Lincoln’s New Glory

In its drive to be noticed again, Lincoln’s designers have determined their new grandees should have what they call “a captivating stance.” Indeed, the freshly remade Navigator SUV creates quite the presentation in your driveway with its blockbuster face and stylin’ rims. The looks might dazzle, but what’s amazing is how they made a vehicle of such Alpine size handle so damned well. The Navigator takes a big leap forward in the Big Luxury niche.

As you approach the Navigator with key fob in your pocket, it senses your arrival and lights twinkle hello. A running board emerges to help you step inside, where ambient lighting (of your hue choice) soothes your brow. The interior surfaces are elegant. The dash has real buttons for many critical functions, which makes it easier—not to mention far safer—than the touch-screen controls once in fashion. The nav unit is a snap.

When you move away from the curb, the Navigator just feels, well, nimble. It steers with a creamy ease. The insanely tight turning radius makes braving a crowded parking lot a mere trifle, and the ten-speed transmission is always in the right gear and ready to leap. Don’t ask me how they got a three-ton, 450-hp vehicle to average 20 mpg.

In inclement weather, the Navigator’s various AWD driving modes (such as “slippery”) can be accessed with a quick turn of a dial. Hard braking feels as easy as laying your head on a feather pillow.

On a long drive, you feel as though your salon chair is calmly sailing through space. It’s tall enough that you feel you can peer over the dark side of the moon, but there is none of the top-heaviness that used to bother these big fellows. The second row can be ordered as a bench for three or with two captain’s chairs, a console and video screens. The second- and third-row seats can be flattened with a touch of a button.

In a crowded field of contenders, the new Navigator really steps out. Our tester was the maxed-out Black Label edition, but other versions start in the low $70,000s.

Price as Tested: $96,570
Drivetrain: 450-hp 3.5-liter V6 twin turbo
EPA Mileage Ratings: 16 city/24 highway



Smart Luxury

One of the most breathtaking auto success stories of our time has been the rise of Hyundai. In thirty years its cars have gone from cheap and forgettable to their current state of desirable and, uh, reasonably priced. The company’s new Genesis line is its latest salvo, and warrants a close look.

Just as Toyota recognized in the late 1980s that status seekers weren’t going to get bragging rights from its yeoman nameplate and thus created the glittering Lexus, so Hyundai is establishing Genesis as its prestige brand. On the floor now are two muscular and sleek sedans—the G80 and G90. Coming next year are the G70 (think BMW 3-series) and a sporty crossover.

Owners will have to sacrifice not having that Teutonic cachet, but no one’s going to think you pulled up in the milk wagon. Genesis assembled a European design team that previously had drawn up Bentleys, Audis and Lamborghinis, and there is an admirable sleekness and strength in the lines of each Genesis model. The options list is rather extensive; avoid it and you’ll get a lavish car in the low 40s.

The G80 and G80 Sport models are plenty spacious for four tall adults. You don’t really need to step up to the G90 unless you want a warship limousine. The G80 interior is a composition of soft leather and sumptuous textures. Passengers will instantly sense the general fineness.

The G80 eases you smoothly down the road in a cloud of quiet—they’ve clearly made an effort at consummate sound-proofing. But if you hit it, especially with the 420-horsepower V8, the thrust is startling. It’s no sports car, but it does sail around bends with aplomb.

It offers four driving modes, ranging from snow to let’s go. The V6 versions still feel plenty strong. For Connecticut driving, I’d recommend the normal V6 with the all-wheel-drive option called HTRAC. With Hyundai’s recent reliability record, the G80 is well worth considering.


Prices (approx.): G80 3.8, $45,000; GS 80 Sport 3.3, $54,000; G90, $71,000
Power: 5-liter V8 or twin-turbo V6; rear or all-wheel drive
EPA Mileage Ratings: 15-19 city/24-27 highway



The Big Discovery

Land Rover had to go and get stylish on us. The last time I reviewed their midsize hauler, it was called the LR4 and had the upright, utilitarian lines of a six-foot-tall shoebox. But that pragmatic plonker has been replaced this year by a new Discovery. It’s more than the latest “suburban assault vehicle.” It is, to my eyes, the happy medium in the company’s lineup.

To be sure, the Discovery’s cousins on the Range Rover side of the dealer’s lot have more luxurious trim, not to mention upper-crust snarl. And, while we’re cruising the inventory, the more compact Discovery Sport model has that rip-and-grin zippiness that is so popular today. But I figure if you have people and stuff to haul, just go all the way. And now the Discovery has the flowing lines and bodacious interior to make it a vehicle for which there will be no apologies.

The only folks who will be disappointed are those lion-trackers who like their Land Rovers to look like they just conquered the Serengeti. All gone now, alas. Like Jeep, the old soldier’s barracks were invaded with an air of creamy opulence.

The Discovery is now a very drivable cruiser and actually completely different from its LR4 forebear. The oldster’s truckish body-on-frame architecture has been replaced with a monocoque design fortified with aluminum. This brings the heft down 800 pounds and makes it a far more graceful dancer.

Indeed, 400 miles in the new Discovery told me that highway or mountain byway miles went by with plummy ease. Its wondrous air suspension had me feeling like I was riding, well, on air. I did not tow an 8,200-pound boat, but I could have. Its four-wheel-drive capabilities are justifiably famous.

The advantage held by the larger Discovery model is its height, which could make that optional third-row seat livable quarters for adults. A six-footer need not remove his pith helmet. For hauling, the second- and third-row seats can be flattened at the push of a button, resulting in enough boot space to park a dirigible. Or haul a whole lotta mulch. In generations past, the taller SUVs did make you pay with a top-heavy feeling when sailing around a big curve. That issue seems to have been engineered out of the equation.

The considerably less-expensive Sport model can also be optioned for three rows, but I don’t know whether I’d ask anything larger than a dachshund to sit in the hindmost seat. And that rakish roofline does take away space. Still, if real aggressive driving is your vehicle’s primary duty, then you’ll like the Sport.

Passengers will welcome time spent in the big Discovery. Nine USB ports and six 12-volt outlets will make the campers happy. The driver’s environment in my tester offered a blend of flat-black surfaces that looked elegant as well as strong. It was, actually, a fine place in which to go on all sorts of wild adventures. Even if not all the way to the Serengeti.

Base Price: $63,950
Price as Tested: $82,500
Power: 340-hp, 3.0-liter V6. 4-wheel drive
Capacity: 7-passenger
EPA Mileage Ratings: 16 city/ 21 highway



Living Large

Please do not mock this big-shouldered cruiser until you’ve used it the way it’s intended. The hulking GMC Yukon XL Denali might seem a bit much at first sight. But then you take three college students back to campus with their tons of gear, and the miles roll by with posh serenity, and you reach this vehicle’s promised state of highway nirvana.

This GMC model is supposed to be positioned between the Chevy’s time-honored Suburban and Cadillac’s swag-mobile Escalade. But all three models have been subject to constant rejuvenations, and the new Yukon is now pretty much a large limousine. Go ahead, point out the Mastique ash wood trim.

New for 2018 is a grill out of Transformers and a new 10-speed automatic that raises mileage figures to a decent level.

That gang being driven to college will have lots of entertainment. The Bose Centerpoint audio system floods the zone with sound, which can be addressed with AppleCar Play or Android Auto. The 4G WiFi option can connect up to seven mobile devices at once.

The XL designation means the wheelbase has been stretched fourteen inches longer than a regular Yukon, with all attendant legroom and luggage-area benefits. The four-wheel-drive option makes it ready for anything. The upscale Denali trim adds the Magnetic Ride Control on the suspension, which assures you that the shocks are adjusting to road bumps in micro-seconds. I’ve always found this an impressive feat of engineering.

The only thing you might find intimidating is a crowded parking lot. This baby is big. The recent interest in sporty crossovers led GMC to actually reduce the size of the Yukon’s kid brother, the Acadia, which is presently selling like hotcakes. For a three-row vehicle, the Acadia’s a nifty driver. And as the Yukon XL Denali has expanded in price, the Acadia is ever more attractive. But once you glide the highway in the big Yukon’s jumbo-jet serenity, you’ll see why the big fellow is so loved.


Base Price: $71,665
As Tested: $80,890
Power: 420-hp, 6.2-liter V8 w/4-wheel drive
EPA Mileage Ratings: 15 city/22 highway



The Suave Continental

When the new Lincoln Continental sat in our driveway, it seemed to radiate power, money and stylish aggression. It might not have been, as Frank Lloyd Wright once said of his 1940 Continental, “the most beautiful car ever designed.” But it is a long step forward for the brand and proof of the company’s intentions to put some grandeur back in Lincoln’s wheelhouse.

The revival started a few years ago with some fun crossovers, the MKC and MKX. Lincoln’s princely SUV, the Navigator, has just been given a magnificent remake. Lincoln sales are rising, too, especially in China’s booming market, which led the manufacturer to dust off the Continental nameplate, last used fifteen years ago, and create a four-seater in a style motif that echoes the sleek authority of Jaguar and Bentley. The robust front end is far friendlier than the snowplow look seen on some of its high-priced rivals.

Lincoln’s Program Engineer Mike Celentino told me he wanted a “serene interior.” The command cabin is damned handsome with a cool blend of surfaces, and the dashboard can be configured to personal preferences. It’s as hushed as a cathedral—until you crank up the sound system’s Revel Ultima audio speakers.

Primarily a luxury hunk, this Continental will still respond to energetic driving without any wallowing or complaint. Its two tons of steel regality, however, is not really the ideal piece for any extreme, teenage friskiness. Our tester was the optioned-up Reserve model with a meaty 400-horsepower engine, all-wheel-drive, a host of glistening technology packages and a $74,000 price tag. For considerably less—closer to $50,000—is the Standard package with a strong-enough, 305-horsepower V-6 and front-wheel-drive (AWD optional). It might be missing the million-way adjustable seats, twin moonroofs and the like, but it most assuredly still looks like the king’s own chariot in your driveway.



Base Price: $56,075
As Tested: $74,095
Power: 400-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 w/all-wheel-drive
EPA Mileage Ratings: 16 city/24 highway; 19 combined



Power Play

Everything about the Cadillac CT6 says “drive me for a million miles.” It’s that good. With this new model, the brand has come up with an adroit combination of power, refinement and elan. It scores on the high-tech filigrees demanded on the upper end, and succeeds as a driver’s car.

Cadillac has been searching for the same success in its sedans that it has long enjoyed with its princely Escalades. Accordingly, they hired Audi CEO Johan de Nysschen and moved Cadillac headquarters to Manhattan. Vying for customers of German cars, Cadillac opted not to give the new CT6 the sheer length of the rival gunboats. It would be positioned, for comparison, between the Mercedes S- and E-class sedans. But thanks to a brilliant use of aluminum, the CT6 is 700 pounds lighter than the bigger Mercedes and still offers real elbow room, particularly in the back where guests will love the limo-like spaciousness. There are luxury SUVs that give nowhere near this sort of passenger comfort.

That relative lightness lets it leap forward on a twisty road. The premium version delivers Magnetic Ride Control shocks that adapt to road imperfections in microseconds (a Cadillac innovation now being borrowed by Ferrari) and active rear-wheel steering to boost swift maneuverability. Sporty drivers might prefer its slightly smaller brother, the CTS. But as someone who loves driving a big, fast sedan, I’d choose the CT6 in a rapid heartbeat.

All-wheel-drive models equipped with a 335-hp V6 can be had in the $60,000 and $70,000 range. Our premium-edition tester with the twin-turbo 404-hp V6 came in at $81,840, providing considerable savings in a market sector where, perhaps, penny-pinching is not first priority. But, still.

The dashboard has all the latest stuff, including the luscious Bose Panaray sound system. If you don’t feel like navigating the dashboard screen, you can just speak up and tell the thing to set your favorite satellite-radio station and then guide you to Starbucks. But you won’t dawdle there. At the helm of this swift-running clipper, you will want to drive many a mile farther down
the road.


Base Price: $67,657
Price as Tested: $81,840
Drivetrain: 404-hp, 3.0-liter turbo V6 w/all-wheel drive
EPA Mileage Ratings: 18/26 mpg



Crossover to Bliss

If you like to drive— or at least feel that the driving experience should have a touch of exhilaration—you have already considered an Audi. No matter the model, you know an Audi is going to make you feel like the captain of a fabulous ship. Take the new Q7, which dealers can’t keep in stock. (Danbury Audi came through and loaned me one for the test drive.) I thought the old Q7 was a glamorous gunboat, but the redesign is something to behold.

It all became clear when I was sailing around the back roads north of the Merritt. The drive select had been set to Comfort mode and everything was as creamy as a giant éclair. Then I snapped it to Dynamic, and it was like a sleeping cat instantly springing up on its haunches. The revs held longer for instant power, the suspension firmed up, and the Q7’s whole attitude turned a little snarlier. It was suddenly a wholly different vehicle. In Dynamic mode, the car tracked beautifully through turns. What was completely missing was that top-heavy yaw still cursing some of the larger SUVs. With a heft-reducing aluminum body, this Audi feels light on its feet and retains a car-like composure. Not bad for a crossover with three rows of seats.

When heavy traffic reappears, flick it back to Comfort mode and everything is instantly luxurious again.

In the parking lot, the air suspension will lower the rear end to ease loading the luggage. The all-wheel-drive Quattro system sees you through the slush. Oh, and the high-tech goodies abound. With its internet connection, the dashboard’s optional Virtual Cockpit will actually show the Google Earth photograph of your surrounding terrain in sharp 3-D imagery. Don’t plan on getting lost with this. Audiophiles will surely upgrade to the Bang & Olufsen sound system. (Can one be an Audiphile audiophile?)

Craig Falgiano of Danbury Audi noted the high volume of repeat business the brand gets. “People might start with the sporty A4 and then move up, or they want two. Once you get going with Audi, you want to stay.”

I get it. Every time I’ve given back a test Audi, it’s been with a steaming reluctance.

Price (as tested): $61,945
Drivetrain: 333-hp 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 w/AWD
EPA Mileage Rating: 18 city/27 highway



Stay Fierce

Mercedes-Benz might once have had a staid reputation, but in the last decade the company has issued a steady stream of hot rods that are all about rakish style and pugnacious fun. Customers can choose between sober and raucous. The respectable E-series sedan, for instance, can also be had in the form of the immortally swoopy CLS, a much-imitated, Italian-looking four-door coupe.

Now we have the new GLE Coupe, a breathtaking brawler of a sport-ute. Its streamlined roof demands that you duck your head while entering, but once you’re behind the wheel, it’s all leathery refinement from the tech-world school of interior design. The four-seat GLE might seem to be all about aggressive good looks, but it does ply the roads with savoir-faire. Handling and braking are quick and sharp for such a hulk. The GLE450 AMG version that I drove put 362 horses to the ground, and that seemed plenty good. (The “S” version throws down 577 hp.) A snarly exhaust adds one more note of exhilaration.

The base price is $65,000, but before you secure financing on that amount, have a look at the extensive options list. Nothing would be appreciated more than the Blind Spot Assist, which puts a wonderful bird’s-eye view of the car on your dash screen, thereby easing otherwise ominous parking-lot situations. It is part of a great array of electronic guardian angels hovering over the vehicle.

Is this Mercedes right for you? Well, if you’re more about hauling, or if the rear passengers need more space, the more wagon-like GLE SUV is the way to go. For similarly striking lines but in an agile, compact body, check out the Mercedes GLA class. But somebody’s going to like the GLE Coupe just as it is. Take one look at the powerful, bad-ass SUVs now patrolling the Post Road and it’s clear Mercedes has aimed this ferocious thing right at the heart of Fairfield County. Folks will surely know when you’ve arrived.


Mercedes-Benz GLE450 AMG Coupe

Base Price: $65,000
Price as Tested: $89,605
Drivetrain: 3.0-liter, turbocharged, 362-hp all-wheel drive
EPA Mileage: 17 city/23 highway




Beauty & Beast

The Range Rover Sport SVR reminds me of one of those freakish football players; you know, the hulking 300-pounder who has the swift, spinning grace of a gymnast. Somehow, Range Rover has engineered this mighty fortress to cruise the road with ease and dispatch.

Beauty & BEAST

The five-seater Sport model is situated in the center of Range Rover’s lineup. It’s larger than the compact Discovery Sport model, but nowhere near the size of, say, the Autobiography LWB, which once struck me as the grandest of limousines. The SVR version is more about stylish aggression. Slapped awake by a 550-hp supercharged V-8, it hustles down the road with astonishing propulsion. But it’s civilized, too, as surprisingly quick steering allows it to go around town with grace. Leather bucket seats embrace your deserving posterior.

Step pugnaciously on the loud pedal and the Range Rover really snarls. The power is deep and endless. Take it up the swervy roads north of the Merritt, and it just sails. The Sport SVR is very easy to keep on track. You won’t forget, of course, that you’re sitting up pretty high. Yet, it stays grandly composed.

Our tester had all the trimmings, including the Meridian Signature Audio with its 1,700 watts of surround sound power that provided outstanding separation and fidelity, although the touch-screen controls require some adapting. The trimmings do come at a price, though. The tester retails for $121,525, but there are less flashy versions of this model starting at $65,000, beginning with the Sport SE, which includes a thrifty diesel option. Being Range Rovers, all models come with enough traction control choices to sail over mountains of mud and snow, although personally, I couldn’t bear crashing through the brambles in this car and scratching the paint.


Price (as tested): $121,525
Drivetrain: 550-hp,

EPA Mileage Ratings: 14 city/19 highway




Curves Ahead

The stylists at Ford finally woke up and smelled the espresso, and are maximizing the possibilities lurking within its luxury wing, Lincoln. With the new compact, runabout Lincoln MKC, the brand has a model one can recommend without reservations.

You might snicker over the TV ads featuring Matthew McConaughey, but they’ve led to a 25 percent sales jump. The handsome MKC, the first shot at what will be a complete redesign of the marque, provides a lot of help. It’s solid, luxurious and ready to rock.

Gripping the leather-wrapped steering wheel from the cushiony cloud of “Bridge of Weir” leather in the front seat, the driver gets the full, sumptuous treatment. The rear seats are more spare, and the cargo area is not designed for hauling the hockey team, but if more space is needed, go up a size to the MKX. You may want to wait for the redesign, though, which is scheduled to launch in late summer.

With its 106-inch wheelbase, the MKC puts down a much shorter footprint than many of its big-lug rivals, and that translates into an authentically sporty SUV that’s just fun for jumping into and tearing off someplace. Richard Spelling at Stamford Ford Lincoln credits the torque-vectoring controls for giving such decisive steering control to the driver. “It’s a game-changer,” he says. “Here you have got something that people love to drive.”

The basic front-wheel-drive version is priced in the mid-$30,000 range, but I would recommend our tester’s specs with the bigger, Mustang-derived turbo four and all-wheel-drive. Several weeks after I gave the test car back to Lincoln, I found myself missing it. Then I saw a couple sitting in an MKC and asked their opinion. “We go through a lot of cars,” they sighed. Then they brightened. “But this thing makes us feel like teenagers!”

Price (as tested): $49,865
Drivetrain: 2.3-liter, turbocharged, 285-hp, all-wheel drive
EPA Mileage Ratings: 18 city/26 highway



Looks to Thrill

The Italians understand three things very well: beautiful lines, voracious handling and very willing motors. Maserati is one of the great attention-getting names in automotive history, even as its ownership has veered through operatic changes over the years. For the past two decades, however, the manufacturer has enjoyed the stability of a partnership with Fiat and Ferrari, companies that have modernized the Maserati factory. As a result, the new Ghibli might be considered something of an accessible, affordable Ferrari, as it’s priced like an Audi S7. It’s doing so well here that Miller Motorcars, the exotic-car specialists in Greenwich, has opened a Maserati of Westport at 1026 Post Road East.

The “S Q4” designation of the car we tested means this version has a bigger engine and all-wheel drive; thus, it can be on the road year-round. We even took it out in a vicious winter storm, yet it felt totally serene and capable. The V-6 was designed by Paolo Martinelli, Ferrari’s Formula 1 maestro, who orchestrated the engine to produce some startling sounds. Accelerate hard and you’ll hear a raucous braaap. The auto pros at Miller Motorcars who loaned us this curvaceous howler suggested we keep it in Sport mode most of the time, but during the storm it was easy to access the gentler dynamics of the Ice mode. Altogether, the car has five driving modes and each one affects the behavior of the eight-speed automatic transmission.

While the Ghibli is “smaller” than Maserati’s Quattroporte gunship, it’s still a full-sized luxury car with four seats upholstered in beautiful leather. Even so, it can be tossed around with aplomb. Power around a backcountry curve at 50 mph, and the ride feels as composed as if you were doing 25. The car doesn’t furnish neck-snapping acceleration, but it does offer a stimulating rush that makes a driver suddenly question how everything got going this fast.

It’s no wonder Maserati sales have risen so dramatically in recent years. This model works like a normal car, yet it has startling good looks and goes like hell. It’s Italian, you know. Passionate. For information go to

Totally Wired

Forget about the electric-car pedigree for a moment. Consider owning a Tesla simply for the driving experience. After some spirited gallivanting in the first premium sedan built from the ground up as an electric vehicle, I wanted one. If this is the future of the automobile, bring it on, please.

There are about twenty electric car models on the market today and, aside from the Chevy Volt and its sister the Cadillac ELR, the range on a charge is usually in the neighborhood of eighty miles. That’s a tight neighborhood. By comparison, the Tesla Model S I drove had a max range of 280 miles. Heavy use of the throttle or the heater diminishes the range a bit, although a fifty-mph commute barely dents the power supply.

If you were to fix an absolutely drained Tesla to your home charger­—on a 240-watt outlet like the one your clothes dryer uses—it would take nine hours to top up, and add just $10 to the electric bill. A fifty-mile commute would require just a few hours of charging and cost about $1.50. Or you can get a free plug-in at one of the high-powered “supercharger” stations Tesla is building along major arteries. I visited one at the Darien rest stop along I-95 and got 100 miles worth of juice in twenty minutes. Other Tesla stations are in Greenwich, Milford, Westchester and Manhattan.

The whereabouts of the stations can be tracked on the big screen that occupies the center console of the Model S. (The car being a WiFi hot spot, you can also check your email or stock prices from the screen.) The dashboard has a handsome, flowing Swedish Moderne refinement. It’s hard to believe this is an American car built in Fremont, California, at an old GM plant.

Cruising range like this requires enormous batteries. That’s why the two-ton Tesla feels as solid as a bank vault, but it does not feel remotely cumbersome. Go up a twisty wet road and the ride is accomplished. You can tool around town in serene silence, too. But step on the gas pedal—oops, I mean, the accelerator—and it instantly whooshes you to a heart-stopping speed. The Tesla will go up to 130 mph. No raucous shakes or snarls accompany this rush; there’s no building up steam.
While my Tesla Model S tester is the current performance version (the basic car is priced near $75,000), the factory has Ferrari-fighter levels of performance in the wings. An all-wheel-drive version is also coming, so look for it in Tesla showrooms in Mt. Kisko and the Westchester.



Mercedes-Benz Unveils Amazing Concept Self-Driving Car

Mercedes recently unveiled their rather impress concept self-driving car, which is aptly titled "F 015 Luxury in Motion". The concept car made its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and is, in short, rather impressive. The vehicle boasts swivel chairs that are able to rotate 30 degrees, LED lighting to help pedestrians cross the street, large interior touch screen paneling and more. Plus the fact that it can drive itself isn't too shabby of a deal.

There is no word yet when the car will be available or how much it will cost, but this certainly looks like the right direction to move into for the future of driving.

Read more about the Mercedes F 015 on Daily Mail, and view the full gallery of images on Car and Driver

Curves Ahead

Nobody needs a sports car. That is, until you let a good one get under your skin and then you realize how much you really need to hop in and do some stylish gallivanting. BMW’s new M235i is frisky. Should you be accustomed to driving some hulking leviathan, your first time zipping around a corner in this car will leave you feeling totally liberated.

Its elder sibling—the BMW 3-Series—is already a capable performer, no question, but like all sedans it has grown larger as it’s matured. The 2-Series is meant to restore BMW’s sporty reputation. Handling is very well sorted out. It is a finished, accomplished machine with a refined, comfortable interior. The “M” prefix designates BMW’s ultra-sporty line, and in this realm the M235i undercuts the M3 by about $15,000, in addition to offering much better gas mileage.

With its semi-useful rear seats, the M235i is more practical than a two-seat sports car like the Z4. (Rear seats also get an approving nod from your insurance broker.) The trunk is just moderately sized; packing golf clubs means lowering the rear seat backs.

On the road, it has two distinct personalities, Sport or Comfort, available by merely flipping a switch. Going to Sport firms up the suspension and holds the eight-speed automatic in gear a little longer, which results in ushering a hushed snarl into the cabin. It’s actually a sound effect coming through the speakers. The neighbors will appreciate this! The Comfort mode might still be 10 percent too taut for some drivers. Should you drop by the dealership for a test, be sure to get some decent miles on it—a short outing might not reveal the car’s thorough goodness (not to mention its badness). By day two, I just wanted to jump in and take off for the sweeping country lanes. In brief, I wanted my personal sport mode back. The M235i gives it to you.



Get a Grip

Winter is sneaking up fast. If it’s anything like last winter, there will be slide-outs and crumpled bumpers everywhere. The best thing you can to stay on the happy side of the road is to stick with good rubber.

This is not a question you want to be asking yourself as you slide helplessly into the back of a Mercedes. The difference between stopping promptly and sliiiiiiiding to a halt might well be the quality of your tires.

Rule No. 1: Watch out for cheap Chinese stuff. 

They might look perfectly fine — black with nice deep threads — but the rubber compound itself might strictly Pillsbury Doughboy. “The last time we tested a Chinese tire,” noted Car & Driver editor Eddie Alterman recently, “we were convinced it had concrete in the mix.”

It turns out that many of the biggest tire brands are actually manufacturing them in Chinese factories. According to authorities we consulted, the famous makes actually exert very tight controls and produce reasonably good products. If, however, your tire seller offers you something you never heard of, stay away. 

Hank May, now approaching his fortieth year in running local tire shops, says the cheaper tires might work well initially, “but down the line, the chintziness may show up.”

Rule No. 2: Keep an eye on those all-weather tires. With many high-performance cars (read, “German”) coming to market with racy, narrow-aspect-ratio tires, wise drivers invest in a separate set of rims and all-weather tires for the stormy season. Actual snow tires are not necessary unless you are a regular visitor to ski country.

But May advises you to regular check those tires. “An all-weather tire ceases to be all-weather when it gets to the bottom third of the tread — well before the wear bars show on the tires.” At that point it will probably be remain a decent street tire, but not really be up to handling a heavy rain, never mind a blizzard.      



Beauty and Brawn

The latest SUVs have an interesting mission: Look rugged and act luxurious. As the big showboaters have become the stylin’ cars of choice these days, Jeep—the burly originator of the concept—was in danger of being left in the dust. But if our recent test of the Jeep Grand Cherokee is any indication, it’s clunky no more.

Maybe we should credit the brand’s new Italian ownership for creating such an elegant smoothie. The stitched leather seats highlight a formally sweet interior. The Quadra-Lift air suspension creates a comfortable ride in town and then lowers the vehicle at highway speeds to improve fuel economy. Thus, the Jeep has the requisite height but none of that top-heavy feeling that plagues some SUVs.

The biggest curse on SUVs is the sketchy fuel economy, but our Overland model had the EcoDiesel engine, which, when linked to its eight-speed transmission, gave us about 24 mpg in mixed driving. This translates to an extra 100 miles per tankful over the gasoline-powered version. Highway cruising will be even better, and that one tank of diesel will take you 730 miles.  

And, oh yes, the Jeep heritage lives on: The Grand Cherokee tows up to 7,400 pounds, and four-wheel-drive options are available. While you can get into a base Cherokee for $30,000, our Grand Cherokee Overland edition edges close to $50,000. That’s steep, but the price compares very favorably with the Cherokee’s German diesel rivals, which cost about $10,000 more.Our test model was strikingly handsome, with flanks dignified and brawny. The Jeep has come a long way.

Solar Asphalt

Solar panels are appearing on more and more houses in Connecticut. If you’ve talked to a satisfied solar proponent, they just love to show you that row of zeroes on the monthly electricity bill. Well, in summer, anyway.

Once you see that, you have to wonder about all those millions of houses in the sunbelt where the AC is cranking day and night. When is solar power going to catch on in this country? Germany, which has been on furious campaign for getting electricity from renewable sources, now gets fifty percent of its needs from solar.

One of the most innovative ideas to spring forth in this country is the Solar Roadway, the brainchild of an Idaho couple, Julie and Scott Brusaw. Their solar panels are hexagonally shaped and designed to snap together and form — get this — an actual roadway. The panels are three layers sandwiched together with a greenish glass top that they claim is suitable for driving on.

The criticisms came fast and furious, but the proposal is just startling enough to have earned them grant and venture-capital monies. If nothing else, it reminds us that a tremendous amount of land is taken up by roads in this country, and to use that space — even if it’s just parking lots at the mall — for the production of power would be an astonishing gift to the future.

The Brusaws suggest, for instance, that these panels could be engineered to provide roads that clear their own snow. Or the roads could panel the necessary streetlights and warning lamps.

Maybe the biggest obstacle to any of this happening is that the current Congress can’t even agree how to fund our asphalt highways and bridges. Here’s a hint for the Brusaws: Build a small Solar Highways factory in every congressional district. Your U.S. Representative will LEAP into action on your behalf.

Until then, we’re going to imagine how nifty these glass solar hexagons would look on the south side of the house. The driveway? Talk us to later.

Whisper Jet

“What’s that?” demanded everyone who walked through my door during the week I had the Lexus LS 460 F Sport parked in the driveway. Smooth as an opal and black as sin, this was no comfy sport-ute Lexus. This was the chairman of the board sedan, awash in aggressive design touches and a miles-deep ebony paint.

The LS 460 occupies an interesting slice of the uppermost cruise-bomb market. Its German competitors impart an image of total seriousness, while the Lexus offers an air of serene silence and control, not to mention an unmatched reputation for reliability. The new F Sport version is meant to reach out to the serious drivers who would normally go for something Teutonic.

Falling easily to hand is a knob on the console that shifts the car’s performance from plush to sporty. The Adaptive Variable Air suspension firms up the ride, and the eight-speed automatic transmission encourages power, not thrift. After you’ve strafed a few scenic curves, the Lexus easily transitions back into its normal state of grace.

Whisper Jet was a term once cooked up by Eastern Airlines to describe some swanky airship. The term came back to mind as I piloted the Lexus around Connecticut’s byways. Some of the car’s rivals offer more screaming forcefulness, but this model’s 386 horsepower gets you going, although way too fast if you push that throttle. It silently builds up momentum like a falling boulder. The optional all-wheel-drive system lets you safely tap this power even during sodden seasons.

Our test car came with a saddle interior, a beautiful place to park oneself. All the high-tech, maximum-luxe features are here, of course. This car just calls out to you for long drives.

The LS starts around $76,000 and the F Sport edition adds another $10,000. If that’s too much, you could look at the slightly smaller ES 350, which was remodeled last year and now has the gorgeous interior we expect of a Lexus. But the customer targeted for the LS 460 won’t be bothered by such trifles. This is maximum-expression stuff that lets the world know you’ve arrived.



Back Seat Rover

Summertime means road trips. And if you’re taking the dog with you, it means thinking ahead to make sure ol’ Rover gets to your destination in good health. Here are some things to ponder.

Photograph: Kurgo Skybox Booster Seat;

  • Seat restraints are a must (you don’t want the dog crashing around the interior during a panic stop) but some people think seat belts look, well, inhumane. Answer? Get a booster seat. These luxurious skyboxes provide a good view out the window, and they have comfy linings. Some of them double as beds once you arrive.

    Photograph: Water-Resistant Hose-Off Seat Hammock;

  • Resting easy. It won’t restrain the animal, but a “hammock” style blanket can be suspended in the rear-seat area. Orvis sells a hose-off blanket works as one of these hammocks.

Photograph: Doggles Protective Eyewear for Dogs;

  • Have vision! Top-down drivers know how much the dog loves to stick his face in the breeze. To prevent eye damage, get specially made goggles for dogs, such as those made by Doggles.
  • Escalator to an Escalade. If getting in and out of that towering SUV is an issue, consider taking along a portable ramp or staircase for the dog. Petsmart carries a telescoping ramp that is easy to haul around.
  • The friendly fence. If you’re staying somewhere for a week or more and want to give the dog some freedom, there are various electronic-fence options, such as the Wireless Dog Fence ($250). The dog hears the electronic beep in the collar and knows not to wander farther.
  • Can we see your ID? All dogs need an ID tag on the collar, but none more than the footloose and frisky fellers who like to make a break for it. Make sure the collared tag has a good nametag with your cell phone number on it. Implanting a microchip ID tag is also a good thing.

Photograph: Collapsible Pet Kennel;

  • Get the right car. Volvo has custom-made pet barriers for its vehicles, and Jeep sells a whole line of crates and carriers for pets that fit its exteriors exactly right. Ask your dealer if special pet accessories are made for your car.