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2017 Cadillac CT6

1 Feb

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Remember when the word Cadillac was synonymous with best of? The Cadillac of lawn mowers? Toasters? When Cadillac was the aspirational automotive brand? When a showing up in a Caddy inspired envy, and told the world you’d really made it?

Cadillac boss Johan de Nysschen wants his company to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear, and every new vehicle that emerges on his watch is aimed to that objective.

The CT6 sedan is the latest. Some impressions follow.

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Eyes Only: Cadillac has developed and evolved its bold Art and Science design language since 1999, when the Evoq concept car made its debut. The CT6, is its latest interpretation. It’s not quite as edgy as some of its predecessors, but it’s unmistakably Cadillac with those cascading LED running lights adorning the front fenders and that big egg crate grille. The wide track suggests that this is a car that means business, the wheels fill the wheel wells, giving the car a hunkered-down look, and the whole package looks tightly wrapped. But the most compelling element of this big sedan, at least to me, is its proportions. The long hood suggests power, and the short front overhang—not much Cadillac extending beyond the front axle—conveys a sense of athleticism. BMW has made a religion out of this design approach, particularly with its 3-series cars, and it works well here. I see the CT6 as a valet front-row car, no matter where you go.

The Inside Job: A few of my colleagues think the inner CT6 isn’t quite as luxurious as it should be to compete in this high end sedan game. I disagree. The materials are posh, the décor is subdued, the instruments are exemplary in terms of legibility, the central touch screen is big (10.2 inches), and Cadillac has made its CUE telematic control system a little more user-friendly. The CT6 isn’t a long-wheelbase 7-series BMW, but there’s plenty of room in the back seat. The rear seatbacks recline, the cushions adjust fore and aft, and there’s a massage function. There’s a camera integrated into the inside rear view mirror that enhances vision, and there’s a triggered video function that can record up to 32 hours of driving. Probably pretty boring video, but still. And of course there’s that celestial Panaray audio system. What’s not to like? Okay, the little touch pad control in the center, just ahead of the armrest, isn’t very useful—gotta be careful dangling your fingers—especially with the onset of gesture controls. And the bucket seats could deliver a little more lateral support when the g-loads start coming at odd angles. Still, this is an interior that’s both posh and functional. Looks like luxury to me. Maybe I need to drive more Bentleys.

Money Talks: That’s not exactly news. But what does money say? It’s not always the same thing. Cadillac boss Johan de Nysschen says you can’t discount your way to a prestige image, and the division’s vehicles sport window stickers with bottom lines similar to those of their opposite numbers from other shops. The strategy is that this will be a tough discipline for awhile, but the excellence of the cars will keep winning hearts and minds, lease car residuals will close the gap, and Cadillac will regain its place in the sun. However, the CT6 hedges that bet a little bit. Size-wise it slots between the mid-size and full-size entries from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes, so it’s perceived as a competitor for the Audi A8, BMW 7-series, and Mercedes S-Class. As such, it enjoys an enviable price position, ranging from $54,490 to $88,460 all-in, across four trim levels. The rival Germans start at a little over $82,000, and two of them range well over $100,000. It’s hard to apply the word bargain in this sector of the market, but this new Caddy’s got a case.

Zero to Whatever: Okay, this biggest of current Caddy sedans is not a rocket. But it’s no somnambulist, either, particularly with its new 404-horsepower twin-turbo V6 providing propulsion. That’s the boss engine in a three-engine lineup, which starts with a 265-hp 2.0-liter turbo four. There’s a 335-hp 3.6-liter V6 in the middle. The four-cylinder is rear-drive only, while the two V6s are all-wheel drive. All three engines send power to the drive wheels via a whipped-cream-smooth eight-speed automatic transmission. This is an all-new chassis, very solid structure, the fundamental prerequisite for all dynamics. The design team has done a great job of paring weight from the structure—lots of aluminum—and with Cadillac’s brilliant magnetic ride control, plus a new rear steering feature, this big sedan can dance with the best. The steering is very precise, ride quality is refined Euro firm, and it’s quiet at any speed on any surface, the better to hear the orchestral soaring of the Bose Panaray audio system—34 speakers, sound that’s visceral as well as audible: $3700. If you’re an audiophile, you gotta have it. Anyway, if none of these engines deliver enough punch for you—the twin turbo will deliver 0-to-60 in about 5 seconds—a 4.2-liter turbo V8 is expected, probably in the vicinity of 500 hp. A plug-in hybrid is in the works as well.

Space does not permit me to do lengthy reports here. For more detailed reviews check caranddriver.com and/or newcartestdrive.com.

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The Show Goes On. Again.

23 Jan

Welcome to 2016, and welcome to the first manifestation of my New Year’s resolutions, to wit, the revival of this irregular collection of activity reports, back-in-the-day musings, and irreverent observations. I confess that Swan Drives languished during 2015, which was a very good year for me (and the industry) in terms of new car introductions, major auto shows attended (5 of them), North American Car of the Year, and extra-curricular automotive events (read: 24 Hours of LeMons racing).

Extra-curricular also applies to my ongoing dance with the Devil, better known as squamous cell cancer. The short version: after a third round of pruning by the redoubtable Dr. Yoo—a BMW owner, BTW—a follow-up CT scan last week did not set off any new alarm bells. While this isn’t exactly a cause for hosannahs, it does inspire cautious—very cautious—optimism. And it allows me to focus more fully on resuscitating this column. So this year I vow to do better on all of the fronts.

Post-NAIAS

Detroit’s 2016 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) is just about in the books, and aside from the puzzling absence of Jaguar-Land Rover, Bentley, and Mini it was once again an exposition chock-a-block with world premieres, which is how we assess the merit of big-time shows. World premieres and concept vehicles.

I’ll confine myself to a couple of my show favorites, both very sexy, one a concept, the other a production car.

Lexus LC 500

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It’s no secret that Lexus has be working to put some adrenaline in its corporate image. It’s not something that happens overnight. Images are easily acquired, but when they’re undesirable they’re very difficult to alter. Lexus is a powerful case in point. Created as a Japanese rival to German luxury sedans, Lexus drifted into a series of beautifully boring offerings—meticulously assembled, beautifully finished, handsomely furnished, quiet as midnight in a cathedral … and as exciting as tofu. Toyota’s luxury division has been trying to alter this perception with its performance-oriented F models, as well as the LF-A supercar.

And now, closer to the economic realities to at least some of the rest of us (the very limited production LF-A carried a $375,000 pricetag), here’s the LC 500 coupe. Chassis with granitic rigidity, lots of carbon fiber, magnesium, and aluminum. A 467-horsepower V8 feeds power to the rear axle via a 10-speed automatic transmission. And there’s nothing conservative about the styling. It almost makes the trademark spindle grille treatment acceptable. Almost. Look for an MSRP in the vicinity of $100,000, Can’t wait to drive this one.

Buick Avista

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It’s fair to say that Buick has successfully hoisted itself out of near-obscurity with a line of vehicles that appeal to buyers well outside of geriatric ranks. So now the challenge is coming up with designs that go beyond merely attractive to compelling. Buick has had a few of these over the decades—the 1939 Y Job, the 1953 Wildcat, the 1973 Riviera, and now the Avista. I am not alone in thinking this was the hottest concept at the show; it took the EyesOn Design award for design excellence. The Avista is a real car, with a 400-horsepower twin-turbo V6 engine under that long hood. But whether it will get a green light for production is unknown; coupes don’t sell in the kind of volume General Motors marketing people like to see. Maybe if it had four doors…?

As noted, there were many more newbies at Detroit’s Cobo Arena over the show’s two press preview days, 35 of them at least, far too many for me to catalogue here. For a comprehensive rundown, check www.caranddriver.com, where you’ll find all of them in glorious color with detailed info.

NACTOY

The acronym stands for North American Car and Truck of the Year, and by now I’m sure you’re aware that the Honda Civic and Volvo XC90 have been named North American Car and Truck of the Year for 2016.

I was privileged to announce the Honda Civic as 2016 North American Car of the Year.

I was privileged to announce the Honda Civic as 2016 North American Car of the Year.

What you may not know is that both vehicles have won in the past, the Civic in 2006, the XC90 in 2003. But for both winners, those predecessors are ancient history. The state of the art keeps evolving and advancing, and the pace seems to keep accelerating; last year’s wundercar is this year’s old news.

To someone who’s been making a living in connection with wheels for over four decades (hint: that would be me), contemporary vehicles are incredibly sophisticated. My notion of infotainment, for example, dates to cars like my 1954 Mercury, a time when AM radio was as good as it got. KDWB, Minneapolis, Channel 63.

But I digress. The thing that impresses me about the new Civic is not only that it’s the best compact sedan going for model year 2016. It’s that Honda has sustained that nameplate ever since the first Civic made its U.S. debut for 1973. Not all generations were best-in-class, but unlike many domestic nameplates, Honda never gave up on Civic. (The same can be said for Toyota and the Corolla.)

One other Honda note: the sedan is only the first chapter in the new Civic story. Next we’ll see a new coupe—I’ll file a report in early February—followed by a four-door hatchback, a high performance Si, and an even higher performance R version.

2015 Chevrolet Suburban

17 Mar

Still the Boss Hauler.

When you run your mental list of American automotive icons, does it include this big boy? If it doesn’t, I score it as incomplete.

Sure, a Suburban doesn’t pack the kind of cachet that goes with, say, a Boss 302 Mustang, or a split window Corvette, or a ’57 Cadillac Seville Eldorado. But it predates all those post-War II glamour rides, and it’s been America’s pre-eminent pack mule for a long time.

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The saga began with the Suburban Carryall, in 1935. And this is chapter 12, in a continuing story that adds to the Suburban’s status as the oldest continuously sustained nameplate in the industry.

So just how new is the new Suburban? Let’s say selectively new. As with Chevy’s full-size Silverado pickup, the foundation is an updated version of the GM 900 chassis, a big wagon body on a truck-style sturdy ladder frame. It was solid goods going in, and didn’t need a major makeover, just some judicious stiffening.

Thus the chassis and body dimensions are unchanged from the 11th generation Suburban. But there is much that is new—skin, interior, and motivation, plus a small reduction in mass, about 100 pounds, depending on equipment.

Let’s start under the hood. Propulsion is supplied by a 5.3-liter V8, sending thrust to the rear wheels (or, optionally, all four) via a six-speed automatic transmission. At a glance, this engine looks very much like the previous 5.3-liter eight—same displacement, same bore centers (mandated as engineering gospel at GM ever since the small block Chevy V8 of 1955). But almost everything else—oil pan, cylinder block, crankshaft, pistons, rods, intake, exhaust—is new.

Including direct fuel injection. All that, and increased compression, add up to increased output—355 horsepower versus 320. Even better, improved engine efficiency plus a function that automatically shuts off half the cylinders at steady cruising speeds—adds up to improved EPA fuel economy ratings: 15 mpg city, 22 highway with 4-wheel drive. Towing capability: 8000 pounds

Muscle is always a plus in an 8-passenger family hauler, but so is refinement, and the latest Suburban raises the ante in this respect. Improved materials, sexier instrumentation, more sound insulation and of course the all-important connectivity, with a platoon of USB ports and the optional Chevy MyLink system. From a more practical point of view, the second- and third-row seatbacks fold flat for swallowing cargo (just over 121 cubic feet at max)—in previous Suburbans, you had to remove the rearmost seat. The seatbacks have an optional power folding feature. And there’s a power rear liftgate option. All very handy.

And safety features, as you’d expect, are contemporary and comprehensive, although Chevy would get higher marks in this scoring category if more of these features were standard—the blind spot, lane departure, and rear cross traffic warnings, for example.

Maneuverable Mass

Nimble is a word that’s never popped into my mind in connection with any Suburban, an experience log that dates to generation eight. But for a vehicle in this size/mass category, the latest Suburban comports itself with surprising agility. It’s not like anyone’s going to put this big hauler through its paces on a twisty back road or at an autocross, but what you want from any vehicle, especially one that’s likely to be packing a load of kids, is prompt and predictable responses in emergency maneuvers.

Within the constraints of its size, the latest Suburban delivers on that score. Body roll is minimal, and transient responses—the quick directional changes you’d make avoiding a hazardous situation—are brisk. Rapid maneuvers could be a bit more precise if the new electric power steering provided a little more tactile information, but that’s a trait an owner learns to live with.

Power will likely score as more than satisfactory for most, and the operation of the cylinder deactivation features is absolutely seamless. The only clue that it’s working is a little indicator light at the bottom of the instrument binnacle.

The Suburban’s comfort quotient measures up well with its enhanced dynamics. Ride quality is excellent—smooth without being squishy—and the investment GM made in controlling NVH (noise vibration harshness) pays dividends in terms of quiet operation. Chevy says “whisper quiet,” which may be overstating the case. But I can attest to a conversation in living room voice levels at a steady 75 mph. Which should be quiet enough for just about anyone.

Demerits? A few. In an era of 8-, 9-, and even 10-speed transmissions, GM’s 6-speed, though smooth, seems a little behind the times. One of the newer units would probably contribute to fuel efficiency.

And while the 5.3-liter V8 does a good job, GM has an equally new (and considerably more potent) 6.2-liter V8 in its inventory that’s not available to Suburban buyers. If you want that one, you have to shops at a GMC store, where it’s available in the more expensive Yukon XL Denali. GM doesn’t impose this distinction on its full-size pickup trucks, Silverado and GMC Sierra. Similarly, the fancy High Country trim package newly available in the Silverado doesn’t extend to the Suburban. You can get leather and other goodies, but if you want the really posh interior GM wants you to sign up for a Yukon Denali.

As you’d expect, the Denali treatment is expensive, but the Suburban is far from inexpensive, and not the sort of purchase that falls into impulse buy territory. The base price for my 4-wheel drive test truck was $65,695, including the $995 destination/delivery charge. There were also $6190 in options, including a $3305 package with sunroof, navigation, and Chevy MyLink and $1695 for adaptive cruise control.

Cruise controls from some carmakers now include a defeat feature for the adaptive element, which makes them infinitely more desirable in my view. This one, however, does not, and I’d stick with the basic cruise control, which is standard equipment.In any case, $71,385 is a sobering sum. Nevertheless, if the desire is ownership of a refined 9-passenger family wagon capable of pretty heavy duty towing, the new Suburban is better than ever—and still the gold standard in this class.

2015 Kia K900

27 Feb

An elegant example of the difference between luxury and prestige.

The new car market is awash with mouth-watering vehicles conceived to pamper your person, enhance perceptions of your status, and make you happy every time you settle in behind the wheel. Maybe make you happy even when you merely look out the window, and see that seductive ride of yours sitting there, poised, waiting, provoking covetous stares from passersby.

There are two factors at play here: luxury and prestige. Luxury is readily achievable in an automobile, given sufficient financial resources and a competent design team. Prestige, however, is far more elusive.

Which brings me to the K900, a new rear-drive sedan designed to elevate Kia to previously uncharted territory: the realm of luxury, in fact. It’s big, it’s roomy, it’s posh, it’s handsome. And like other Kias, in the template established by parent company Hyundai.

That’s where it gets tricky. The K900 certainly has essentially all the attributes that make for luxurious motoring. But it lacks the pedigree that distinguishes the luxo establishment. So what will that mean? Let’s come back to that question a little later.

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The Car

Like other Kia vehicles, the K900 shares a lot of its structure and drivetrain with a corresponding Hyundai, in this case the Hyundai Genesis, as well elements from the bigger Equus, Hyundai’s big executive sedan.

The exterior design comes across as cautiously contemporary, a slippery shape with raked back windshield and fast rear window. Its most distinctive element, at least to my eye, is Kia’s so-called Tiger Nose grille (squint as I might, I can’t see anything feline in this design) and the 16-element LED lighting array at the front. LEDs have become pretty common as design enhancements, thanks to Audi, but the K900’s lamps look spiffy, particularly at night. And the headlamps angle up to 12 degrees in the direction of a turn.

Inside, the K900 has everything you’d expect in a $65,000 luxury car—17-speaker orchestral audio; attractive instrumentation; a vase parnoramic moon roof; a very cool color head up display that includes speedometer, nav info, cruise setting, and blind spot warning; high quality materials including heated and cooled Nappa leather seats (power reclinable in the rear, as well as up front); up to the minute telematics including navigation with a 9.2-inch screen.

On the Road

In the luxury tournament, where Kia hopes the K900 will become a player, the dynamic standards are defined by cars developed on and for the toughest crucible on earth—the German autobahn system. On superhighways that still include stretches where top speed is at the discretion of the driver, the car must possess the reflexes of a world class boxer, surgically precise steering, ample power, and potent brakes.

Those qualities still distinguish the big sedans of Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, but assessed by those standards I have to say the K900 measures up as a pleasant surprise. The suspension tuning hits the sweet spot where firm and smooth co-exist comfortably, and the combination of solid chassis and decisive roll stiffness keep body motions to a minimum during quick transitions.

The K900 executes rapid direction changes with very little reluctance and minimal rock ’n roll. Quick maneuvers—accident avoidance, for example—would be even more decisive if the electric power steering was capable of providing a little more information about where the front wheels are pointing. The driver will likely be making little adjustments after the initial turn.

But that lament applies to many of the new electric steering systems in varying degrees, and in any case the K900’s tiller is a little more tactile than the system in the Hyundai Equus, its mechanical cousin, and the same can be said for its dynamics.

Power, delivered in the test car by a 5.0-liter V8 (a V6 model will be offered later), rates as abundant: 420 horsepower is far from unusual in this class of car—all the Germans offer much more potent engine options. But it propels the K900 with gratifying vigor, and I’d bet it’ll be more than sufficient for most owners. Makes stimulating power noises at full throttle, too. The eight-speed automatic transmission is smooth, and EPA fuel economy ratings competitive at 15 mpg city, 23 highway, though not what anyone would call outstanding.

I mentioned power noises, which brings me to a K900 dynamic virtue that may be best-in-class: noise. As in absence of. This is an exceptionally quiet car, as befits a luxury sedan.

The Bottom Line

I mentioned a $65,500 pricetag for the K900 V8. That’s not exactly inexpensive, even by the standards of some of the Germans Kia hopes to rival. But that’s the price for the car I drove at Kia’s intro event, V8 VIP, the K900 model that will be the first to appear in Kia showrooms. The basic K900, which will be available a in a few months, will be priced from about $50,000.

The V8 VIP is the top of the line, loaded with just about every feature in the order book, and as such rates as a very tempting value.

Tempting, that is, unless you want the intangible that goes with one of the Teutonic lords of the autobahn: Prestige.

That takes time, and while the K900 has everything that makes luxury luxurious, prestige will have to be patient.

—Tony Swan

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