Enzo’s Legacy Lives On
Even though Ferrari may not have invented the concept of the supercar, it deserves credit for keeping the flame alive with a succession of these limited-run exotics dating all the way back to the 1984 Ferrari 288 GTO F40.
Now comes the Ferrari LaFerrari, the 963 hp mid-engine V-12 successor to the Enzo. Why the seemingly redundant name? Ferrari’s chairman, Luca di Montezemolo, says the car is the purest expression of Ferrari—so giving it a name that translates to just “the Ferrari” makes sense.
Made of four different types of carbon fiber, the sleek body features butterfly-style doors and was designed entirely in-house by Ferrari’s chief designer, Flavio Manzoni. It is a big departure for Ferrari, which has generally relied primarily on Pininfarina for all its design work. The sweeping bodywork incorporates the aero technology and many styling elements taking from Ferrari’s Formula 1 program, including the front splitter—which resembles the wing on an F/1 racer’s nosecone—and the rear spoiler and fog lamp, which take their cues from competition cars. The rear wing and underbody aero bits are active, meaning that they deploy and retract in response to vehicle speed, braking, throttle position, and steering angle.
Inside the cabin, there is no shortage of exposed carbon fiber. The sport seats are molded into the body, and the steering wheel and pedals adjust to the driver. The 6.3-liter V-12, which is mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, gets an assist from HY-KERS, Ferrari’s hybrid kinetic-energy recovery system (inspired by the KERS system used in F/1 racing). The system recovers energy from braking and the excess torque of the engine, storing it in a 132 lb. battery pack.
The juice is used to drive two electric motors, one that powers accessories on the car and another that is connected to the car’s rear wheels. The combined 963 hp (the engine contributes 800 hp, the HY-KERS 163 hp) enables the LaFerrari to accelerate to 124 mph in less than 7 seconds and gives the car a top speed over 217 mph. It is the fastest road-going Ferrari in the company’s history. Only 499 will be built, and it is expected that each will retail for more than $1 million. (www.ferrari.com)
The 2014 Alfa Romeo 4C Paves the Way for Alfa’s U.S. Comeback
The sexy mid-engine Alfa Romeo 4C that debuted at this year’s Geneva Motor Show is paving the way back to the United States for the iconic Italian marque. Measuring 157 inches overall on a 94-inch wheelbase, the compact two-seater is poised to take on the likes of the Porsche Cayman in both performance and price late this year when it arrives at a network of dealers that already sell the Fiat 500.
Compared to the Maserati-based Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione—a limited-run 4.7-liter, V-8 car costing $259,000—the 4C will be more accessible, due to its larger production volumes, lower price (rumored to be in the $70,000 range), and wider dealer network. Employing a carbon-fiber chassis, the 4C features a transversely mounted, turbocharged 1.75-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to a dual-clutch automatic transmission driving the rear wheels. This gearbox features paddle shifts mounted on the steering wheel for manual override as well as an automatic clutch with no pedal.
Alfa Romeo is promising a blistering performance of 0-60 mph of less than 4.5 seconds and a top speed of more than 155 mph. With 240 hp on tap and Alfa's promise of the car delivering more than 1 hp per 4 kilograms of weight, the 4C should tip the scales at about 960 kg or just over 2,100 lbs.
While the 8C was sold in the United States by Maserati dealers, the 4C marks the start of the Alfa Romeo sales network and will be followed by the 2015 Giulia sedan, which will use a variation of the compact wide architecture used on the Dodge Dart. A compact SUV crossover to compete with the Audi Q5 is also in the works, as is a smaller, front-engine, rear-drive two-seat Spider built by Mazda and sharing a platform with the next-generation MX-5 Miata. Further on down the line, expect a range-topping rear-drive four-door sedan.
Alfa Romeo’s on-again, off-again reentry to the U.S. market has hinged on the brand’s ability to offer rear-drive vehicles in its portfolio as a credible alternative to BMW in the luxury and performance market—and now the 4C is a respectable offering indeed. (www.alfaromeo.com)
Bentley’s Classic Mulsanne Model Gets a High-Tech Upgrade
Bentley has recharged its most iconic model, the Mulsanne, with a series of new features that serve modern business executives. From the backseat, two picnic tables designed for an iPad and wireless keyboard deploy to create a comfortable workstation; the sleek metal-and-cowhide tables are adjustable and are built with an iPad charger that works when the car’s ignition is on. Additionally, a new mobile telecommunications system, which includes a SIM card reader, comes with onboard Wi-Fi that works with up to eight devices simultaneously.
But the new Mulsanne is not all about work. A new entertainment system features twin 8-inch LCD headrest screens, a DVD player, 20 GB of hard drive to save movies and games, and a Naim audio system with two sets of Bluetooth headphones and a remote control. To supplement the new entertainment features, Bentley has accounted for added time in the car. Enhanced headrests now have adjustable wings for lateral support; carpeted footrests stow beneath the front seats; and new loose seat cushions, available with customizable embroidery, are filled with duck down.
Bentley also collaborated with the Italian luggage maker Schedoni to create a series of custom luggage pieces fitted to the trunk of the car. Available as a set or individually, the collection comprises two large suitcases, two small suitcases, and two foldable garment bags, handmade from the same hides used in the car’s interior.
Bentley will begin taking orders for the fully stocked Mulsanne in April. Three new combinations of paint and hide colors will be available, for greater customization. (www.bentleymotors.com)
Barrett-Jackson Puts Rare and Exotic Cars on the Auction Block
Barrett-Jackson auto auctions began humbly with a small charitable auto show in the 60s. Now, almost five decades later, the Scottsdale-based auction company hosts four highly anticipated shows across the country each year. The next big auction, to be held April 4 to 6, will offer hundreds of rare and exotic cars at Barrett-Jackson’s 11th annual Palm Beach auction, located on the South Florida Fairgrounds. Highlights include a 1947 Bentley Mark VI with a Chevy V-8 engine and a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS396 Coupe striped in Daytona yellow and black, which features a 350 hp V-8 and a 4-speed manual transmission. Also keep an eye out for the 1968 Shelby GT 500E Continuation. This licensed Shelby American underwent comes complete with a custom leather interior as well as racing harnesses. An all-alloy 7-liter V-8 and a Tremec 5-speed manual transmission power the classic muscle car, which also features a Currie-built nodular 9-inch rear end.
The 2013 Palm Beach auction follows Barrett-Jackson’s 42nd annual Scottsdale show from January, which grossed nearly $109 million over its six days—a figure that ties the company’s pre-recession record set in 2007. (480.421.6694, http://www.barrett-jackson.com/)
Acura Reveals Its Tech- and Luxury-Laden Flagship, the 2014 RLX Sedan
When Honda pulled the wraps off its luxury division in 1986, Acura’s promise—“Precision Crafted Performance”—was as much a guiding principle as it was a marketing ploy. The flagship Legend was a paragon of engineering virtue: finely crafted and unwaveringly reliable. It set a tone that has carried through to this day—to the 2014 RLX sedan, Acura’s latest image leader.
In person, the RLX is substantial and handsome. Acura will have no trouble maintaining its long-held reputation for meticulous quality; paint and interior materials are first-rate and panel gaps are startlingly narrow and unerringly uniform. The car’s styling does not exactly venture into uncharted territory, but that is likely to suit its buyers just fine. The outgoing RL—and its predecessors back to the original Legend sedan—was penned with visual restraint, satisfying buyers with opulence and superlative engineering rather than with rakish looks. What the RLX offers is the largest cabin in the mid-luxury class, a segment that includes such heavy hitters as the Audi A6, the BMW 535i, and the new Lexus GS350.
Motivation comes from an all-new 6-cylinder engine. Displacing 3.5 liters, the normally aspirated V-6 employs direct fuel injection (a first for Acura) and i-VTEC variable valve timing to produce 310 hp and 272 ft lbs of torque. The new engine drives the front wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission. Later this year, look for the RLX AWD hybrid with 370 hp and Acura’s Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system.
No surprise, the RLX is loaded with advanced technology, including Acura’s Precision All-Wheel Steer system. According to Acura, the setup provides “independent and continuous control of the left and right rear-wheel steering (toe) angles.” At highway speeds, involving slight steering-wheel movements, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the fronts for crisper lane changes; at lower speeds, with greater steering-wheel movements, the rears turn in opposition to the fronts for more nimble cornering and a tighter turning radius.
The RLX rolls into Acura dealerships on March 15, in five trim levels priced from $48,450 to $60,450. (www.acura.com)
The 2014 Corvette Stingray: Faster, Smarter, More Refined
The arrival of a new Corvette has always been an occasion. From its debut at GM’s 1953 Motorama show, held in the ballroom of New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel, Chevy’s dynamic two-seater—America’s sports car, as it has come to be known—has always attracted attention. And this year, the model’s 60th, Chevrolet pulled the wraps off the seventh generation of its halo model at the Detroit auto show. It was a launch heard ’round the world.
Fortunately, the 2014 Corvette Stingray lives up to the fanfare. The car looks to be a world-beater in all respects. It exudes a kind of edgy intention and refinement that, to these eyes, has been lacking since the splendid second-generation car debuted in 1962 (the first model to wear the “Sting Ray” moniker). It is fractionally larger than the outgoing car, but its creases make it appear smaller. Particularly in retina-searing red, there is no denying that the 2014 Corvette cuts a dramatic profile.
Naturally, performance is what the Corvette is all about, and the 2014 Stingray will not disappoint. An all-new, normally aspirated small-block V-8 engine, displacing 6.2 liters, belts out 450 hp and 450 ft lbs of torque. Matched to either a 7-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed automatic with shifter paddles mounted on the steering wheel, the engine gives the new ’Vette a better weight-to-power ratio than an Audi R8 4.2 or a Porsche 911 Carrera. Sixty mph arrives in less than four seconds, and the Stingray will press on past 180 mph without breaking a sweat.
The unapologetically driver-centric cockpit is awash with advanced technology, superb ergonomics, and exceptionally fine craftsmanship—an enormous leap from Corvettes of yore, which were frequently derided for their chintzy interior trim and so-so seats. The hood is long but low; outward visibility is excellent—at least to the front (and that is what matters most, right?). And yet, despite its track readiness, the Corvette is not without its creature comforts— even, dare we say, utility. The Stingray’s large hatch opens to reveal a surprisingly generous cargo area that is sufficient to hold luggage for a long weekend for two.
The 2014 Corvette Stingray arrives in showrooms this fall. Chevrolet has not revealed pricing yet, but it is safe to expect a healthy bump from the 2013 Corvette’s $49,600 starting figure. Looking forward, this year’s Geneva motor show will see the debut of the Stingray convertible, and down the road, —if the rumors are to be believed—Corvette aficionados may welcome a successor to the mighty $112,600 ZR1, with a supercharged V-8 producing more than 700 hp. Talk about progress. (www.chevrolet.com)
Car of the Year 2013: Ferrari FF
Wagon to a Star
The FF is an anomaly in Ferrari’s lineup: It is the only all-wheel-drive model and the only shooting brake (two-door wagon). Many of the judges were aghast at the car’s anime-style grille and bulbous backside. However, once inside the FF’s impeccable cocoa-colored leather interior and behind its F/1-style wheel, the judges appreciated the car’s comfort and conveniences. A press of the throttle and a quick jaunt up the Napa Valley’s Howell Mountain Road firmly established the Ferrari FF as a contender for Car of the Year honors, changing its status from black sheep to dark horse. —Paul Meyers
Brake from Tradition
No car in the competition was more reviled for its looks than the FF. That reaction mystified this driver, who appreciates that Ferrari went out on a limb with the FF by breaking a few of the brand’s rules and incorporating four real seats, actual luggage space, and genuine luxury befitting a GT. Though these amenities had to come at a price, the FF is quite elegant in profile. When viewed from behind, the car displays a splitter and exhausts that leave no question that it is a serious performance car. And the face is pure, angry Ferrari.
The FF also has all-wheel drive, which means it is just as suited to the ski lodge as the track. While few owners will actually race the long, weighty car, it is the world’s quickest and fastest true four-seater. The engine and gearbox are a dream, and, heretical as it may sound, the car is better all around than the outgoing 599 GTB. —Robert Ross
Is the FF a station wagon, a hatchback, a sedan, or an all-wheel-drive Italian sport-utility vehicle? Or is it, as some judges initially said, just a big mistake, a huge gamble on an automotive amalgam that will never make it as a sports car because of its sawed-off stern? Yet when the judges had finished the second-guessing and premature decision making, the majority agreed that the FF (for four seats and four-wheel drive) excelled on all Ferrari’s traditional fronts. The car’s power, road holding, acceleration, and secure response, most judges agreed, were the equal of—maybe even fractionally better than—any previous Ferrari’s. And it certainly earned its title as the fastest, quickest, most powerful station wagon in history.
The FF might have a frumpy rump, but from the B-pillars forward, its Pininfarina design shows a purity of proportion that projects the panache and status always associated with Ferrari. And if that back end is a trade-off for the convenience of four seats and the safety of all-wheel drive, well then, such a compromise seems acceptable. —Paul Dean
Configuration Front-engine, all-wheel-drive two-door wagon Engine 6.3-liter V-12 Transmission 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual Power 651 hp at 8,000 rpm Torque 504 ft lbs at 6,000 rpm Curb weight 4,145 pounds Zero to 60 mph 3.5 seconds Top speed 208 mph Base price $302,000 Ferrari, www.ferrari.com
Car of the Year 2013: Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse
The Grand Sport Vitesse astounds by its numbers alone. It has a 7.9-liter, 16-cylinder, 1,200 hp engine; four turbochargers; a top speed of 255 mph; 10 radiators; tires that cost about $27,000 a set; and a price of about $2.5 million. It is the world’s fastest, quickest, and most expensive production automobile ever. The figures tend to overshadow this machine’s status as a towering engineering achievement and a monument to automotive technology as progressive as, well, Karl Benz’s first self-propelled motorcar from 1885.
Our judges, however, certainly looked beyond the numbers. They praised the car’s extraordinary beauty, which belies the brutality of its acceleration. And despite the Vitesse’s horsepower, its soft handling and docile manners at slow speeds did not go unnoticed. —Paul Dean
Dressed to Thrill
A Bugatti Veyron so impressed our judges two years ago that they established for it a new category of one: Car of the Decade. That the new Grand Sport Vitesse has an additional 200 hp and attendant drivetrain refinements is almost moot. This Bugatti—like each Veyron iteration before it—is so over the top that it eclipses every standard of automotive achievement. It delivers amazing but tractable power. It is overengineered to the extreme. Its build quality is beyond MIL-SPEC. Is the Vitesse beautiful? No. Purposeful? Yes. Therein lies the appeal of the car, which could have been created only by a company with the resources, commitment, and hubris to embark on a mission of excellence at any cost.
Intimidating as it may be, the Vitesse is actually easy to drive—as easy as the Lamborghini Aventador, for instance. But with 16 cylinders and a quartet of turbochargers, the Bugatti is capable of performance that has no legitimate application on city streets. Pulmonologists in particular might find the Bugatti’s respiratory system fascinating, but all drivers will be intoxicated by the sound of the turbos’ blow-off valves exhaling with every shift. —Robert Ross
The Vitesse may have finished second to the Porsche 911 Carrera S, but the judges at this year’s event seemed no less impressed with this Veyron model than the judges from two years ago were with the one they crowned Car of the Decade. The whoosh sound of the Vitesse’s twin intakes sucking in air over the driver’s shoulder was exhilarating, and 2.6-second runs from zero to 60 mph were eye watering. As for the car’s 255 mph top speed, all of the judges wisely trusted that Bugatti’s claim is true. —Paul Meyers
Configuration Mid-engine, all-wheel-drive sports car Engine Quad-turbocharged 7.9-liter W-16 Transmission 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual Power 1,200 hp at 6,400 rpm Torque 1,106 ft lbs at 3,000 rpm Curb weight 4,387 pounds Zero to 60 mph 2.6 seconds Top speed 255 mph Base price About $2.5 million Bugatti, www.bugatti.com
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series Ups the Ante, Again
No slouch when it debuted for the 2011 model year, the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing coupe has nonetheless benefited from a steady stream of meaningful revisions. Last year saw the launch of the SLS AMG GT, upgrading the 563 hp debut model with a passel of cosmetic and chassis upgrades—not to mention a 20 hp bump for the handcrafted 6.3-liter V-8 engine. And for 2014, Mercedes and its fastidious AMG engineers are once again adding some spice to their flagship supercar: The dazzling SLS AMG Black Series arrives as the most extreme SLS yet.
The 6.3-liter engine’s output is up again, to 622 hp and 468 ft lbs of torque, thanks largely to a higher redline and a new high-performance valve train. The 7-speed dual-clutch transmission has been thoroughly revised, too. It sits four-tenths of an inch lower, for a slight drop in the car’s center of gravity, and it boasts quicker shifts.
AMG engineers also pored over every nook and cranny of the SLS on a hunt for losable pounds. A lithium-ion battery in place of a conventional lead-acid battery saves 17.6 pounds, and a switch from a steel exhaust to one made of titanium saves another 28.7 pounds. The team also applied feather-light carbon-fiber composite in key locations—that long, long hood, for instance. The weight-loss tally is a very noteworthy 154 pounds. Abetted by a track-minded makeover to the car’s now-adjustable coil-over suspension and the addition of a high-performance carbon-ceramic braking system, the result is greater agility and, of course, speed. The Black Series will blast to 60 mph in a scant 3.5 seconds and keep the speedometer needle moving all the way to 197 mph.
The SLS AMG Black Series will be available by special order this summer. Mercedes-Benz hasn’t revealed pricing yet, but you can expect AMG’s new top dog to command a sum considerably more than the standard SLS AMG GT’s $199,500, but hey, such is the price of supremacy. (www.mbusa.com)
Aston Martin Unveils New Cars and Programs at Racetracks Across the U.S.
Aston Martin is kicking off its first comprehensive motorsports program in United States with the sale of 12 of its famed GT4 racecars ($195,000 each) and 10 new car models set to race at speedways across the country. In partnership with the Petaluma, Calif.–based motorsports company the Racer’s Group, which will handle upkeep and sales for the new racecars, there will be many perks for Aston Martin GT4 customers, including one-on-one driving lessons with the new Aston Martin racing team, and a one-make race series—in which identically prepared Aston Martin GT4s will race against one another at select venues—in the works for next year. Aston Martin’s next race will be on March 16 at the Twelve Hours race in Sebring, Fla. (www.trg-astonmartinracing.com)