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2017 Porsche Panamera First Test Review: The Ultimate Four-Door Sports Car

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If you need a Mercedes S-Class but lust for a sports car, the 2017 Panamera is the Porsche for you.

Hunkered low like a 911—even the revised tail end styling lays claim to the 911’s iconic buttocks—the Panamera is a true four-door sports car. But having four doors doesn’t necessarily make it a sedan, and that means your passengers might have to make a sacrifice or two in exchange for sating your sports car lust.

With tighter proportions, a better stance, and, as Car of the Year guest judge (and former Chrysler design czar) Tom Gale noted, surfaces and graphics that are “all Porsche,” this Panamera is a stunner.

The new model marks the debut of VW Group’s new front-engine, rear- and all-wheel-drive MSB architecture—for which Porsche was the development lead—and the new Porsche-developed 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8. Compared with the old Panamera, the wheelbase has been stretched 1.2 inches to 116.1 inches, with the front axle moved forward half an inch relative to the firewall.

The entry-level Panamera is powered by the familiar 3.0-liter V-6 with 330 hp. Panamera S models get the new Audi-developed 2.9-liter twin-turbo V-6 massaged by Porsche to deliver 440 hp and 406 lb-ft. The Panamera Turbo V-8 develops 550 hp and 568 lb-ft and features cylinder deactivation—a first for a Porsche engine—which reportedly delivers up to a 30 percent improvement in fuel efficiency.

Wait, we’re not to the best part yet. The Panamera E-Hybrid combines the 330-hp V-6 with a 136-hp e-motor to deliver a total system output of 462 hp. And the Turbo S E-Hybrid combines the V-8 and electric motor for a system output of 680 hp.

The base model is rear drive; the rest are all-wheel drive. The transmission is a new eight-speed PDK, even on the plug-in hybrid models, which have a pure EV range of about 20 miles. Despite all that ridiculous horsepower, the Panamera’s plug-in port gets you carpool lane access in California, so you can legally tailgate that Bolt going the speed limit.

We tested two Panamera variants, the 4S, which transacts at $100,950 ($126,705 as tested), and the Panamera Turbo ($147,950 for its “base” model and a rare-air $172,495 as tested).

The 4S is plenty machine for most every American horsepower hound. In our testing, it gets to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, tears through the quarter mile in 12.3 seconds at 111.3 mph, comes to a halt from 60 mph in 101 feet, and can carry 1.01 g around the skidpad. Its 2.9-liter twin-turbo V-6 carries a crazy 150.2 hp/liter, which it needs to propel 4,498 pounds to those sorts of extremes.

But for those of you for whom this sort of performance is merely OK, the Panamera Turbo’s 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 dashes to 60 in 3 flat, blitzes the quarter mile in 11.4 seconds at 121.2 mph, shaves 7 feet off the 4S’ braking distance, and still circles the skidpad at 1.01 g despite weighing 4,662 pounds.

“The super sweet turbocharged V-6 ensures a smooth power delivery and a smooth soundtrack to go with it,” Detroit editor Alisa Priddle noted from our Car of the Year testing. “When the 4S performs this well, it makes you wonder whether you need the twin-turbo V-8. Then you get into the V-8 and are blown away by the power at your disposal.”

And although these supercar-worthy numbers would conjure images of harrowing chassis dynamics, the Panamera achieves these extremes in complete serenity. Indeed, as I cruised the Hyundai Kia proving ground’s high-speed oval at a placid 120 mph and introduced the gas pedal to the firewall, the speedometer needle arcing rapidly in response, I felt as though I could have assembled a club sandwich in the passenger seat. That, friends, is composure.

Still, when asked to perform radically, the Panamera responds, as senior features editor Jonny Lieberman discovered: “It cornered so hard the windshield wiper fluid came out onto the windshield. I got a tire pressure warning at 189 mph. I decided to hit 190 mph anyhow.”

How can it do this? The Panamera’s air springs, electronic shocks, rear steering, active anti-roll, and torque vectoring is overseen by what Porsche calls 4D Chassis Control. Like the innovative Side Slip Control developed by Ferrari for the 488 and GTC4Lusso, 4D Chassis Control analyzes the vehicle’s trajectory and driver inputs in real time and orders a coordinated response from all systems to ensure optimal turn-in response, agility, and stability.

Panameras with air suspension can also be fitted with optional active stabilizer bars, which use 48-volt electromechanical actuators to twist them in the opposite direction to the cornering forces and virtually eliminate body roll.

“This big ol’ car really shrinks around your hips on the winding road,” features editor Christian Seabaugh said. “This doesn’t drive like a big car. It drives like a small one—amazing considering its limolike dimensions.”

However, in the truest sense, a four-door sports car means a sports car suspension—which means most every imperfection (no matter how minor or harsh) is transmitted into the cabin. Your passengers might feel quite a bit more jostling than in a Mercedes S-Class or Lexus LS. The Panamera simply cannot walk away from its Zuffenhausen roots. For Porsche drivers, that is a reassuringly good thing. But your passengers, who might expect that four doors means a plush ride, will discover otherwise.

Bearing that in mind, COTY guest judge (and former Ford product development executive) Chris Theodore complained of racket from the rubber: “What was a minor tire-noise complaint from the back of the 4S has becomes a major issue on the Turbo. Stay away from these sporting Continentals—a bad trade-off for minor improvements dynamics.”

The new Panamera is bigger all around but looks smaller and more rakish. So let’s look inside. With crisp, businesslike lines and contours, the Panamera interior fits within the contemporary, Bauhaus-modern model we’ve come to love from German automakers.

Although enthusiasts might prefer a 911, if a usable rear seat is required to drop the kids off at school or double-date to the ballet, the Panamera offers more car within the same pricing ladder. Critically, 6-foot-plus adults still comfortably fit in the rear.

Our lanky Seabaugh found the back seat roomy enough but said, “It feels more constrained than the old version. I sit lower and more leaned back than before, with slightly less legroom. Headroom is still good, as is foot room.”

Despite its dimensions, however, the back seat carries a bit of a claustrophobic vibe due to the sloping roofline intruding on your rear passengers’ peripheral vision. Moving still farther back, the trunk is massive, easily carrying several sets of golf clubs and probably eight cases of wine. You know, for when you get to your mountain lair.

Then there are the little details that remind you why you paid all this money. Take the oscillating HVAC vent in the center stack. Some of you might say, “Big deal, the Mazda 626 had those,” but no one else has since. And Porsche has indeed found a cool way to improve air circulation in the roomy cabin.

The problem, as editor-in-chief Ed Loh noted, is that changing the oscillation or direction of the fans is a frustrating process: “Why on earth would I go two layers into a menu screen (climate; center vent) and then fiddle with digital vent controls when said menu screen is positioned roughly 4 inches above the plastic vanes of the central vent? Why, when in anywhere from a quarter to a tenth of the time, I could quickly and easily manually direct the vents in any direction I please (with my wrist resting on the shifter and eyes on the road)? This is akin to manufacturers removing volume and tuning knobs for digital sliders and buttons.”

You get the point. Sometimes automakers can be too clever. And although international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie lauds the infotainment screen as the clearest in the business, many complained about the Star Trek–like panel for numerous vehicle controls in the horizontal center console. It looks super cool, especially backlit at night. But once there’s daylight, things wash out quickly in the glare. And because there are no protrusions or recesses for buttons or switches, your fingers glide aimlessly across the slick surface, craving haptic feedback. You end up taking your eyes off the road to look for the hieroglyphed control you seek (and you will be looking away for a while given the array of controls). Fortunately, the button-crazy steering wheel and steering column stalks have lots of redundant controls, but you have to learn those, as well.

Then there’s the notorious Porsche options list. For a car with a $100,000 starting sticker price, it seems wild to pay extra for radar cruise control, keyless locking, or self-steering systems when literally every Honda Accord has them. And although our Panamera 4S had heated, eight-way power front seats, they did not come with lumbar support. That’ll set you back another $1,780. But there you are.

Are our criticisms a bit harsh? Perhaps, but for a vehicle with this much excellence involved in its performance, we felt compelled to take out our microscopes.

Concluded Seabaugh: “It might not be as outright opulent as the S-Class, but the Porsche manages to balance luxury with true sports car performance in a way no other automaker can.”

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Video: Stock BMW M2 Drag Races Porsche Boxster with Surprising Result

The BMW M2 is a brilliant car to take to the track. Almost all reviews posted online claim that the M2 is basically the best car BMW offers right now, considering the price/performance ratio. But is that good enough to take on rivals considered more up field like Porsche, for example? The BMW M2 would be a good rival for the Cayman on the track but in the video below we’re not on a race track and the car going up against it is not a Cayman.

Instead, we’re looking at a good old-fashion drag race done on an airfield. The cars going at it are a BMW M2 and a 718 Porsche Boxster S. That’s right, the M2 is going up against the cheapest Porsche you can get. Does that mean the Stuttgart machine is slow? Well, as you’re about to see, that’s pretty far from the truth. The thing is, the Boxster, just like most of the Porsche range, received a new engine recently.

Capture 10 830x449

These days, the Boxster is powered by a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine that makes, in the Boxster S configuration, 350 HP and some 420 Nm (310 lb-ft) of torque. Those figures seem like easy pray for the more powerful BMW, right? The M2 comes with a 3-liter straight six configuration, good for 370 HP and up to 500 Nm (369 lb-ft) of torque. The thing is, the Boxster still bests it when it comes to power/weight ratio, with 4.4 kg/hp compared to 4.5 kg/hp.

Sure, the difference is small but so is the gap between the two cars at the end of the race. Even though both of them come with launch control, in typical GT Board fashion, the race is done from a rolling start. If they would’ve had a standing start, the figures on paper claim the M2 should be just 0.1 seconds faster with a 4.3-second dash to 100 km/h (62 mph) in automatic guise. No matter how you look at it, these two are incredibly close.

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Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk (2017) review

► Cherokee Trackhawk tested
► Ultimate Jeep driven
► As American as apple pie

Car names are universally boring now all the generally violent animal ones such as Mustang, Pantera, Viper and so on have been taken. One commendable exception in recent years is the Dodge Challenger Hellcat.

A lairy, fighterplane-inspired name like that needs to be backed-up by an equally aggressive powerplant, and the Dodge delivers with a near-700bhp, 6.2-litre supercharged V8. That Hellcat motor is now available as a plug-and-play crate engine to help custom shops spice up their vintage muscle cars, but it’s also available under the bonnet of a full factory-built production car soon to be sold in the UK: the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.

Hang on, an SUV with more power than a Ferrari 488 GTB?

Yes! You get 697bhp at 6000rpm and 645lb ft of torque, so 0-62mph falls in 3.7 seconds and the top speed is limited by the car’s bluff aero profile at 180 mph.

That means it’ll breeze past German rivals from Porsche, BMW and Audi. Granted there’s no Cayenne Turbo S yet, but even so, it’ll need to be three tenths quicker than the standard Turbo in order to overtake the Jeep: 

  • Porsche Cayenne Turbo – 542bhp and 568lb ft, 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds
  • BMW X5M – 567bhp and 553lb ft, 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds
  • Audi SQ7 – 429bhp and 664lbs ft, 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds

You’ll need to activate the launch control to get anywhere near that sprint figure, which in turn switches on the Torque Reserve system. This essentially winds up the supercharger to give you 6psi of boost on the line, while the gearbox prioritises torque transfer rather than quick shifts for maximum acceleration.

Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk front end tracking

As a result the Jeep boasts an 11.6sec quarter mile and feels every bit as fast as those numbers suggest. It gets out of the blocks remarkably quickly for a 2.4-tonne vehicle and transmits its power to the tarmac cleanly and without fuss. It’s like freefalling in an outhouse.

Why is it so heavy?

Believe it or not the Jeep is only marginally weightier than its rivals, and that’s largely down to the fact it has a 6.2-litre lump under the bonnet.

It’s a magnificent engine with serious Detroit muscle credentials. The technical specification features heavy metal descriptions such as ‘forged-steel crankshaft with induction-hardened bearing surfaces’ and ‘powder-forged connecting rods with high-load-capacity bushings and carbon-coated piston pins’. Make no mistake, this is a proper fire-and-brimstone powerplant.

Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk engine

Cold air from a scoop where the driver’s-side fog lamp should be feeds a 2380cc per revolution supercharger that breathes out 30,000 litres per minute at 11.6 psi. Integral charge-air coolers and a low-temperature cooling system help to keep the intake air temperatures below 60degC, and Jeep says you should be able to complete six full laps of a hot circuit in Texas before the Trackhawk needs a breather. Impressive stuff.

What’s it like to drive?

We only had a limited number of laps at the Spring Mountain Motor Resort near Las Vegas but on the whole the Trackhawk impressed. It felt softer than European rivals, with greater body movements when turning or braking, but plenty of grip from the Quadra-Trac on-demand four-wheel-drive system giving way to understeer unless you provoke the car on the brakes. 

It’s not a particularly subtle or precise experience as per a Porsche Cayenne, but there’s no denying the potency of the Hellcat lump, which propels you down the road at an alarming rate. 

Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk rear tracking

Driveline and chassis components have been beefed up to deal with that extra power, including the eight-speed automatic gearbox and rear driveshafts, plus there’s a new, stronger rear axle, and revised rear limited-slip differential.

Most notable of all, though, are the stronger Brembo brakes, featuring six-pot yellow calipers up front, and four-pots at the back. Jeep says it’ll haul up from 62mph in 37 meters, and we found ourselves braking closer and closer to the track limits as the laps went by.

Jeep’s Selec-Track drive modes give you five options plus an individual mix-and-match setting, altering parameters for the four-wheel-drive system, steering, transmission, and the Bilstein adaptive suspension:

  • Auto uses a 40/60-percent torque split
  • Sport uses a 35/65 torque split and shortens shift times – the stability control, suspension, four-wheel-drive and steering systems are set up for enthusiastic road driving – paddle shifters active
  • Track sends 70% of power to the rear wheels and slashes shift times by 68% to 160 milliseconds, while the stability control, suspension, four-wheel-drive and steering systems are set for track performance – paddle shifters are enabled
  • Tow features a 60/40 split, alters the torque delivery off the line for greater smoothness, and adjusts suspension to combat pitch and yaw
  • Snow maximizes traction reduced engine horsepower and a 50/50 torque split

Any luxuries?

We drove US-spec cars which were very well-equipped, with 20-inch titanium-finish wheels, heated and ventilated seats front and rear, adaptive cruise, brake assist, blind-spot monitor and parking sensors plus Nappa leather and suede seats featuring an embroidered Trackhawk logo.

The centre console features an 8.4-inch touchscreen with Trackhawk Performance Pages (a bit like the graphical gauges in a Nissan GT-R) and the Uconnect 4 system, featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk interior

Styling-wise the Trackhawk is distinguished by quad 4-inch black chrome exhaust tips, a redesigned front bumper, flared arches and side sill cladding. It rides one inch lower than the standard Grand Cherokee.

Options include dark ruby red leather, a panoramic sunroof, dual-screen rear-seat entertainment and an 825-watt Harman Kardon audio system with 19 speakers. Lightweight 20-inch alloys save a total of 5.44 kg, which isn’t a lot, but every little helps, right?


The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk doesn’t handle as well as a Euro-spec super-SUV but it’s adept for a car of this bulk. The Hellcat V8 is an epic motor that sounds like two tigers stuffed in a Spitfire, and revs so cleanly you’ll need to concentrate to avoid hitting the limiter. This is not the apologetic turbo’d six-pot or diesel lump we Yurrupeans insist on fitting in our fast SUVs.

Best of all the bottom line ($86995, which is approximate to £66,297, although UK pricing is TBC at the time of writing) means you can afford to chuck tenners out of the window at a BMW X5M driver as they disappear in your rear-view, which is surely reason enough to buy one.

A bold and brash American SUV with a hawk on the bootlid and eye-wateringly low fuel economy is never going to sell in massive numbers over here. That’s a shame, because my goodness, what a laugh it is.

Check out our Jeep reviews here

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Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S review: 503bhp uber-crossover driven

I thought there was already a Mercedes-AMG version of the GLC?

You’re quite correct. Only now, there’s a better one. A V8 one.

Last year Mercedes rolled out the GLC43 in SUV and four-door ‘coupe’ form, with bi-turbo V6 power. But AMG isn’t really known for its restraint, so why stop there? Why indeed, when there’s room in the GLC’s stubby nose for another pair of cylinders, and another 150 horsepower…

So is the GLC63 a jacked-up C63, or a scrunched up E63?

A bit of both, actually. Power outputs mirror the C63’s: the ‘S’ version we’re driving here develops 503bhp and 516lb ft, but you can spend a little less on a regular GLC63 with a detuned 469bhp, 479lb ft 4.0-litre V8.

This is where things get more complicated. Forget the C63’s seven-speed automatic gearbox and (in the UK) rear-wheel drive. The GLC63 instead plumps for the E63’s nine-gear ‘Speedshift auto box, and employs four-wheel drive. 

Mercedes badges it ‘4Matic+’, as per the E63 supersaloon’s system, but before you backflip with excitement, there is no Drift Mode here. Instead, it’s a rear-wheel biased all-wheel drive situation, much like the E63 when it isn’t in Instagram Infamy setting. Later on, you’ll see why Drift Mode isn’t missed one teeny bit.

This is the part where you tell me how fast it goes.

Cramming 503bhp into a not-very-large family SUV has dramatic consequences. The first is arriving at 62mph 3.8 seconds after setting off. Three point eight. In a 2,010kg crossover. Three. Point. Eight. 

As usual, a limiter calls time at 155mph. Don’t you think it’s interesting that even AMG has had an attack of the sensibles here? There’s no ‘would sir/madam like to raise that to 180-odd for a few grand’ option. Yet.

So, the GLC63 is every bit as quick as a C63 on paper, and with its loftier driver site-lines and 4×4 ego boost, surely it’s going to be even more rapid point-to-point. Which is a mildly frightening notion. 

It sounds it too. AMG’s hot vee motor is probably the best downsized turbo’d engine this side of the Ferrari 488’s, and it’s on thunderous, cackling form here. Even with the sports exhaust in librarian mode, the baffles are at a loss to stifle the rumbling barrage that erupts from the tailpipes when you clog it. Sad to say, the tailpipes themselves are a phoney. A big fat phoney. Behind the quad oblong finishers, piddly little single-exit pipes are painfully obvious. 

The rest of it’s hardly lacking swagger though. That grille belongs in The Silence of the Lambs.

Noticed that, did you? Yep, the AMG GT R’s Panamericana grille is just the first body mod that elbows its way into your rear-view mirror and asks if ‘you want some, sunshine’. The jowly front bumper, the outrageously flared wheelarches, wider tracks and gigantic tyres give the ’63 a properly squat, hunkered-down, come-at-me-bro stance. Even if the ultra-faux rear diffuser and pipes are a let-down.

Does it feel £75,670-worth inside?

Well it’s basically a C-Class dashboard, with the usual perfectly sized AMG steering wheel, delectable alloy paddles and some slightly unsupportive seats. This cabin slightly suffers from looking more expensive than it actually is when you start prodding at it, but the infotainment is a doddle, the driving position is spot on whether you want to feel cocooned or ride in the heavens like the Pope, and there’s room for adults in the rear seats. 

But since we’re talking price, £68,920 is what you pay for the base GLC63. Want the S? Add need another £6,750 for the ’63S. There’s an easy decision…

Or, you could throw £90,820 at AMG, and when they’ve finished chortling in a polite Germanic chuckle they’ll send you back a kitted out, dubiously striped ‘Edition 1’ version. 

Either way, this definitely feels posher and more professional inside than the imminent Jaguar F-Pace SVR and Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio will do, on their makers’ current form. If Audi decides to RS the Q5, or when BMW M’s up the new X3, that’ll cause Mercedes a few headaches.

A juicy list of rivals coming up…

But they’re not here yet. Not to worry. We need to discuss driving the GLC63, because this car doesn’t halt or slow AMG’s cracking form of late. It doesn’t change the game either, but it’s more than good enough to make AMG a serious contender for the Porsche Macan Turbo and any other uber-tank you care to pitch at it. Here’s why.

Obviously, the engine dominates it. This is a two-tonne machine but dearie me, it’s fast. And it’s fast everywhere, such is the quantity of torque and the shortness of the first few gears. It’s fast off the line, fast out of low-speed turns, and barrels down sliproads then along autobahns like it’s in a vacuum. Madness. The gearbox, as usual for AMG whether it’s a seven- or nine-speed, isn’t a fan of multiple downshifts, but the throttle blips when you just need one are spot-on, and upshifts are brilliantly crisp and seamless. 

Now in the old days, that’d have been good enough for AMG. Make loads of power first, ask questions about the handling (much) later. But nowadays, AMG’s building properly sorted driver’s cars. So it needed to give the GLC more than just a tactical nuke under the bonnet. 

Agreed. Does it handle?

It takes some calibrating to, first off. The electric power steering has natural weight and reassuring meatiness to it, but it’s razor-sharp for an SUV. Like an Alfa Stelvio, it’s got ultra-fast reactions to give that sense of intent and agility, but for the first few miles, you’ll be steering like an actor in a 1960s super-imposed car chase, sawing at the wheel haphazardly, trying to manage its sensitivity. 

Get over that, and the next thing you notice is the ride. Like the E63, it’s firm. Not much wheel travel here, and quite a lot of shake’n’rattle if the road’s not porcelain-smooth. No roll though. Wow, this thing corners flat. There’s no 48-volt electrical anti-roll damping going on underneath, but the GLC63 corners as stably as the Audi SQ7 and Bentley Bentayga, which both lean hard on super-techy suspension. This just does with air springs. Great for tied-down body control, but it’s going to be a touch jiggly back in Britain, I’d wager. And that’s in the ‘Comfort’ setting, FYI. Wouldn’t bother with Sport or Sport Plus if I were you.

Can it misbehave?

Yes, thanks to the hardware we know and adore from the E63. We’re driving the ’63 S, which swaps the standard car’s limited slip rear differential for an electrically controlled diff, while both versions gets a specially set-up rear axle to account for the fact a chunky crossover isn’t the natural start-point for a hot-rod project.

So, if you switch the stability control into its halfway off Sport setting, and summon the V8’s substantial muscle, you can provoke the GLC into some incredibly anti-social and un-SUV-like behaviour. Why you’d want to powerslide one, we’ll never know. But should you like to have that ability in your locker, the AMG’s got you covered. It’s approachable, friendly, and frankly infectious good fun. 

Very much a SPORTS utility vehicle, then, yes?

Absolutely. We didn’t have very long at all in the car, so this is a first impression that we’ll revisit soon, but it seems the GLC63 is the sporty crossover that’ll bowl you over in half an hour but be a little more intrusive to live with, while say, a Porsche Macan Turbo is less effervescent and silly, but rides more comfortably. And has more off-road nous, if that matters to you.

And sure, in 2018, there’ll be a whole posse of new rivals for the GLC63 to fight off. Wouldn’t bet against it flattening a few of them, though, because in true AMG fashion, you’ve never met a little battletank as fighty as this one.

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One Week With: 2017 Porsche 718 Cayman

The previous-generation Porsche Cayman was one of this magazine’s very favorite sports cars—so near-perfect, as I slid behind the wheel for my very first drive of the all-new 2017 718 edition, I mentally prepared myself to be disappointed. After all, when a machine is already “near-perfect,” changing things carries the risk of making a great thing, well, less great.

I needn’t have worried. Not only had my colleagues already chosen the 718 Cayman S as a 2017 Automobile All-Star (a broken ankle precluded me from participating in last year’s judging), but despite having 50 fewer horsepower, the base 718 Cayman that showed up in my driveway recently won me over almost the moment I climbed aboard.

This is a vastly revised machine compared with its predecessor—tighter styling, reworked chassis, bigger brakes, more standard equipment. But the big news is the arrival of turbocharged flat-fours to replace the outgoing boxer sixes. Those sixes were simply divine, but the realities of meeting emissions and efficiency standards mean turbos are the way of the future. And Porsche has risen to the challenge, producing a new 2.0-liter turbo boxer for the base car that delivers 25 more horsepower and 67 more pound-feet of torque more than the previous 2.7-liter six.

This is a gutsy little mill, wringing out all 280 pound-feet at just 1,950 rpm, an impressive 300 horses at 6,500 rpm, and winding smoothly all the way to a 7,500-rpm redline. A unique “preconditioning” feature keeps the turbo on the boil under partial loads, helping to deliver the near-instant throttle response of a naturally aspirated mill. Does the new turbo four sound as lovely as the old six? Nope. Does it sound bad? Nope. It just sounds different, less silky, more mechanized. I’m happy to report that the single blower doesn’t overly mute the exhaust note. There’s still a very satisfying wail behind your ears as you wind the tach needle upward. And, importantly, the new 718 is quicker than the previous Cayman. Porsche claims a half-second reduction in 0-to-60-mph time, to just 4.9 seconds, and a 5-mph increase in top speed, to 170 mph.

I was delighted to find that my test car was equipped with the standard six-speed manual transmission (a shift-it-yourself box being more and more of a rarity). Yes, Porsche’s fabulous 7-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic is optional, but the company says around 20 percent of buyers still opt for the manual. After trying the 6-speed myself, I have to say I’d be one of them, were I lucky enough to be able to purchase a 718 for myself. In typical Porsche fashion, gearbox response is superb, with a quick, nimble lever feel, excellent pedal placement (heel and toe downshifts are effortless), and zero fussiness in finding your desired cog. Blasting through a twisting two-lane with this box is driver’s-car heaven, the kind of immersive, rewarding, “live-wire” motoring experience enthusiasts dream about. You are connected to this Porsche.

The outstanding chassis only enhances that rapture. At the limit, there’s a whiff of understeer—maybe—but mostly the 718 just does exactly what you ask of it. No undue body motions, no wasted effort, just a joyous feeling of being “one” with a fine machine. And the peace of mind of being completely in control. Few cars are as confidence-inspiring when gunning hard as the new 718.

My test car was equipped with the optional PASM suspension with adaptive dampers ($1,790). Boasting a 0.39-inch lower ride height than the standard setup, the new PASM chassis offers a greater-than-ever spread between Normal and Sport modes. In Sport, the ride can get really firm—though on Southern California’s mostly unblemished tarmac, the added control felt worth the comfort tradeoff. My tester was further enhanced with optional 19-inch Cayman S wheels ($1,580) that—in concert with the PASM suspension, mid-engine layout, newly available torque vectoring ($1,320), and new, quicker electromechanical steering borrowed from the 911 Turbo—helped deliver a sporting-car experience you’d be hard-pressed to top anywhere. Look up the term “driver’s car” in a dictionary and you’ll probably find a photo of this new 718.

Inside, the new Cayman is all business. A new steering wheel design, based on the 918 Spyder’s, feels meaty and looks fantastic. Big analog gauges transmit essential info with ease. The Sport seats ($800) are as comfortable as they are form-fitting. The view to the front is Cinerama-worthy.

There’s a ton of value here, too. At a base price of $54,950, the new 718 Cayman offers almost as much performance as the previous Cayman S. What’s more, a lot of what used to be optional equipment is now standard—including front and rear parking assist, Bi-Xenon headlights, Sirius/XM satellite radio, and a six-speaker Sound Package Plus.

Yes, the new 718 is—dare I say it—even better than the near-perfect old Cayman. It’s just that much quicker, that much more agile, that much better-looking and more refined. Absolute perfection being elusive, I’d still have to call the 718 Cayman “near-perfect.” But it’s “nearer-perfect” than ever.

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Audi A8 (2017) review: The most tech-packed car to ever hit the road – Pocket

Step into the brand new Audi A8 and it’s impossible not to be impressed. This car is like a first class suite on wheels, with such an abundance of tech on offer that it’s hard not to play with every touchscreen and option for the sheer thrill of what’s possible.

But while Audi is adamant that the A8′s exterior design represents a huge shift for the brand, to our eyes it’s visually much the same as Audi’s current saloon lineup. It’s got that quintessential ‘Audi look’, which some would call bland, others elegant.

Whichever side of the design fence you stand, it’s this car’s systems that bedazzle. From level three autonomous driving - which we’ve previously tested on the road in Germany – to self-parking via the press of a smartphone app button, the A8 certainly has its eyes on accelerating us into the future – but in the here and now.

Add an abundance of interior niceties, such as considerable control of systems from the car’s rear seats via removable centre touchscreen, plus a swathe of safety features, and the A8′s futuristic appeal has the gumption to surpass the formidable BMW 7 Series in the executive saloon space. 

The Audi A8 is a big deal for the German brand. Since new design boss, Marc Lichte, took the reins in 2014, the shift in design has been towards a sportier, slightly meaner aesthetic. But only by a little: the new A8 doesn’t look dramatically different to the outgoing car; it’s in the forthcoming A7 that we’ll see a more dramatic change.


As a result the 2017 A8 looks familiar, albeit with some notable new touches. The front matrix headlights add some sharpness to the slightly rounded nose, while the front grille’s extension towards the wheel arches gives that slightly more aggressive look. To the rear the wrap-around light bar has a sense of Porsche about it, while newly positioned OLED panels (as extras to the main light – they’re not bright enough to be road legal) add animations and some pizazz to proceedings.

There’s credit in what you can’t really see, too. The new A8′s platform is wider and flatter than the outgoing model, designed to integrate with Audi’s fully active air suspension for added comfort and safety (more on that later).

Open the driver’s door – which auto-raises the car’s height using the air suspension for a more comfortable entry, a very visible-to-see and oh-so-fancy feature – and there’s no denying the A8′s explosive interior design. There’s the “status and prestige” stuff, like open pore ash veneer and organically tanned leather – but you’ll almost bypass those (admittedly lovely) touches given the understated dominance of the new digital dash. Which is a justified oxymoron, given just how well integrated and hidden the abundance of tech is when the engine is switched off.

The A8′s dash wraps its way around the full width of the car, almost floating in its position, while two large touchscreen panels are neatly integrated to the centre tunnel. Everything appears as one single piece, removing the smattering of knobs and buttons found in the A8 of old. “Reduction becomes a new feature of Audi design,” says the company – which certainly rings true. Even the air conditioning vents are hidden from view, revealing themselves by electronically motoring their covers out of the way.

Which makes for a dramatic shift in the way Audi MMI operates, other than the digital Audi Virtual Cockpit display behind the driver’s wheel, anyway. When we first saw the system at the A8 unveil, we were impressed with how considered some of the small but important touches were. The haptic and audible feedback from button presses, for example, is the most truly button-like sensation we’ve felt from any touchscreen surface – be that phone, tablet, car, or anything that’s passed through the office.


Problem is, with our eyes fixed on the road, meandering the long wheelbase A8 L through Valencia’s mountain roads, there’s limited immediacy to where various controls are. There’s no physical dial to make temperature adjustments, it’s a +/- or slider on the lower screen, which is fiddly from a driver’s point of view. And there’s so much on the upper screen – Radio, Media, Navigation, Messages, Car, Telephone, Settings, Phone Apps – that it simply gets too busy to quickly tap, without becoming distracted.

Some key functions – Drive Select (for Auto, Comfort, Sport and Individual), traction control, hazard signal, and front/rear demist – permanently exist on the lower section of the touchscreen, ensuring you’ll learn where they are. Even so, the smooth screen surface makes hitting the Drive Select up/down arrows more of a fiddle than we’d like – some sort of raised surface or texture would be better. It’s not our imagination that largely touchscreen systems can’t integrate physical controls better – just look at the Range Rover Velar and its Panasonic-sourced system.

There are some thoughtful touches in the A8 to counteract your eyes departing the road for too long, however, so long as you put the time in prior to set things up to your personal needs. Press-and-hold a given icon, for example, and you can drag it into a side panel as a favourite, for quicker and easier access. That might be a favourite radio station or setting, cutting out the click-through and search process.


Additionally, the A8 isn’t completely bereft of buttons or knobs. In addition to a passenger-sided volume knob, there’s a trio of flush buttons next to the lower panel, used for parking assists and Audi AI (for forthcoming Audi Traffic Jam Pilot – it’s not actually a button just yet, given the tech won’t arrive for the car’s on-the-road launch).

It’s those parking assist features which bring us neatly to the A8′s safety systems, of which there are a stack. And then some.

It’s not all parking, either. Sure, the 360-degree camera of Audi AI Parking Pilot – which can depict a frightfully accurate 3D model on the screen and can be rotated using the touchscreen – is useful for parking such a long vehicle without smashing into the kerb or surrounding vehicles.

But you needn’t necessarily use such a feature when behind the wheel: the AI Remote Parking Pilot means you can simply press-and-hold a button on your smartphone and, when standing outside the car, watch it park itself into a bay (reverse of parallel park) or into a garage. That’s assuming your garage is large enough to accommodate an A8 — this isn’t a compact saloon. But it’s awe-inspiring to watch the car literally drive itself, like there’s a very proficient parking ghost behind the wheel. 

This is all thanks to a stack of sensors on board, as part of the zFAS system. Twelve ultrasonic sensors, four 360-degree cameras, five radar sensors (four mid-range, one long-range), one laser scanner and one infrared camera enable the car to be always looking at its surroundings. Which isn’t just useful for parking situations.


Audi AI Traffic Jam Pilot, for example, can maintain lane, stopping distance and stop/start at up to 60kph (37mph, UK-ers), without you needing to, well, do anything at all. Even beyond such speeds, the system has active lane keep assist which will automatically turn the wheel and drive the car along happily – so long as it can detect your hands on the wheel, otherwise it will force a handover (see, it really is always watching). This is all down to those sensors gathering data and constantly working it.

The position of such sensors assists with avoiding potential incidents too. The infrared camera can detect pedestrians and wild animals at long distance and adjust accordingly. Laser spot beam activates when exceeding 70kph, to double length of vision (this won’t make it to the US, as there’s no manual override). The wide-angle cameras can see oncoming traffic around difficult corners and auto-brake to avoid collisions. The electronically controlled doors will even put on a half-second pause if there’s a cyclist approaching from behind that you haven’t seen. There are in excess of 40 driver assist features, which makes it almost too many to mention – so you can be safe in the knowledge of being in one of the safest cars on the road. That’s something more typically representative of a brand like Volvo.

And should the worst happen then Audi AI Active Suspension can assist too. We tested a theoretical side-on collision (a reinforced glass plate stopping actual collision with the car), which sees the car rapidly auto-raise by 8cm on the collision side, while tightening passengers’ belts in tandem to reduce the potential of injury.

All of that is certainly interesting but, let’s face it, the A8 is designed as an executive saloon, in other words the most important people will end up sat in the back, being chauffeured around. And it’s here where the A8 is arguably as its best.


Comfortable leather seats, oodles of legroom and a Rear Seat Remote allow those in the back to take command of many comfort systems. Plus there’s optional mood lighting and something called a Remote Seat Entertainment system with detachable tablet screens like you’ll find in a Bentley (but only if you pay for that option – as with so many of the features found in this Audi). All ensure the new A8 is a Tardis of tech and comfort.

The Rear Seat Remote is the most interesting of these features: it’s not a simple handheld remote control, as its name suggests, rather an 8-inch touchscreen panel that’s found in the centre armrest. Only it’s not fixed in place – a press of the release button detaches it to be handled from the lap for extra comfort.

Without the need to look at the road as a rear passenger, this touchscreen remote works exceptionally well. Whether you want to adjust the mood lighting, control the stereo, climate controls, personal lighting (the directional LED lights can be adjusted for precision), seat heating, or much more – it’s all available at your fingertips.

Neighbouring physical seat controls mean the front passenger seat can be moved right forward (so long as there’s nobody sat in it), for considerable legroom, and even a foot massage panel. How’s that for hyper-comfort?

Ok, so not one word, more like a lot of words on price. Let’s face it: the new A8 was never going to be a pocket change kind of car. The outgoing car started at around £65K, while the 2017 model was rumoured to be much more – in reality, it’s not, starting at £69,100.

Take that starting price with a pinch of salt, however, as Audi is big on options, many of which are exactly what transforms the A8 from nice car to true luxury car. On the base spec, however, you do get those comfortable seats and heaps of space, plus the impressive touchscreen dash.

Want the Bang Olufsen 3D soundsystem (which is incredible, by the way)? Add £6,350. Matrix LED headlights? Add £4,900. The panoramic sunroof is £1,600. Assist features can also add extra cash to the tally: City Assist is £1,375; Safety Pack £450; Night Vision Assist £2,200.

Sadly the Rear Seat Remote isn’t included, adding an extra £500. The rear Matrix LED lights are £250, too. We knew the Rear Seat Entertainment screens would add to the price, but at £3,050 it’s no small addition (and Digital TV reception is an extra £1,250 on top).

There’s a lot more that can be upgraded, too, much of which we think is “because you can” rather than essential. The full leather pack is £1,000/£2,350, depending on how much cow hide you want. And if you’re feeling especially excessive then the ceiling can be lined with Alcantara for an extra £1,550.

All in all, then, you can easily double the on-the-road price. Which, frankly, is no surprise for an Audi. Our test car, therefore, came in at almost double its base price, at circa £110,000. It’s a lot of cash, but as you can tailor what you want on board, a sub-£100K price tag is feasible and, frankly, around the ballpark of where we expected this car to sit.

Best get that bank loan sorted then, eh?


It’s a rare thing to arrive at the verdict of a car review and have barely touched upon the vehicle’s on-the-road ability. Clue: it’s fast, in 3.0 litre diesel or petrol V6 engine options (no V8 for Blighty), with some expected wallow from that large body when pushing things. An e-Tron plug-in hybrid will follow, along with a 6.3 litre W12 model.

But the drive is almost secondary in the A8, because it’s such a haven of tech, assist and safety features that, as an executive saloon, it perfectly hits the nail on the head for its passengers. That makes it a bold step forward that successfully takes on the likes of the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes S-Class, no question about it.

Ultimately, the new Audi A8 is a vision of in-car tech’s future. In that respect it is visionary in pushing the envelope. In the same breath, however, not all of those touchscreen controls make it perfect to use from a driver’s perspective while out on the road. But as a passenger in the back? Well, in the rear right-side seat with the massage chair on we can’t think of a luxury saloon we’d rather be sat in.

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2017 Porsche Macan quick spin review

What is it?

The cheapest ticket to (new) Porsche ownership. The Macan is Porsche’s entry-point, and the four-cylinder version tested here is the most affordable way to get into it. Porsche calls the Macan a four-door sports car (as opposed to two-door sports cars such as the 911), but we call the high-riding, Audi Q5-based machine a compact SUV.

How much does it cost and what do you get?

Priced From $80,110 plus on-road costs, the entry-level Macan is well cheaper than starting prices for the 718 Boxster ($118,100), Cayenne SUV ($109,200), Panamera sedan ($214,800) or 911 Carrera coupe ($220,900).

It’s also a bargain relative to other models in the Macan range, with more powerful V6 petrol and diesel models pitched a further $15,000 upstream and the range-topping Macan Turbo Performance Package positioned at a steep $147,000 plus on-roads.

Standard kit for the Macan includes 19-inch wheels, leather seats with electric adjustment, three-zone climate control, as well as an excellent infotainment system loaded with sat nav, a reversing camera and Apple CarPlay.

Inside the latest Macan. Photo: Lachlan Hinton

The first hint that this is a “proper” Porsche is the options list which, true-to-form, makes for interesting reading. Adaptive cruise control with autonomous emergency braking – the same stuff fitted as standard on Toyota’s entry-level C-HR – costs $2990, blind spot monitoring and lane departure warning systems cost $2780, LED headlights are $3880, smart keys cost $1690, a 360-degree camera is $1660, heated seats are $990 and the panoramic sunroof costs $3790. You can find all of that stuff as standard kit on significantly cheaper models.

Drivers keen for the best possible dynamics will plump for the Sports Chrono package with launch control, sharper throttle response and aggressive gearshift programming ($2690), adaptive air suspension ($5330) and a torque vectoring system with an electronically locking rear differential ($3590).

There are eight different wheel styles available in a variety of colours, in sizes ranging from 18 to 21 inches (costing up to $6850), while black and white are the only standard body colours, with 10 metallic paint options priced from $1990 to $5800, or custom colours are available for $11,390.

Other big-ticket items include a sports body kit ($10,490), extended interior leather package with contrasting stitching ($10,790) and a high-end Burmester stereo system ($11,590). Getting greedy with the options list can add $150,000 to the price of the car, but you don’t have to go that far – our test example featured just $8100 in optional extras including a sports exhaust system ($5390), metallic paint ($1990) and a comfort lighting package ($720).

What’s under the bonnet?

The entry-level Macan features a Volkswagen-sourced 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that uses 7.4L/100km to produce reasonably healthy 185kW and 370Nm outputs. Coupled with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and all-wheel-drive, the package is good for a 6.7 second dash to 100km/h and a top speed of 229km/h.

It feels decently brisk in the real world, using its torque to surge ahead of surrounding traffic. It won’t get near the 4.4 second 0-100km/h claim of the top-of-the-line Macan Turbo, but then again, it costs nearly half as much. More importantly, it doesn’t feel slow in the real world, and full-throttle gearshifts accompanied by a theatrical parp from the exhausts lend a dollop of character. In a way, it feels a little like a grown up and slightly dulled version of the Volkswagen Golf GTI – unsurprisingly, as they (almost) share an engine.

What’s it like to drive?

Porsche’s engineers did an excellent job imbuing the Macan with the sort of reactions people should expect from an SUV wearing that badge. Sharp steering, quick-witted responses and powerful yet feelsome brakes conspire to make the Macan a reasonable drivers’ car.

Yes, the ride is a little tauter than you might expect from a luxury SUV and no, it will never handle as well as a proper two-door Porsche sports car.

But as far as SUVs go, the Macan is a cracker, even in entry-level form.

What’s it like inside?

The Macan’s cabin could only come from Porsche. Whether it’s the excellent driving position, outstanding levels of fit and finish or the array of controls that make you feel like the pilot of something complicated and expensive, the Macan delivers a proper Porsche experience in the cabin. That includes the wild levels of customisation offered by the brand – custom colours for the driver instruments, seat stitching or seatbelts, painted air conditioning slats or personalised door sills with your name or company logo in backlit carbon fibre, the options are near endless in both scope and cost.

The Macan has a practical body and decent dynamics. Photo: Lachlan Hinton

Is it safe?

The Macan holds a five-star EuroNCAP safety rating, which is an excellent start. But you shouldn’t have to pay for autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning or blind spot monitoring systems in an $80,000 car. Not when they are standard in some new cars that cost less than $30,000, anyway.

Would I buy it?

A few years ago, I would have scoffed at the thought of an Audi-based, Volkswagen-powered baby Porsche SUV. But I get it now. There are thousands of people who want to put a Porsche in the driveway, and this is the sort of car they’re asking for. Porsche is giving people want they want, and making a huge amount of money in the process.

What else should I consider?

Luxury SUVs are well and truly in vogue these days. $80,000 will get you a good one, whether it’s something sensible like the Volvo XC60 or BMW X3, or a touch of glamour in the Range Rover Velar or Jaguar F-Pace, there’s something for everyone. If you want a touch more performance for this kind of cash, you could stretch to an Audi SQ5 or Mercedes-AMG GLC 43… or literally any other model in the Macan range.

2018 Porsche Macan pricing and specifications:

Price: From $80,110 plus on-road costs

Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol

Power: 185kW at 5000-6000rpm

Torque: 370Nm at 1600-4500rpm

Transmission: Seven-speed auto, all-wheel-drive

Fuel use: 7.4L/100km



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Here’s Why Manual-Transmission Porsche 928s Are Climbing In Value

It seems the Porsche 928′s time has finally come. In one sense, as Jalopnik’s Raphael Orlove convincingly argues, the 928′s luxurious nature has seeped into the entire Porsche lineup, resulting in a 928-ifiying of cars like the 911. But in a literal sense, values of actual 928s, especially manual-transmission models, are climbing, and it’s easy to see why.

Harry Metcalfe of Harry’s Garage reviews a lovely 1979 928 in the newest video on his YouTube channel, exploring the appeal of this oddball Porsche. The example he drives is equipped with a 4.7-liter 300-hp V8 from a later 928 S, and crucially, a five-speed manual transmission. It’s also has Porsche’s excellent “Pasha” checker-pattern interior trim for maximum ’70s-ness.

As Metcalfe finds out, the manual gearbox really makes the 928 comes alive. It’s unfortunate, then, that most 928s were optioned with automatics from the factory.

So, their rarity combined with the fact that they’re damn fun to drive explains the climbing values of these cars. Now, get to the classifieds and find your own before it’s too late.

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The ugly car blues


Why is it that almost all cars that look great when first released appear ugly – or at best nondescript – by the time they are a quarter of a century old, only to start looking great again four or five decades later?

That is a question my 18-year-old son and I found ourselves pondering on a Monday afternoon drive down Anderson’s Bay Rd last week.

Mooching along in after-work traffic, we chanced upon a well-kept late-1980s or early-1990s Peugeot 405 Mi16. “See that car there, it was considered a real looker in its day,” I declared.

After a moment processing a colloquialism as dated as the car itself _ praise in modern idiom, apparently, is to describe a car as “sick” _ my son shot me a disbelieving look.

Yet I’m sure any Drivesouth reader who was in their late teens or early 20s at the time this Peugeot model was launched will confirm my comments. With lines provided by Italian styling house Pininfarina, the 405 was one of the sharpest looking cars of its day. The Mi16 boasted the extra appeal of a sports body kit and a zesty 16-valve fuel-injected engine, good for a then impressive 119kW of power.

Having discussed the trajectory of the 405, we spent the rest of our drive home spotting other cars suffering from the mid-life good-looks blues: a couple of 20-year-old Honda Preludes, various mildly sporty Ford Falcons, the most recent Holden Monaro, an early Subaru Impreza WRX, and several mid and upper-range Europeans.

We agreed that Land Rovers (including Range Rovers, but excluding the Freelander) and Jaguars seem to have a general immunity to ageing poorly. So to do most Nissan Z-cars, Porsche and Ferrari models, just about all utes, and select specific models, such as the Mazda MX-5 and Mark II Ford Escort.

And some cars are, presumably, destined to be ugly for all time; there may be many good reasons for buying a Nissan Tiida or Toyota Platz, but attractive styling will never be one of them.

Hope for those cars that looked good once, but do not have immunity from ageing, rests in surviving long enough to come out the other side and gain visual recognition as a classic. That’s the point that those few remaining HQ Holdens from the 1970s (and Falcons of a similar age) have reached in recent years.

Presumably there was even a time in the 1980s when such obvious classics as an original mid-1960s Mustang, Corvette or Camaro was considered past it? Surely not, my son asserts, they were always ”sick”.

David Thomson




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VW Atlas (2017) review

► VW Atlas road test
► USA-spec 7-seat SUV
► Tested by Ben Barry

VW’s MQB architecture is more usually found underpinning compact products like the Golf. But MQB’s building blocks are designed to be flexible and applicable to all manner of cars, and here it is taking that to the extreme, lurking beneath the Volkswagen Atlas – a seven-seat SUV with transversely mounted engines and a choice of front- or four-wheel drive.

At 5036mm long, the Atlas is longer even than a Range Rover, never mind the VW Touareg SUV, and fuses recognisably European VW design signatures with a distinctly US flavour – note the square-jawed front, Jeep-like  wheel arches, and the suggestive utilitarianism of the stampings in the bonnet and roof. This is not coincidental. Built at the Chattanooga plant in Tennessee and released earlier in 2017, the Atlas is not destined for the UK, rather aimed squarely at the North American market, plus Russia and the Middle East. A recent trip to the US provided the opportunity to drive it for the first time.

So the Atlas is pricier than a Touareg, then?

Actually, no. The Atlas gives Volkswagen a footing in the Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander category that its European products can’t square up to, either in terms of size or pricing. This explains why the Atlas throws VW’s pricing structure out of whack: despite being a substantial 235mm and two seats larger than a Touareg (which uses a longitudinal engine layout and platform shared with the previous Porsche Cayenne), the Atlas starts from just $30,500, compared with $49,495 for the Touareg. At today’s exchange, that equates to around £23k, or a lot of metal for your money. Those rivals offer similar value.

To be viable in that market, clearly the Atlas has had to be built to a price, so there are areas where it falls short of the quality we’re accustomed to over here. We’ll come to that in a moment.

VW Atlas

Buyers choose from either a 2.0-litre EA888 turbocharged engine with 235bhp and 258lb ft, or the 3.6-litre naturally aspirated V6. The latter was once found in the rarely spotted Passat R36, and makes 276bhp and 266lb ft. The 2.0-litre comes only with front-wheel drive, where V6 buyers choose from either front-wheel drive or the Haldex-type 4Motion all-wheel drive system, which adds 75kg and pushes the Atlas to 2042kg. No diesels are available, but all models get the eight-speed automatic transmission.

Four key trim levels are available: S, SE, SE with Tech package and SEL. Every model gets LED headlights, cruise control, 6.5-inch touchscreen, rear-view camera, voice control, Bluetooth and the Car-Net App-Connect system that includes Apple CarPlay.

We’re testing a front-wheel drive V6 in SE trim. At a whisker under $35k, it’s representative of the cars US buyers are actually driving off the lots.

What’s the Atlas like inside?

Huge. You step up to a raised driving position on comfortable chairs, with an elbow rest designed by people who possibly don’t know their arse from their elbow – skinnier types could actually sit on it. The row two seats slide and recline, and offer knee-room to rival a 747’s exit row. You can also seat an adult between two bulky child seats.

The third row folds up and down easily, and offers ample space for full-size adults – it helps to slide row two forward, but no-one ends up cramped. Even with row three in place, you’ve got a generous boot. Drop those extra seats down and it’s positively huge, and you can also drop row two completely flat.

VW Atlas

But that cost-cutting we mentioned is also in evidence: even quite prominent dash plastics are hard, the trim inserts look a little flimsy, and leatherette is as good as it gets, with base S models getting cloth. It’s also surprisingly rough under the bonnet, with clumsy welds and holes punched in the front wings that look short of a nut and bolt. It’s all a bit DIY in appearance.

Nonetheless, familiar, good quality switchgear is evident throughout the cabin, there’s a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and our SE gets a slick 8.0-inch touchscreen (using Apple CarPlay to get your sat-nav, not VW kit).

How does the Atlas drive?

Unspectacularly, but it’s good enough. The suspension – struts up front, multi-link rear – is fairly soft and doesn’t always smooth out the roughest bumps, but is comfortable in most circumstances. The steering is light, and tweaked to US tastes. There’s little response from the first few millimetres directly off-centre, and the self-centring effect is quite pronounced, but it succeeds in making the Atlas feel reasonably wieldy despite its mammoth proportions.

Having front-wheel drive rarely proved an issue, as odd as it seems in this segment. The main exception was pulling out of T-junctions, at which point the 18-inch all-season Continental tyres scrabble with surprisingly little provocation.

VW Atlas

Europeans are used to big SUVs with turbodiesel torque, as well as new-generation turbocharged petrol engines with strong low-down torque. So combining a naturally aspirated petrol V6 with almost two tonnes of metal is understandably a little underwhelming. Just like the chassis, the result is acceptable performance in typical driving, but a less-than-dynamic feeling under heavy acceleration. It’s perhaps why the eight-speed auto kicks down so eagerly at light throttle loads and low speed.

Interesting to note that the four-cylinder engine makes just 8lb ft less than the V6, but delivers it from 1600rpm, compared with the V6’s 2750rpm. That it also weighs 52kg less gives the least powerful models a narrow 2lb ft-per-tonne victory compared with the front-drive V6, rising to 5lb ft over the all-wheel-drive range-topper.

Ultimately, the Atlas is far from a dynamic, agile machine, but it feels comfortable and unintimidating to drive, and perfectly at home on US city streets and the slower-paced driving of California highways. The generally impressive refinement of our test car was, however, spoilt a little by wind noise around the mirrors.


The Atlas might be based on familiar MQB underpinnings, but it’s a very different kind of Volkswagen. The handling, performance and the sheer size of the thing might feel a little cumbersome back in the UK, but on US roads it actually works very well. Quality could be better, but the fact that it offers so much space and versatility for so little cash makes it a compelling alternative to big sellers like the Ford Explorer in the US market.

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