Fiat dealers. Editor-in-Chief's Note: How many times have I warned Fiat dealers on this site that Sergio Marchionne didn't have their best interests in mind, ultimately? And how many times did I get hate email from some of those same dealers (and other blind Sergio loyalists) for suggesting that, in the end, Marchionne would screw them over? Well, let's review, shall we? Remember when Marchionne insisted that Fiat dealers spend serious money on brick and mortar to build stand-alone Fiat stores? That the dealers' commitment needed to be there in order for Marchionne's "grand plan" to work? Why do you think they bought into that notion, given the miniscule model lineup projections for the brand and the serious dough involved to put up stand alone stores? Because even though new Fiat models would be slow trickling in, Marchionne promised them on his life that they'd be swimming in Alfa Romeo product by 2016, and that they would get rich beyond their wildest dreams selling it. That didn't exactly work out for them, did it? Well guess what, folks? It gets worse. The new definitive plan out in Auburn Hills has Fiat dealers prohibited from selling Alfa Romeo cars altogether, the notion being that to cross-pollinate the two nameplates in a single showroom would be disastrous for the lofty image they want to portray for Alfa. Not only that, Fiats will now be available to all Chrysler dealers to sell. So, in essence, the early-adopter Fiat dealers who bought into Marchionne's pitch have just been royally and emphatically screwed, big time. And for some, this may be the last time, because though I'm sure the Chief Stronzo still has a few blind loyalist dealers buying into everything he says, this move will alienate untold number of dealers who, from this day forward, will want nothing to do with him. As I've said repeatedly, Marchionne will manipulate the conversation and his grandiose pronouncements to suit the needs of the moment. And if those needs should change, then the conversation changes, the promises go unfulfilled, and the collateral damage - no matter whom it affects - is ruled as an acceptable cost of doing business. I didn't describe Marchionne and his espresso-swilling minions from the get-go as "carpetbagging opportunists" for nothin', folks. - PMD
(Aston Martin images)
Aston Martin is introducing the Vulcan - a track-only supercar - at the Geneva International Motor Show, calling it the company's "most intense and exhilarating creation to date." The 800HP+, all-carbon fiber Aston Martin Vulcan will be limited to just 24 examples worldwide. “Aston Martin Vulcan is, by its very nature, a rare and thrilling supercar," CEO Dr. Andy Palmer said. "Designed and engineered to deliver a genuinely bespoke driving experience that draws on our rich heritage, this car tailors its power and handling to both the capabilities of the driver and the characteristics of the track. A sports car for true sports car lovers, I believe the Aston Martin Vulcan – and the unique ownership program that sits behind it – sets a whole new standard in the ultra-high luxury supercar class.”
The front mid-engined, rear-wheel drive sports car draws extensively on the Aston Martin’s rich GT motorsport experience, and has a power-to-weight ratio that exceeds that of the factory GTE cars that compete in the FIA’s annual World Endurance Championship.
The Vulcan has a carbon fiber monocoque and body constructed by Aston Martin’s long-term specialist body engineering and manufacturing partner Multimatic. Other goodies? An integral limited-slip differential, magnesium torque tube with carbon fiber propeller shaft and Brembo racing calipers with carbon ceramic racing disc brakes measuring 380mm in diameter at the front and 360mm at the rear. Track-derived pushrod suspension with anti-dive geometry is complemented by Multimatic’s Dynamic Suspension Spool Valve (DSSV) adjustable dampers and anti-roll bars front and rear, driver-adjustable anti-lock braking, and variable traction control. A mid-mounted Xtrac six-speed sequential shift gearbox is part of the package, as well as 345/30 x19 rear wheels and Michelin race specification tires.
The 2016 Range Rover Evoque will make its world debut at the Geneva Motor Show next month. It will be the first model from Jaguar Land Rover to feature full-LED adaptive headlamp technology, and it has also been tweaked inside and out with new details, refinements and optional features. But will that be enough to gain some momentum for the nameplate? A giant "we'll see." It will go on sale in North America next fall.
Editor's Note: We experienced a couple of new Audi models for our "Quick Take" reports over the last couple of weeks. A 2015 Audi S7 - which we didn't get a picture of - and a 2015 Audi RS 5 Coupe. The weather was so terrible we really didn't get to drive the S7 beyond the usual cut and thrust of the urban slog. I have stated previously that the RS 7 is one of my favorite cars, so the S7 would seem to be a milder but still worthy machine. Impeccably turned out, as is Audi's wont - especially the layered Aluminum/Black trim on the inside - the S7 was, in fact, a tamer version of the RS 7, but the differences seemed more pronounced. But I will end my comments there, because the week we had the S7 it was more a matter of surviving the snow and bitter cold, as much as anything else. It is good to experience these machines in the real world, because that's what people do with them, and suffice to say the S7 seemed to be a very desirable sport-tuned Audi that will be worth a closer look when the weather cooperates. ESI, the company that wrangles these press cars for a lot of the manufacturers - and does an excellent job at it - makes sure these cars are equipped with four snow tires in the winter, and believe me, the difference is night and day. My personal driver a few years ago was an Audi S4, with summer tires, and I found it to be treacherous in a lot of winter driving situations. It's fine to have quattro, but with summer tires the advantages are almost completely wiped out in low traction situations that are typical of harsh winter climates. Ironically, Audi sent me an S4 equipped with snow tires when I had my S4, and the difference was dramatic. A lot of people dismiss going to four snow tires in the winter due to the "hassle" of exchanging rims and tires at the dealer, but I have found that the advantages far outweigh any "hassle" involved. Fortunately, the weather was much more cooperative when we had the Audi RS 5, and it's hard to say anything negative about it. In fact it's almost the perfect package in terms of its size, with compelling design details (the 20" 5-arm-Rotor design wheels are for my money the best in the business right now) and crisp, overall performance. The RS 5 is one of those cars you set out down the road in and within 100 yards you know it was developed by people who understand serious high-performance machines. Everything about it just feels "right," which isn't always the case when it comes to high-performance cars, and you appreciate every nuanced detail of it. Yes, the aforementioned RS 7 is badass, but the reality is that the RS 5 is probably a better overall package for every day, simply because of its trimmer size. In this day and age of auto manufacturers - especially the Germans - trying to cover every possible niche for every possible buyer, it's nice to know that enough pure driving machines remain for true enthusiasts to get their hands on. The fact that Audi (S, RS), BMW (M), Cadillac (V), Lexus (F) and Mercedes (AMG) all make true driver's machines available is a very good thing. And as long they continue to do it, I'm sure the enthusiasts out there will be appreciative and vote a resounding "yes" with their checkbooks, even though to be frank, the price points are daunting. The Audi RS 5 is a pure driver's machine that seems to come to life the harder you flog it. If you're seriously looking at this spectrum of performance cars, you owe it to yourself to check one out. - PMD
2015 Audi RS 5 Coupe 4.2 quattro S tronic: $78,525 ($70,900 Base Price; Daytona Gray Pearl Effect, $550; Black Interior; 4.2-liter TFSI V8 with 450HP and 317 lbs-ft of torque; quattro all-wheel-drive system with sports rear differential; Seven-speed S tronic transmission; 19" forged 10-spoke-design wheels with 265/35 summer performance tires; Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Anti-lock brake system (ABS); Ventilated disc brakes front and rear; Electromechanical speed-sensitive power steering; Tire mobility kit (without spare tire); Panoramic sunroof; Audi adaptive headlights with LED DRLs and taillights; Heated, auto dimming, power adjustable exterior mirrors; 12-way power adjustable S sport front seats including lumbar adjustment; Heated front seats; Fine Nappa Leather package; 60/40 split-folding rear seat; Three-zone automatic climate control; Audi music interface with iPod cable; Bang & Olufsen sound system; SIRIUS Satellite radio with three-month complimentary subscription; Three-spoke, leather-wrapped, multifunction, flat-bottom steering wheel with shift paddles; Audi advanced key; Garage door opener (HomeLink); Preparation for mobile phone (Bluetooth); Audi parking system plus; Technology Package - 1 CD/DVD-player with HD radio, Audi MMI Navigation plus with voice control, Rear view camera, Audi connect with online services (six-month subscription), Audi side assist - $2,900; Sport exhaust system, $1,000; 20" Wheel Package - 5-arm-Rotor design wheels (titanium finish), summer performance tires - $1,000; Matte Alu-Optic package, $750; Red brake calipers, $500; Front filler panel; Destination charge, $925)
2015 Audi S7 4.0T quattro S tronic: $88,875 ($82,500 Base Price; Glacier White Metallic, $550; Black Interior; 4.0-liter TFSI V8 with 420HP and 406 lbs-ft of torque; quattro all-wheel-drive system with sports rear differential; Seven-speed S tronic transmission; 19" 5-parallel-spoke-S-design wheels with 255/40 summer performance tires; Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Anti-lock brake system (ABS); Ventilated disc brakes front and rear; Electromechanical speed-sensitive power steering; Energy recuperation without start-stop system; Temporary, compact spare tire; Power sunroof; Full LED headlights (DRLs, low/high beams, turn signals); Auto dimming, power folding, heated exterior mirrors; 12-way power adjustable S sport front seats including lumbar adjustment; Heated front seats; Four-zone automatic climate control; Head up display; Audi advanced key; Audi side assist; Audi navigation plus with MMI touch; Audi connect with six month subscription; SIRIUS Satellite radio with three-month complimentary subscription; Three-spoke multifunction steering wheel with shift paddles; BOSE Surround Sound System; Garage door opener (HomeLink); Preparation for mobile phone (Bluetooth); Audi parking system plus with rear view camera; Driver Assistance Package - Audi adaptive cruise control with stop & go, Audi pre sense plus, Audi active lane assist, Corner view camera system - $2,800; Layered Aluminum/Black wood inlays, $1,100; 20" Wheel Package - 5-parallel-spoke-S-design wheels and summer performance tires - $1,000; Front filler panel; Destination charge, $925)
Adherence to Brand Image: The Audi RS 5 embodies everything that a high-performance Audi should look, feel and drive like. That sounds simplistic, but it would be just as easy for Audi to get it wrong as get it right when it comes to developing their premier high-performance machines, especially given the complications involved. Audi definitely got it right with the RS 5. - PMD