the IndyCar paddock. As a former owner, Walker would be able to engage current car owners on their level – he’d be able to get things done because he could speak to them in their language. As his tenure wound down though, he expressed frustration publicly over an inability to get much done due to resistance from car owners and a lack of resources within the IndyCar office. At times, it appeared as if Walker had been effectively sidelined, especially in 2015. His attempts at tackling the big issues confronting the sport, such as the eventual successor for the current Dallara DW12 chassis, received much resistance from the paddock. To the point he all but gave up trying to even to broach the subject after a while. With the situation deteriorating and little hope of relief, in the short term at least, Walker elected to jump ship. The selection of a successor will have a long-term impact on a broad range of competition issues, from managing manufacturer relationships, to future chassis talks, to officiating and staffing race control. It’s a hire IndyCar needs to get right. 3. MANUFACTURER RELATIONS Chevrolet won the manufacturer and drivers’ championship in 2015, and has won both titles every year since engine competition returned in 2012 (with the exception of 2013 when Scott Dixon won the drivers’ championship with Honda power). With the introduction of areo kits last year, Chevrolet seemed to get the upper hand early, and the advantage helped paved the way to wins in 10 out of 16 races. In many cases, Honda-powered cars had a hard time cracking the top 10, much less the podium. The advantage was less pronounced later in the season, with four of Honda’s wins coming in the final six races, but that didn’t stop Honda from asking IndyCar for help. Over Chevrolet’s objections, IndyCar elected in early November to permit the Japanese manufacturer to make changes to its road / street circuit and short oval aero kit for 2016 by invoking Rule 9.3. This rule basically give the Series discretion to enable either Chevrolet or Honda to alter its aero kit specs in the interest of improving competition. This ruling does not apply to Honda’s superspeedway kit, which will remain unchanged. With just two engine manufacturers, and no third supplier on the horizon, IndyCar has to manage these relationships very carefully. Another down year might encourage Honda to question its involvement within IndyCar moving forward. IndyCar has to keep them happy and in the fold – doing so should to be a top priority for both Miles and whomever he chooses as Walker’s replacement.
$41,950 AS TESTED Queue Gonzalez: The 2015 B 250 4MATIC received a facelift to fit with Mercedes-Benz’s present design language, not to mention the addition of the convenient all-wheel drive feature. The quiet whisper of the turbo under the hood is a nice surprise when pushing this roomy hatchback through its paces. Michael Bettencourt: The least expensive B-Class Benz certainly has a refined powertrain, but base models are fairly spartan. Still, the tall body style is certainly practical, with tons of legroom and headroom for rear passengers. The AWD B-Class starts at almost $4,000 less than the GLA mini-SUV, which pushes closer to $6,000 if you’d rather spend the funds on winter tires than AWD. QG: Speaking of pushing, it does require a little more leg muscle on the pedal to get it going from stop, but this is a family-oriented car and expecting neck-breaking launches would be unfair. Turning off economy mode helps relieve some of that effort. Zero-to-100 dreams aside, the gradual acceleration is a good reminder of Mercedes’ refined driving language, where smooth drives, from start to stop, are always top notch. MB: No doubt, this is a sophisticated little luxury car, but the turbo lag seems much more noticeable with the 4MATIC system. Weight doesn’t seem to be much different from the FWD model, but perhaps with a 208-horsepower four-cylinder turbo geared for fuel efficiency (10 in the city and 7.5 L/100 km on the highway), the 4MATIC’s mapping software could be making the turbo lag more noticeable. QG: Tech is all here, with everything you would expect from a luxury brand. Our tester has the beautiful Cranberry Red leather upholstery trim, which adds a little sportiness. Because the B 250 is nicely equipped, you won’t feel like you’re missing many bells and whistles. If Mercedes-Benz followed the school letter grading system to classify its vehicles, then B is rightfully scored for the entry-level B 250. MB: I’d agree with that, though I believe a well-optioned FWD B-Class is the value sweet spot. If I really wanted AWD in my small-ish Benz, I’d also look closely at the GLA, which handles flatter, weighs the same and offers a more dialed-in engine response.
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Montreal driver Kuno Wittmer will return to competition as a BMW Team RLL driver in the GT Le Mans class of the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Wittmer will be at.....

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