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Don Adair's Seat Time

Posts tagged: sport

BMW 535d: BMW builds another brilliant diesel

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BMW’s midsize 5 Series sedan is a serious car, built for grown-ups and not easily outgrown. 

Its 3 Series sibling is smaller, edgier, more spirited. The kind of car some buyers will age out of on their way to the 5.

One step above the 5, the flagship 7 is a statement car. It’s sybaritic, accommodating and comfortable as all get-out, but not an essential step up from the 5.

You could spend many years in a 5 and never consider the temptations of a comely stranger.

The 5 has always been the sportiest of the world’s family sedans — to this day, it’s the only midsize luxury sport sedan available with a manual transmission — but It also has a sober side, a grown-up charisma.  

Since the 2010 debut of the sixth-generation 5 Series, BMW has been nudging the 5 along the latter path, with a growing focus on comfort, economy and utility.

For 2014, navigation and xenon adaptive headlights are standard across the line. Two new options packages enable buyers to put a personal stamp on their 5s, and a six-cylinder turbo-diesel powerplant comes aboard.

On the outside, there are modest sheet metal updates. Inside, storage compartments and cup holders boast increased capacity. Noise-reduction measures cut cabin noise to its lowest levels ever. 

Four-door 5 Series variants range from the 241-hp 528i ($50,425, including delivery) to the 443-hp 550i Gran Turismo ($68,825), a sedan/crossover hybrid with elevated ride height, a huge rear seat and a two-mode hatchback. 

Engine choices include turbocharged four-, six- and eight-cylinder gasoline variants, the new turbodiesel and a gas-electric hybrid. All 5 Series sedans are available in rear-drive or all-wheel-drive configurations.

Coupes and convertibles now fly under the new 6 Series banner.

We tested the 535d ($57,525). Its 3.0-liter diesel inline-6 engine makes 255 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque and is paired with an eight-speed automatic. It’s quick — 0-60 in 5.8 seconds — and thrifty. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 30 mpg combined (26/38) with RWD and 30 combined (26/37) with AWD.

The diesel’s performance is nearly identical to that of the six-cylinder, 302-hp 535i ($56,025), which sprints from zero to 60 in 5.9 seconds. Rear-drive models are rated at 24 mpg combined (20/30), with the automatic, and 23 combined (20/30), with the manual (the 535i is the only trim on which the stick can be had). The AWD 535i is automatic-only and achieves 23 combined (20/29).

The eight-speed gearbox works wonders with the torque-rich diesel. Shifts are smooth and quick and land the engine in the heart of its sweet spot. There’s abundant acceleration for passing situations and freeway on-ramps.

BMW's Driving Dynamics Control system is standard on the 5. It allows owners to customize engine, steering and transmission responses. Though BMW has blunted those responses to accommodate a broad range of tastes, the 5’s capabilities easily surpass those of all but an elite handful of drivers.

It’s a car to grow into, not one to grow out of.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.

2014 BMW 535d
Vehicle base price: $45,540
Trim level base price: $56,500
As tested: $66,425
Options included M Sport appearance package; adaptive LED headlights; automatic high beams; keyless entry and ignition; multi-contour seats; sport automatic transmission.
EPA ratings: 26 city/38 highway/30 combined
Low-sulfur diesel required 

CTS: Caddy alive!

Now that it has picked a fight with BMW, Cadillac has to put up or shut up.

As a taxpaying GM shareholder, I’m pleased to report it’s putting up.

Cadillac recently debuted the third-generation of its CTS midsize luxury sport sedan. It debuted in 2002 as a BMW fighter and has been in a state of evolution ever since.

The 2014 CTS ($46,025, including destination) is new from the ground up and presents the most convincing evidence yet that Cadillac is prepared to back up its bluster. The CTS is larger than its predecessor, or about the same size as BMW’s 5 Series. Its cabin grows in refinement and its infotainment and safety systems are more capable. A new platform and longer wheelbase boost ride and handling.   

Two new engine choices — one thrifty, the other sporty — expand the CTS’s mission.

On the outside, Cadillac’s edgy Art & Science design language softens into a more organic — though no less bold — state. The CTS is longer by four inches and slightly shorter and wider. The grille, with the familiar Caddy crest front and center, is flanked by projection headlights, LED running lights and a pair of massive lower-grille intakes.

Counterintuitively, the new midsize rides on a platform developed for the compact ATS. It’s stiff and strong and is 200 pounds lighter than the one it replaces. 

I haven’t tested the CTS’s base suspension, but by all accounts it’s a good one. The CTS is balanced, with 50 percent of its weight up front and 50 percent in back. Its steering is quick, accurate and communicative. Unwanted body motions are well modulated.

My test car added the available Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) system. MRC is a remarkable suspension damping system that produces an ideal — almost unreal — blend of ride comfort and tire grip.
 
The new base engine is a 220-hp turbocharged four (20 city/30 highway) that’s mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Also new is a twin-turbocharged six that makes 420 hp and powers a new Vsport trim (17/25), which will compete with BMW’s 550i.  

They flank the 321-hp 3.6-liter V-6 (18/29) that carries over from last year.

A new eight-speed automatic transmission is tuned to make aggressive shifts under acceleration but in normal conditions seeks the most efficient — i.e., fuel-sipping — gear.    
All trims but the rear-drive Vsport are available in FWD and AWD configurations. 
 
Inside, all but the base trim are finished in leather. Other materials — the wood, carbon fiber and aluminum — are the genuine item. Premium, hand-sewn, semi-aniline leather seating is available.

Despite its outward growth, the CTS’s interior dimensions remain largely unchanged. Tall passengers may run short on rear-seat legroom; otherwise the cabin is comfy for four.  

Cadillac’s CUE (Cadillac User Experience) solidifies my distaste for touchscreen-based navigation and infotainment systems. CUE’s capabilities are vast but in operation it’s clumsy and distracting. 

For Cadillac, success doesn’t hinge on outselling BMW. It’s almost enough to be considered worthy competition, and you’ll get no argument from here on that score.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.

2014 Cadillac CTS Premium Collection
Vehicle base price: $45,100
Trim level base price: $64,500
As tested: $67,170
Optional equipment on our up-level Premium Collection tester included Black Diamond tricoat paint and 18-inch polished aluminum wheels.
EPA ratings: 18 city/29 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Acura TL: Out of the shadows

 
Obscured in the shadows cast by showier models, Acura’s midsize TL doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
 
Call it a very good outlier in the near-luxury sport-sedan segment, where BMW’s 3 Series rules. 
 
Two things set the TL apart from its rivals — its front-wheel-drive architecture (AWD is available, and more about that in a moment) and Acura’s commitment to six-cylinder engines.
 
Enthusiasts prefer the rear-drive for its superior driving dynamics. Here in the North, though, front-wheel-drive have obvious advantages. Regarding the cylinder count, Acura’s been right all along; the V-8 is disappearing before our eyes.
 
As it happens, the TL is in the final year of its current life span. You can tell because there’s a new, 2013 Special Edition (SE) trim.
 
Automakers often use special editions to shine one last light on a car before moving on to next year’s model. Special editions juice last-year sales by bundling desirable options into value-priced packages.
 
The TL’s SE package comprises a modest collection of convenience and cosmetic add-ons — keyless access and pushbutton start; a color-matched deck lid spoiler; 10-spoke, 18-inch alloy wheels; the requisite trunk-mounted badging.
 
It amounts to $3,000 worth of premiums for a $1,500 bump, says Acura.
 
It’s worth noting that the base TL ($36,030, including destination) comes standard with power everything, a brilliant audio system, Bluetooth connectivity and — perhaps my favorite feature — world-class xenon high-intensity discharge headlights.
 
They light up my driveway like the deck of an aircraft carrier. 
 
Also standard in the TL quiver is a handsome, well-appointed cabin suitable for four full-size adults, a sport-tuned suspension and one of the most accurate and communicative electrically assisted steering systems in the business.
 
The TL is, as they say, a “driver’s car.” The suspension is tuned to reduce body roll in the corners, but is compliant enough to smooth out potholes. Sport seats cradle passengers’ backsides, holding them tight when the going gets rambunctious.
 
The SE package is only available on FWD TLs. If you want AWD, you’ll need to fork over another $3,550 for the TL SH/AWD. 
 
Acura’s Super-handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH/AWD) system popularized torque vectoring in the States. Without getting into the weeds, I’ll just say it’s the most surefooted system I’ve driven this side of a Porsche Carrera 4.
 
A 280-horsepower V-6 powers FWD TLs. It’s mated with a 6-speed automatic transmission, which can be optioned with steering-wheel paddle shifters. AWD trims get a 305-hp 3.7-liter V-6 that can be had with the automatic or a no-cost optional 6-speed manual.
 
Eight cylinders be damned. The engines are quiet, smooth and strong enough to satisfy any sensible person. The transmissions work with the usual Acura efficiency.   
 
All TLs are eligible for two options packages. TheTechnology package adds handsfree keyless entry, perforated leather, navigation with real-time traffic and weather, rearview camera and 10-speaker surround sound audio. The Advance package adds heated and ventilated front seats and a blind spot monitoring system.
 
With or without AWD, Acura’s TL is a legitimate near-luxury, sport-sedan contender. It deserves all the attention it gets. 
 
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.
 
2013 Acura TL SE
Vehicle base price: $35,905
Trim level base price: $37,405
As tested: $38,300
Optional equipment: The TL SE is a self-contained package; the test vehicle included no optional equipment.
EPA ratings: 20 city/29 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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