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BEST CARS — Jeep Wrangler

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First Drive: 2017 Audi A7 3.0T Competition Quattro

Five years after AUTOMOBILE named the Audi A7 our 2012 Automobile of the Year, the swoopy four-door “coupe” remains a popular choice around these parts. Especially when discussion turns to luxury cars that, while not overtly sporty in nature and intent, deliver an elegant, comfortable experience in spades.

With the A7 soon set for a big overhaul, most likely next year, Audi added the A7 3.0T Competition Quattro trim level to the lineup for 2017 as the present car stares down its last days. Priced at $77,500, which is $7,750 more than a standard A7 (the Competition model is based on the pricier, $72,300 Prestige edition), this isn’t anything resembling an S or RS treatment. Not that Audi intended it to be. The package bumps horsepower to 340, a minor 7-hp improvement over other regular A7s (torque remains the same at 325 lb-ft), and adds blacked-out matte trim, 20-inch wheels, and what Audi calls “sport suspension tuning.”

Set off in Comfort mode and you notice immediately the light steering effort that might be the perfect weight for low-speed operation in neighborhoods and parking lots. It is also pleasant for highway driving. There isn’t a boatload of raw feel or feedback channeled through the steering wheel, but neither is there any sense of disconnection or floatiness, just a strong dose of smooth relaxation. The A7’s interior is as clean as ever, with this test car trimmed in quilted black leather, deviated red stitching, a soft-touch dashboard, and black alcantara on door panels. Mild use of piano-black plastic trim is pedestrian, however, as its widespread usage across the automotive industry has begun to feel a bit tired and uninspired.

The supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 continues to suit the A7 well, with a nice sound at wide-open throttle no one will ever call notably aggressive.

At 70 mph with the Bose sound system turned off, the engine spins quietly in eighth gear at about 1,800 rpm or so. This makes the cockpit a soothing environment at any speed. The throttle is tuned to avoid abrupt tip-in jolts; its response under hard acceleration is not instantaneous, but the A7 Competition has plenty of torque to make quick work of most traffic. It never knocks your socks off but is plenty capable, especially above 3,000 rpm.

Switch to Dynamic mode via the “Car” submenu on the multimedia screen, and maps for the engine, transmission logic, steering, and sport differential make the car feel sharper. The differences, while noticeable, are subtle rather than transformative. The steering provides more weight but thankfully avoids the synthetically extra-heavy setups certain other cars produce with their settings dialed up — weight that serves no purpose. At least, no purpose other than to tire drivers’ arms while attempting to convince them they’re really muscling a true performance car, which they usually are not.

Speaking of steering, the wheel has a relatively small diameter without being too compact, and the thickness of its rim, with meaty, perforated thumb grips, is spot on for a car of this class. Were it much thicker, it would give the A7 a faux racer, inauthentic look that any savvy driver would notice immediately.

Twelve-way, power-adjustable front seats are another welcome feature. Solid bolstering keeps you in place well during enthusiastic driving while the seats are still exceptionally comfortable, a modern Audi hallmark. The deep thigh bolsters are worth making an effort to swing your legs over as you enter and exit the car. This car’s odometer showed only 2,444 miles, yet creasing was already evident on the left-seat outside bolster, the result of people sliding across it while resting their backside on it. The leather is quickly on its way to becoming an eyesore as a result.

Ditch the highway for some flowing back roads and this A7 holds its own. Unlike on the highway, the steering’s Comfort setting is better swapped for Sport. Otherwise it doesn’t feel like it loads much through sweepers, giving an impression of less response and connection to the road. You’ll want to set the transmission to Sport too, as in Comfort it won’t hold a gear properly for aggressive corner carving. Even in manual mode, this Tiptronic transmission is not made for dedicated 10/10ths antics, as downshifts are less than snappy.

That’s not to say the A7 Competition is a bore to drive. It is not. Get used to the steering and gearbox behavior to exploit it to its maximum, and you find yourself smiling. The suspension delivers nice damping over a variety of surfaces, while the front-end points into corners confidently rather than feeling like an understeering dog, even on the car’s standard all-season tires (performance tires are optional for no charge). No doubt the torque-vectoring assist from the rear differential helps in that regard, and while you might not choose this model if you are hell-bent on destroying mountain or country roads, neither will you feel jealous of most other drivers if you happen upon them in this car.

The 2017 Audi A7 3.0T Competition Quattro is a comfortable luxury offering you can have some fun with. It’s a refined piece with more than a hint of attitude, and that’s exactly what Audi set out to do when it created this stylish four-door. Five years after receiving our award, it’s good to see just how little some things have changed.

2017 Audi A7 3.0T Competition Quattro Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $77,500/$80,450 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 3.0L supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6, 340 hp @ 5,300-6,500 rpm, 325 lb-ft @ 2,900-5,300 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 21/29 (city/hwy)
L X W X H 196.2 x 84.2 x 55.9 in
WHEELBASE 114.7 in
WEIGHT 4,354 lb
0-60 MPH 5.2 sec
TOP SPEED 130 mph

2015 Audi A7 front three quarters
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2015 Audi A7 rear three quarters
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2017 Audi A7 3 0T Competition Quattro engine
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2017 Audi A7 3 0T Competition Quattro rear end

The post First Drive: 2017 Audi A7 3.0T Competition Quattro appeared first on Automobile Magazine.

2017 Mazda CX-9

2017 Mazda CX-9The 2017 Mazda CX-9 is a three-row crossover SUV that provides a decidedly more sporty outlook on hauling passengers than most of its rivals. In attempting to fulfill that mission, it winds up feeling a little compromised as a family-hauler, though, which is why we’ve rated it a 6.3 out of 10 overall. It gets high marks for its looks inside and…

Lexus Exec Shuns Idea of Sub-$30K Car

Lexus is not looking to follow in the footsteps of Mercedes-Benz or Audi.

First Drive: 2017 BMW M760i xDrive

PALM SPRINGS, California — At first glance, the 2017 BMW M760i xDrive looks an awful lot like a standard 7 Series. But ogle a little closer and you’ll notice some un-ordinary bits: a snoutier nose, lower sills, a racier rear end, and, on the rear pillars, a little badge that says “V12.” That’s right, this thing has 12 cylinders. Salivary glands, engage!

Answering a question nearly everyone has asked, the BMW M760i is, at long last, the application of M Division wizardry to Bayerische Motoren Werke’s largest sedan platform. It’s not an all-out M car (no M7 badges, see), but it’s as close as we’re likely to get because let’s face it: no one is buying a 7 as a track day car first, daily driver second. But this one has the chuff and the stuff to wend its way through the corners like a rabid hound should you ask it to, and that’s certainly good enough for most. It’s definitely a few steps sharper than the previous hot 7 Series, the Alpina B7, which adds power but otherwise focuses on luxury and appearance enhancements.

Why is this BMW’s first application of the M Division’s sharper-edged performance tuning to the 7 Series? Because this is the first car the M Division felt it could truly work with, even if it’s an M Performance vehicle rather than a true M. The chassis is stiff enough thanks to the aluminum-and-carbon structure while the core engineering is conducive enough to the rigors of track work that some medium-scale dressing of key components would yield a car that’s not just fun to drive, but able to survive its driver beating its two-and-a-quarter-ton ass around a track like a rental Mustang.

2017 BMW M760i xDrive side in motion 022017 BMW M760i xDrive side in motion 02

That’s no small compliment to the guts of the standard current-generation 7 Series, but the M760i goes a long step past your average luxo-barge. With its all-aluminum 601-hp, 590-lb-ft, 6.6-liter twin-turbocharged V-12 engine driving all four wheels, the big Bimmer hits 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds — the quickest of any production M vehicle — using its easy-as-you-please launch mode. To engage launch mode, you just flip into Sport+, stomp the brake, quickly floor the gas, release the brake, and hold on.

The eight-speed automatic transmitting the power might sound like a let down, but this gearbox responds quickly to manual requests from the paddles and sorts itself out flawlessly whatever the situation if you let the computer think for itself. If there’s a shortcoming, it’s the flimsy, plasticky steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Where’s the magnesium, BMW?

It doesn’t really matter, though, where the magnesium is. What matters is the harmony of the chassis, engine, transmission, and xDrive all-wheel drive system — that’s right, this isn’t a V-12 burnout machine; it’s driving all four wheels, all the time, though it is rear-biased with up to 50 percent of torque delivered to the front wheels as needed. What this yields is essentially the fastest of two worlds: most of the dynamic purity and willingness to turn of a rear-drive car with the added benefit of accelerating, whether from a stop or out of turns, with the bite of all-wheel.

2017 BMW M760i xDrive cockpit
2017 BMW M760i xDrive center stack
2017 BMW M760i xDrive rear interior seats
2017 BMW M760i xDrive door sill

This harmony becomes immediately apparent on a track — even on the slick and uncharacteristically deluged tarmac of The Thermal Club, a private track complex stationed in a picturesque section of desert. The Thermal Club is also home to BMW’s Performance Driving Center (PDC), where BMW maintains its own facilities and track, as well as having access to the other tracks on hand. Perhaps it was the sheer volume of the downpour, perhaps it was the interplay of the water and the dust that constantly blows over the track when dry — whatever the cause, the unusually wet weather made for very low grip on track surfaces throughout the complex.

Despite the BMW’s 4,806-lb curb weight, the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires (245/40 on 8.5 x 20-inch wheels up front and 275/35 on 10.0 x 20-inch rear wheels at rear) provide plenty of friction. That means not just acceleration and cornering, but prodigious braking grip, too, even in the wet. Pushing toward the limits with traction, chassis, and powertrain management systems in their most permissive settings, the M760i happily acquired and maintained small yaw angles, dancing down toward apexes and rocketing out of them under ever-so-slightly-tail-out power.

Part of this friendly at-the-limits attitude is that the M760i comes from the torque-distributing all-wheel drive system, which works to maintain stability through power, rather than brakes, even in the most aggressive drive modes. Like all good large cars, the M-tuned 7 Series seems to shrink around the driver when pushed hard.

2017 BMW M760i xDrive front end 022017 BMW M760i xDrive front end 02

Part of that shrinkage effect is due not to the cold water on track, but the BMW’s standard four-wheel steering system, which BMW calls Integral Active Steering. The system, like many others, angles the rear wheels up to a few degrees opposite that of the front wheels at low speeds in order to reduce the turning circle and cants them in the same direction as the front wheels at higher speeds to deliver high-speed stability. It’s tuned so well that it’s completely transparent to the driver yet utterly predictable in use. The system is also reactive to driver mode settings — ramping up its activity for more dynamic driving, settling back for gentler cruising.

Even with this being the driver’s 7 Series, the driver assistance systems that arrived with the current generation of the flagship BMW are here, too. Among the many high-tech safety systems that will make the daily grind a little easier to bear are steering and lane control assist, active cruise control with stop-and-go function (with automatic adaptation to speed limits at the press of a button), traffic jam assist, rear collision prevention, and cross-traffic warning are some.

No discussion of the M760i would be complete with some context, however. For the hottest 7 Series yet, that means comparison to Mercedes-AMG’s treatments of the S-Class and Audi’s S8. While the Audi S8 packs a 605-hp twin-turbo V-8 and an elegant, understated look inside and out, as well as upgraded handling compared to the standard A8, it’s priced well below the M760i and doesn’t have a V-12. The same can be said of the Mercedes-AMG S63, which, despite its interior opulence, comely exterior, as well as 577 hp and a massive 664 lb-ft of torque, also gets its grunt from a twin-turbo V-8. For V-12 fans, the only real alternative is the Mercedes-AMG S65, which takes the BMW formula and turns it up to 621 hp and 738 lb-ft of pavement-stretching torque from a 6.0-liter V-12 and a pair of turbochargers. While the large Mercedes-AMG is more luxurious and certainly more powerful, the edge in chassis tune and handling lies with the M760i, which never exhibits the front-axle sluggishness of the S65. The choice is yours: extreme luxury or driver-focused poise.

2017 BMW M760i xDrive front three quarter
2017 BMW M760i xDrive badge
2017 BMW M760i xDrive rear three quarter 05
2017 BMW M760i xDrive wheels

Another potential rub for the BMW V-12 buyer: the M760i lacks some of the visual flourish you might expect of a car for kings and autocrats. The small, if not quite subtle V-12 badges on the rear pillars and center console, ever-so-slightly larger air inlets at the front, and a small pseudo-diffuser at the rear are just about the only things to distinguish the M760i from its six-cylinder brethren. For north of $150,000 (or even more should you employ BMW’s individualization services), it may make less of a stir than desired at the valet stand. On the other hand, it may be just the right balance of under-the-radar for the masses, and winks and nods from those in the know. For those looking to fly even farther under the radar, there’s the optional no-charge Excellence package, which does away with the M aero kit and swaps in glossy silver wheels and bright chrome exterior accents.

For the well-heeled hot shoe, however, these aesthetic concerns are easily dismissed. Because no matter how you configure the BMW M760i, you’re getting, without doubt, the best driver’s V-12 sedan on the market.

2017 BMW M760i xDrive Specifications

ON SALE  Now
PRICE $154,795
ENGINE

6.0L twin-turbo DOHC 48-valve V-12/610 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 800 lb-ft @ 1,550-5,000 rpm

TRANSMISSION

8-speed automatic

LAYOUT

4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan

EPA MILEAGE 13/20 mpg
L x W x H 209.8 x 74.9 x 58.2 in
WHEELBASE 126.4 in
WEIGHT

4,806 lb

0-60 MPH 3.6 sec
TOP SPEED

155 mph (190 mph w/M performance package)

2017 BMW M760i xDrive front end in motion 02
2017 BMW M760i xDrive and M760i xDrive V12 Excellence rear front three quarter
2017 BMW M760i xDrive front end static
2017 BMW M760i xDrive badge 02
2017 BMW M760i xDrive front end in motion
2017 BMW M760i xDrive front three quarter 03
2017 BMW M760i xDrive and M760i xDrive V12 Excellence front rear three quarter
2017 BMW M760i xDrive and M760i xDrive V12 Excellence front side
2017 BMW M760i xDrive and M760i xDrive V12 Excellence front three quarters
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2017 BMW M760i xDrive front end
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2017 BMW M760i xDrive engine 02
2017 BMW M760i xDrive engine
2017 BMW M760i xDrive front headlamp
2017 BMW M760i xDrive front side
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2017 BMW M760i xDrive front wheels
2017 BMW M760i xDrive grille 02
2017 BMW M760i xDrive grille

 

The post First Drive: 2017 BMW M760i xDrive appeared first on Automobile Magazine.

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