Monday, September 24, 2012

AMG Gone Wild!

Pure Sickness!  That is all I can say about the 2008 CLK63 AMG Black Series that I borrowed from eCarOne last week.  It’s not a car, it’s a missile on wheels… it’s a freaking bullet shaped like a sexy, curvy, bad-ass exotic coupe!  I don’t really know where to start with this review of one of perhaps the most awesome cars I have ever driven.

A few weeks ago, I had a 2012 C63 AMG Coupe and I wrote a very favorable review on this car and it was my favorite out of all the cars I had driven… until last week.

The guys at eCarOne gave me a 2008 Mercedes CLK63 AMG Black Series, and in case you’re wondering what “Black Series” means, it’s the same concept as the RS3 version of the Porsche 911, the Competition M3, or the Scuderia Ferrari.  Basically, it’s a CLK63 on massive amounts of testosterone.  They take an already awesome CLK63, remove the rear seat, stiffen the suspension & chassis, widen the fenders, increase tire size, free up the engine and get a little more power, and relax the traction control a bit.  And of course, they give it the special badging and even more special interior (sports seats, suede, and aluminum/carbon fiber trim).  All this makes the car very unique and even more so, they don’t mass-produce this one like the rest of the lineup.  It’s made in limited numbers and I know it will be a collectible some day.

I’m guessing that judging from the above you get the idea that I liked this car…. Well, I really enjoyed it for what it is; a pure race car for the street.  However, is it an everyday car?  I can tell you for sure that it’s not a car I can drive daily and I’m stressing “I” because for my specific needs I can’t have a two seat coupe, however; let’s compare it to say a Ferrari 430, Lamborghini Gallardo, Porsche RS3, or perhaps an Aston Martin Vantage.  All these cars I would place in the same category as the Black Series CLK63… they are all exotic supercars and although Mercedes is more known for making practical cars that go very fast, this one I would have to place in a different category altogether. 

So, who is the CLK63 Black Series made for?  In my opinion it's for those out there that want supercar performance but would rather not be noticed.  The CLK Black Series is made for those who want race track performance on the street without the exotic stereotype and without the exotic price tag and ongoing cost of maintenance and repair.

Let’s take a look at the previous conjecture for a minute.  This CLK is priced at roughly $70,000 which is about half of its MSRP.  It is a monster on the street and I’ll wager that this car can take on many exotics on the track.  Now let’s see what these exotics would cost or better yet, let’s see what you can get for $70k.  You can get a 10-year-old Ferrari F355 or a similar age Lambo.  You could get a lightly used Aston Martin or Porsche 911 Twin Turbo.  Of all those cars, I would put the Porsche TT head to head with the CLK and in my book the CLK63 wins for several reasons…. It’s way more rare, way more collectible, cost less to operate, and is not driven by people who have too much money.  I’m sorry if this statement offends anyone but go to any affluent city and you’ll see men and women driving these 500+ HP Porsches who have no idea what these cars can do.  On the other hand, I challenge anyone to find me someone driving a Black Series CLK63 who doesn’t know exactly what he or she is driving.

I never thought I’d say this but if I'm looking for all out performance, I would take this Benz over a comparably priced Ferrari any day.  I would even venture to say it's a bargain!

Thank you for reading and happy driving. 

Cadillac... Redefined

Growing up outside the US I was used to seeing Fiats, Renaults, and Peugeots on the road.  Occasionally I would see a Buick here or there and once in a blue moon I would see the king of all American cars; a Cadillac which usually belonged to either a member of the American Embassy or a wealthy sheikh on vacation.  Either way, it was a rare site and just seeing one was a treat.  I never thought I would actually ride in one.

Fast forward a few years later, I moved to the USA and I was seeing Cadillac beauties all over the place and I finally got to ride in one when I was about 12 years old… it belonged to one of my dad’s friends.  Wow, it was plush, powerful and luxurious.  It was like sitting in a luxury living room!  This is the ultimate luxury car, I thought.  Soft and plush was the way to go back then if you wanted luxury, but how things have changed.

Not only did the definition of luxury sedans change, but Cadillac reinvented itself and was in my opinion the first American car to truly compete with the Europeans in the luxury sedan market.  Enter the Cadillac CTS; a mid-sized sedan that since its inception has won the hearts of many would-be Mercedes and BMW buyers.

But Cadillac didn’t stop there… it also wanted a piece of the AMG and M-Power market so what better way to entice power junkies than to give them exactly what they want and what the others won’t give them…. Monster horsepower coupled with a fast shifting manual transmission going to the rear wheels.  Enter the Cadillac CTS-V and “V” is for “Very Fast”!

A couple of weeks ago the guys at eCarOne gave me a 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan with a 6-Speed manual transmission.  At first, I was a bit hesitant to drive it and I really didn’t know what to expect.  I had never driven a Caddy before and I was thinking that it’s going to have power but that’s it… no feel and certainly no finesse.

Boy was I wrong!  Aside from the monster 550 HP and 550 lb-ft of torque, this car was truly a complete luxury sedan or dare I say sports sedan.  Forget about the sub 4-second zero to 60 and the 12-second quarter mile with 170+ mph top speed… forget about all that.  This car is beautiful to drive.  First, it has a mean exhaust roar but the cabin is so quiet that the exhaust does not annoy you in the least bit.  In fact, I had neighbors waving at me to slow down even though I was only going 25mph in second gear…. This baby is loud!

Oh, back to the driving experience…. As I was saying, this car is really complete.  The cabin is not only beautiful, but also well-built, quiet, and modern.  The steering wheel is a work of art, the suspension is very well balanced between comfort and handling and the brakes are nothing short of phenomenal.  Other likes include the very powerful audio system, the easy to manage navigation, and the ample cargo space… it’s a Caddy… it has to have a big trunk!

Of course, no car comes without a downside.  For me, the seats should have had a bit more side bolsters and definitely more knee support (i.e. the seats could have been a bit deeper).  Also, and expectedly so, the fuel consumption is not favorable… to put it mildly.  But then again, I don’t know many cars out there that can get you to 60mph in under 4 seconds that can also do 20 mpg!

I really enjoyed this car and I think it’s a keeper.  Go take a look yourself.

As always, thank you for reading and happy driving.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

German Muscle

Yes, this post is about another German sports car, but it's not a BMW so you can keep reading.  Last week, my friends at eCarOne gave me a 2012 Mercedes C63 AMG Coupe.... that's a long title but the "Coupe" is important to know because this is new for 2012 and it's extremely rare to find one, especially a used one.  Although with only 2,500 miles on the odometer, you can hardly call this one used.  First, let me say that this has to be one of the best looking four-seat cars Mercedes has every built.  Of course, the SL, SLR, and SLS are beautiful roadsters but the C Coupe is one of the sexiest 4-seat Mercedes to ever hit the road.

Everything about this car is inviting.  The front of the car means business, the wheels, brakes, and even the stance make a subtle statement that this car is special.  Even the sunroof retracts to the outside similar to a panoramic but in a single piece.  The back of the car is menacing with huge quad exhaust pipes and a very tasteful lip spoiler.  I love the way this car looks.

And the interior is even better!  The seats are nothing short of spectacular... not only do they look fantastic with the Alcantara inserts and heavy bolsters, but they are extremely comfortable.  They are so comfortable that you forget you're sitting down.  Let me explain.... you know you're in comfort when you are no longer aware of the seat that's surrounding you... it's like you're sitting on air.  I have an extremely sensitive back and if I'm not sitting just right, I start to get back aches.  Not this time, I loved this seat.  Additionally, all the controls are in the right place and even the center console is on the same level as the elbow pad on the driver's door so you can rest both elbows and still maintain a very even driving position with your hands at 3 and 9 or if you want to be lazy; at 4 and 8.

Then you take notice of the steering wheel... it's a work of art... perfect diameter, perfect thickness, perfect shape... yes I'm still talking about the steering wheel... stay focused!  The sound system is excellent, the NAV is easy to manipulate and the rest of the controls are intuitive.  Very rarely does a car impress me from both the outside and inside the cabin but this one did... two thumbs up for exterior and interior design.

Now let's talk about the fun stuff... we're not talking a regular sports car here.... this is a super sports car with a 6.3L V8 pumping out 450+ HP, rocketing to 60mph in less than 4 seconds, to 100mph in less than 10 seconds and blasting through the 1/4 mile in 12 seconds.  We're talking Lamborghini numbers... with two extra seats, a four year 50,000 mile warranty, a Navigation, and a fully automatic grocery getting transmission!  And if you want to be noticed, hit the throttle and listen to the beautiful harmony of the exhaust note... it is pure muscle car.  I wish I could post a sound clip but it would not do it justice... you have to listen to it yourself.  It's so addicting that I found myself punching it off the line just to hear the exhaust or putting the car in manual mode to get the revs a little higher.  But even with the revs low, there's still a beautiful rumble that made me smile every time I heard it.

The engineers at MB also read my mind and gave the user a mode selector... Comfort, Sport, and Manual. I kept it in "Sport".  The shifts become more pronounced and the gear is held to a higher rpm.  Also, you can hear the downshifts and the blip of the throttle.  Additionally, there is a more noticeable exhaust rumble when downshifting and it is oh so satisfying!

The evening I returned this car to eCarOne, the founder was telling some of our friends about my writing a blog for eCarOne and of courseI was asked by one of them which was my favorite car.  My gut reaction answer was the C63 I just drove.  I may be crossing over from BMW territory and joining the AMG bandwagon... I really and truly enjoyed this car in every way.

As for a pro and con wrap-up.  The pros are clearly stated above and in a nutshell, it's everything you want in a sports coupe and then some.  As for cons, maybe a bit more rear legroom but truly that's all I can think of.

Do yourself a favor and even if you're not shopping for a car... go see this one, sit in it and listen to it if you can.  It's a magical experience and if you're a car fan you know exactly what I'm talking about.  If you're not a car fan but happen to be reading this post, then you may become one after seeing this C63 AMG.

Thank you for reading and happy driving.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Another 3-Series Competitor

If you've read any of my posts, it wouldn't take you long to figure out that I'm a BMW fan... and that's putting it mildly.  There is something about driving a Bimmer that just makes me feel good.  It's hard to explain but I'll say it again; in my opinion BMW nailed it when they said it's the ultimate driving machine because it is and as such I always find myself using a BMW as the index whenever I'm test driving a car.  Somehow this comes as second nature to me... I drive a sports car and I think 3-series or M3.  I drive a mid-sized sedan and I instantly compare it to the 5-series and of course when I have the chance to drive a big boy I always think 7-series.  Somehow setting BMW as the index by which I measure other cars makes it easier in ways and harder in others.  It's easier because it becomes more objective.... I can compare feature by feature.  However, it's harder because of my bias towards Bimmers.  It's very difficult to say "this car drives better than that one", especially since I'm not strapping any instruments to these cars... I'm just going off feel and enjoyment.

So with that long-winded intro, let me talk about the car that I had a couple of weeks ago and why I think it's a very good alternative to a Bimmer; particularly to a 3-series.  The guys at eCarOne gave me a 2012 Infiniti G37 Convertible to drive.  I did own an Infiniti before... a 2004 G35 Coupe with the 6-speed manual and Brembo brakes and I truly enjoyed it, however I felt that it lacked the refinement of the 3-series.  Specifically, the fit and finish was not up to par, the cabin was a bit noisy especially at speeds and on wet roads, and the overall driving feel did not inspire confidence like the 3-series.  Since then, I never bothered to look at another Infiniti.  So, when my friends at eCarOne gave me the G37, my expectations were not great.  But then again expectations are usually not correct.  This 2012 G37 Coupe was completely different from the 2004 that I owned.  In fact, I'll have to say that there really was no comparison.  The interior of this car felt like it belonged on a Mercedes or dare I say a Jaguar.  The leather smelled ... like nice leather.  The buttons were soft to the touch, the steering wheel was wrapped beautifully and stitched with great detail, and overall the interior just felt like a luxury sports car should feel... I would even say it was more luxurious than that of a typical 3-series.

How about the rest.... well my expectations were wrong again.  This Infiniti G37 was a joy to drive.  The cabin was quiet.  The acceleration was excellent, the cornering was sharp and even with the top down the wind was not bad at all.  With the top up, most convertibles show their bad side because a convertible top is not structurally rigid, and you will always hear all kinds of creaking and rattles.  That was not the case with the G37, primarily because of the hard retractable roof.  I put the top up, turned off the sound system (which is awesome by the way) and drove over bumpy roads.  I did not hear a thing.  I was very impressed.

All in all, I would have to say that Infiniti did a fantastic job with the G37.  It's all the driving joy of a 3-series plus the reliability you'd expect from an Infiniti.  Price-wise, it's about the same as a 3-series so I would not say that's a factor.  However, price is one thing and cost of ownership is a completely different thing.  For instance, if I gave you a ten million dollar house for free, technically it didn't cost you anything but your cost of ownership would be the taxes and maintenance you'd have to pay and that might make it very difficult for you to own it.  Without going into much detail, I can safely bet that the cost of ownership for an Infiniti G37 would be significantly less than that of a 3-Series Bimmer, especially after the warranty period expires.

Although I'm a Bimmer guy, I would highly recommend a G37 for someone smarter than me.  Take care and happy driving.