A Camaro in Caprice clothing.
Photos & Words: Evan ‘Evo’ Yates
Exterior: The new Chevy SS is probably the most unassuming performance car ever with its cousin, the fourth-generation GTO coming in a close second. If you don’t know the history of the SS or Chevy in general, you’ll more than likely pass it off as a Malibu, Impala or even a Cobalt. To some, the mundane appearance could be a turn-off and doesn’t justify the price tag but the Chevy SS isn’t for the person yearning for the fanfare. However, Chevy did a respectable job in adding performance-inspired appointments with a menacing front fascia, chrome fender vents and rear deck lid spoiler. Staggered 19-inch forged aluminum wheels wrapped in high-performance Bridgestone tires are also a nice touch although I would love to see the wheels in a more aggressive shade such as gunmetal or black.
Interior: Inside the Chevy SS is a perfect mix of sport and class with racing-style seats similar to those in the new Z28 Camaro and leather and suede covering the dash and doors. The SS could easily seat four full-size adults comfortably and everything is properly laid out in the cabin. The only gripe I had with my six-speed manual model was that with drinks in the cupholders it was a little difficult to shift gears properly.
A/V: Chevy’s MyLink infotainment system with the eight-inch touch screen is a breeze to operate and the bluetooth streaming audio makes for easy connectivity with your smart phone. The heads-up display (an option I usually could care less about) was actually very helpful in a car such as this as I opted for the screen that displayed MPH and RPM which certainly aided in regulating my driving style with such a powerful vehicle.
Performance: Driving the 2015 Chevy SS is a visceral experience that will leave you grinning ear-to-ear after every romp of the gearbox. You truly feel that you’re driving a modern muscle car and forget that you’re behind the wheel of a sedan akin to a Chevy Malibu. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of driving a Camaro SS or Corvette, the feeling is virtually identical to the Chevy SS. With the 6.2L LS3 under the hood pumping out 415 horsepower and 415 ft lb of torque mated to the TREMEC TR6060 six-speed manual transmission, the SS is just plain bad ass and will plant you in your seat. The LS3 also barks out a sultry exahust note that you simply never get tired of hearing. On top of it being loads of fun, the SS is also quite streetable when you want it to be which is the brilliance of a car such as this. Yes, you can actually have the best of both worlds. And the SS isn’t just great for romping down a quarter-mile, it also handles the curves effortlessly thanks to the Magnetic Ride Control and MacPherson suspension. And to make sure you get this beast to a screeching halt, massive Brembo brakes on all four corners come standard.
Floss Factor: Unless you come across a die-hard Chevy and/or Holden fan, you won’t earn any extra props on the streets with the SS. However, knowing you have a sedan that could whip the pants off most vehicles on the road while still being able to seat multiple passengers and haul luggage should be satisfaction enough to any hardcore car guy (or gal).
Power: 415 hp/ 415 ft lb torque
0-60: 4.7 sec
Gas Cash: 17 MPG (combined)
The perfect car for the Williamsburg yupster.
Story by Will Sabel Courtney
If you needed any further proof that the days of the big-box SUV are behind us, feast your eyes on the Lexus NX 200t. When the time came to toss their hat into the booming small-yet-stylish-sport-utility-vehicle category, Lexus management apparently served their designers a big plate of ‘shrooms and told them to go buck wild.
And amazingly enough, the result came out looking pretty good. Lexus’s hourglass front grille seems just right on the NX’s face, and the creased edges Lexus’s designers favor these days look far more at home on the compact, upright NX then they do on the brand’s sedans or bulkier sport-utes. The whole look makes the NX 200t look like some sort of bionic boar. (In the best way.)
The NX 200t also marks Lexus’s first (American) use of a turbocharged motor. It was probably inevitable, given how turbo fours are in vogue these days; thankfully, the effort produced a solid performer, serving up plenty of power with minimal lag. It did deliver a surprising amount of torque steer, though—rather odd, considering the NX I drove had all-wheel-drive.
Speaking of driveline oddities—it’s time for Lexus to ditch the NX 200t’s six-speed automatic. Sure, it works fine, but seven or eight speeds have become the standard in the luxury-car classes. Six forward cogs seems dangerously outdated, especially in a brand-new car. It’s not like you don’t have an eight-speed lying around, Lexus—it’s sitting between the engine and the wheels in the RC F and the LS. Chrysler sells a $17,000 car with a nine-speed automatic. Your $35,000 one should at least try to keep up.
The shift mode controller that toggles between “Eco,” “Normal” and “Sport” mode comes in handier than most similar gizmos: Sport does a solid job of keeping the engine closer to the turbo’s boost when driving, uh, vigorously; Eco smooths out the stop-and-go traffic herky-jerky; and Normal mode works quite nicely for, y’know, normal driving. If there’s a bug in the actual driving experience, it’s the passive-aggressive e-brake, which automatically activates when the car shifts into park. Ohhhh, it looks like you forgot to turn on the parking brake…I’ll just take care of that for you.
No, NX. I just don’t want it on.
The driving experience, all told, is as unremarkable as the exterior is futuristic—which is probably just what the average NX buyer’s looking for. What he/she does want, though, is comfort and technology—and like every Lexus, the NX is jammed full of both. The interior packs the usual new-era Lexus combination of modern, slightly busy design and a complex center console stretching from the dashboard to the armrest. (The shifter is also mounted unusually high, which may give fond memories to former seventh-gen Honda Civic Si and Porsche Carrera GT owners.)
(Not that there are probably many people moving from a Carrera GT to a Lexus NX.)
The NX also comes with the latest version of the infotainment control, which involves a laptop trackpad and a crosshair cursor. It remains frustrating; luckily, there are big buttons and physical switches for most of the major functions, such as the radio and the climate control. Still, when the nicest thing you can say about an infotainment system is “you don’t have to use it too often,” it may be time to switch things up.
Odds are good NX owners will make extensive use of the trucklet’s surprisingly roomy interior, though. The acutely angled rear hatch cuts into the rear cargo bay a little harshly, but the remaining space is still more than enough to hold two couples’ bags for a week’s vacation. And both front and rear rows are roomy enough for a pair of yupsters. (Yuppie hipsters.)
And that’s just who the NX is for: yupsters. It’s perfect for stylish urbanites who want all-weather ability, empowering ride height, and a luxury nameplate, but also need something small enough to maneuver into tight parking spaces and won’t guzzle gas the way Donald Trump goes through hairspray. I’m already seeing them popping up around Brooklyn with surprising frequency. The Lexus NX, really, is a car for the Williamsburg of 2015—it’s edgy, tech-centric, pricey, and perfect for the kinds of folks who like to stay on top of the latest trends without straying too far from the mainstream.
Considering how quickly Williamsburg is growing…I can’t say Lexus has the wrong idea.
Price as Tested: 44,148
0-60: 7.2 secs. (FWD model)
Power: 235 hp, 258 lb.-ft.
Gas Cash: 22 city, 28 hwy
Miles Driven: 40
Up briefly on Chevy's website the images have since been removed ahead of the official launch.
“C” ain’t for cookie, but it’s good enough for me.
*European Model Shown*
Story By: Will Sabel Courtney
Pop quiz, hot shot: What does the “C” in C-Class stand for? If you guessed “compact,” well, you’re wrong, but you might as well be right. The C-Class serves as Mercedes-Benz’s small sedan—and from its 1993 introduction until 2013, when the CLA-Class came rolling along, it also served as Mercedes’s entry-level model in the United States.
But now that the CLA/A/GLA/B-Classes are holding down the bottom level of the Mercedes lineup, the C-Class is free to step onto higher rungs of the luxury latter. So for the all-new 2015 model, Mercedes didn’t hold back on piling on the bougie.
And as a result, the new C-Class has turned out to be one hell of a li’l luxury car.
Rolling up to my doorstep in C300 4MATIC Sport form (translated from Mercedes-ese: turbocharged four-cylinder, all-wheel-drive, sport suspension and more aggressive styling), the C-Class revealed itself to be a luxo-car jack of all trades. Stylish, but not flashy. Expensive, but not ostentatious. Sporty, but not hard-edged; comfortable, but not floaty. Quick, but not brutal. Efficient, but not pretentious. Advanced, but not futuristic.
Oh, and a little pricey. My C300 rang in at $53,720. Dat’s a lotta scratch for a compact car. Especially one without even a V6.
Of course, that’s with option after option…after option. If you can do without the self-steering radar-guided cruise control or the all-wheel-drive or the AMG sport suspension or the Burmeister sound system or the leather upholstery or any other option on the order form, you can drive out of the Mercedes-Benz dealership with a C-Class that costs less than $40,000.
But remarkably, now matter how much you spend, every C-Class comes with the same gorgeous interior that looks every bit worth a pile of five hundred Benjamins. It’s sleek beyond belief, Art Deco-meets-Bauhaus rendered in leather and aluminum and black plastic. Dressed up in two-tone leather like my tester, it looks every bit the kind of guts that reestablish Mercedes-Benz as a world standard in luxury. Audi—you’re on notice.
Even the display for the infotainment system, which looks a bit like a fungal growth in pictures, seems coherent and attractive in person—it frees up more dashboard space for controls and vents without compromising screen size, or pushing the dashboard into a convoluted, bloated shape.
The organic-looking display isn’t the only new thing about the C-Class’s infotainment setup, though. As one of M-B’s newest models, the C-Class benefits from its latest generation of electronic goodies. The latest version of COMAND comes with redundant controls - a touch-sensitive trackpad stretching out, visor-like, over the now-familiar whirly-knob. I couldn’t figure out the purpose of having both—they seemed to accomplish the exact same tasks, as far as I could tell. Maybe Mercedes is just prepping us for the removal of the COMAND knob altogether. The latest user interface for COMAND, though, is a definite improvement; crystal-clear graphics make using it a snap, and there’s plenty of negative space on the screen to keep it from being eye-catchingly distracting.
Outside, the C-Class looks every inch a Mercedes. In fact, it can be hard to tell just how many inches of Mercedes it is; spot one without other cars nearby to provide a sense of perspective, and it’s easy to mistake the C-Class for the larger S-Class. If anything, the C’s tidier proportions give it a more aggressive look than the Town Car-sized S—especially with the AMG styling package.
The AMG-branded Sport package isn’t just a bigger three-pointed star and edgier front and rear fascia, though—the brakes and suspension both score upgrades as well. The sportier suspension sets a near-perfect balance between ride comfort and handling—it’s firm and planted in the turns, but soaks up bumps and imperfections like the shock absorbers were filled with spongecake. It’d probably be too soft for the track, but exactly zero people are going to be buying C300s for track use. That’s what the new C63 AMG is for, what with its choice of twin-turbo V8s making 469 or 503 horsepower, its dual-clutch transmission, its electronic limited-slip diff and all-around erection-inducing awesomeness.
(The Sport package also includes several other cosmetic enhancements, including a really kicks flat-bottomed steering wheel. Just wanted to mention that. Hey, it’s my review, I’ll say what I want.)
That said, while there may be AMG badging on the carpets, this ain’t an AMG. Nobody’s likely to confuse the turbo four under the hood for the rip-roarin’ one Affalterbach makes for the CLA45. That said, the C300 does go harder than its base-level slot in the C-Class lineup would make you think. The engine cranks out 241 horses and 274 lb-ft., which may not sound like much in an era of 707 horsepower muscle cars, but it’s enough to punch the C300 down the road with eyebrow-elevating intensity. And it turns in surprisingly good gas mileage; my C300 turned in an indicated 30.1 mpg over 900-plus miles of NYC gridlock, backroad hustling, and 75-plus mph highway hauling.
The 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system proved itself completely unobtrusive—not surprising, considering I drove the car almost entirely in dry, summer weather. The only time it ever even manifested itself was to keep the car pointed straight during a wee bit of dirt road derbying. Still, while AWD is no excuse for snow tires in winter weather, it’s a nice perk for anyone who deals with crappy weather on a regular basis—and probably saves a few drivers’ bacon every year without them even knowing it. And since there doesn’t seem to be much of a fuel economy penalty (at least in this case), what the hell.
But if the AWD aids the car’s agility just a little bit, the C-Class’s compact dimensions help out a ton. The car feels wonderfully-sized on the road—small enough to dart and dodge through traffic, but large enough to be taken seriously by everyone else. Or maybe that’s just the Mercedes-Benz badge.
And—well, to be honest, there’s quite a bit of room inside. Certainly more than I expected, based on the car’s tidy size. Nobody’s going to confuse the C-Class for either of its big brothers in terms of interior volume, I grant you—that said, I was able to fit four adults inside pretty comfortably. It involved moving the driver’s seat closer to the wheel than I normally like it, but it wasn’t unpleasant. I know. I was shocked.
So, bottom line: The C300 is one hell of a starter luxury car. Nicely sized, good-looking inside and out, packed with technology (some you need and some you don’t, IMHO), and made by one of the best brands in the biz working at the top of their game. If you came to me and asked for a recommendation for a $50,000 car, the C-Class would be the first name out of my mouth.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go try and beg Mercedes to let me drive the C63.
Price as Tested: $53,720
0-60: 6.4 secs.
Power: 241 hp, 273 lb.-ft.
Gas Cash: 24 city, 31 hwy
Miles Driven: 900
The Nissan Maxima doesn't do “conventional."
Story By: Will Sabel Courtney
Never has, never will (unless Nissan’s product planners take a nasty wallop on the head and undergo a serious personality shift)—and the 2016 Nissan Maxima keeps that trend going. It’s a family sedan—with styling straight out of Pacific Rim! It’s a sports sedan—with front-wheel-drive and a CVT! It’s an entry-level luxury sedan—made by the same people who build the Versa!
Okay, the last one was a cheap shot. Part of the reason Nissan can get away with making such an unconventional sedan is that they already make so many other vehicles—often times doubling down in a category, with one conventional choice and one unusual one. Want a midsize SUV? There’s the manga-spec Murano or the Peoria-ready Pathfinder. Prefer a smaller SUV? There’s the regular Rogue or the jazzy Juke. And if you want a sedan that can carry four people with ease, there’s the average Altima or the madcap Maxima.
At least, that’s the way it used to be. Nowadays, the Maxima sits a good half-segment above the Altima—mostly in price and content, but slightly in size, too. Nissan claims the Acura TLX is the Maxima’s most direct competitor; the Maxima’s really more like a fun version of the Toyota Avalon, but the TLX comparison isn’t out of line. Both cars are Japanese, priced around $40,000, aimed at people who have enough money to dip their toes into the luxury car market but not necessarily bound to the conventional luxury brands. They’d happily sacrifice a fancy badge for a little more room, a little more power and a lot more style.
And style is what separates the Maxima from pretty much everything else on the market. Nissan’s designers went down to Pensacola, Florida to find inspiration from the Blue Angels’ F/A-18 fighters; apparently, the designers have never heard of Pinterest. but I digress. The 2016 Maxima may not be able to pull six G’s, but with its low-slung floating roof, wide rear haunches, and angry, air-sucking front end, it does look like it could hold its own in a dogfight with a MiG-29 for a few seconds longer than the average four-door sedan. Bottom line, you’re not gonna mistake this thing for an Accord in a parking lot.
Dive beneath the skin, and the changes are a little less comprehensive than the Blade Runner skin might suggest—but Nissan still made changed plenty. The chassis is 25 percent stiffer than the previous-gem Maxima. The engine’s output is only up a few horses, but 61 percent of the engine is new. And yeah, that engine is still connected to the front wheels through a continuously-variable transmission—but the CVT’s been reworked with a new set of shift programming designed to keep you from hating it. Feather the throttle, and it acts like any old CVT, constantly maneuvering the ratio to find the ideal level of efficiency; push the throttle more than 38 percent down (don’t ask me how Nissan chose that number), though, and it turns into a synthetic eight-speed automatic with predefined fake gears.
It seems like a gimmick, but it works like a charm. This is coming from a die-hard CVT hater, too; the Maxima’s Xtronic tranny slurs imperceptibly between ratios while loafing through city traffic, yet slams between faux gears in sporty driving as though ZF’s name were on the transmission case. It’s the first time I’ve driven a car with a CVT and not found myself wishing I could rip out the gearbox and jam something else in there.
The front-wheel-drive layout—for decades, the kiss of death for any car with performance on its mind—doesn’t hold the Maxima back, either. There’s still a dash of torque steer at the car’s limits, but it’s negligible. Credit the car’s size, perhaps, or just Nissan’s (or the automotive industry as a whole’s) advances in lassoing the torque steer bronco, but Maxima drivers no longer need to fear having the steering wheel yanked from their hands when they introduce the accelerator to the carpet.
Sports cars—whether they have two doors or four—are as much about turning as going, though. At the car’s launch, Nissan offered journalists a choice of all five trim levels (the Maxima doesn’t offer options anymore, just different trims); I responded by being That Guy and dashing over to claim the Maxima SR, the one with the sportier suspension tuning and specially-designed 19-inch tires. They’re gonna call it a four-door sports car, I’m gonna take the sportiest one.
Spoiler alert: Nobody’s going to confuse the 2016 Maxima with a 911 GT3 from behind the wheel. (Or from any other perspective, I hope.) But the SR-trimmed Maxima holds a line just fine on twisty roads, staying balanced and planted even along pavement that had my co-driver reaching for the grab handle. I didn’t have a chance to push the car beyond six-tenths—Nissan only gave us enough time to touch Westchester County before turning back for downtown Manhattan, so there wasn’t a chance to hit the really fun roads—but odds are good that’s a tenth beyond where the average Maxima driver will push his or her car.
But while the average Maximator probably won’t spend much time driving like they’re lapping the ‘Ring, they will be spending a ton of time in the driver’s seat—and Nissan’s given the car’s interior an update as dramatic as the one they applied to the outside. Two-tone upholstery (complete with contrasting Alcantara upholstery on the flat-bottomed steering wheel), contrasting stitching on the upholstery, diamond-quilted leather seats with NASA-spec memory foam inside, even an iDrive-like infotainment controller called “Display Commander” that looks straight out of a horology catalog—the 2016 Maxima’s guts are packed with standard and optional interior features that make it a comfy place to pass the miles. The entire center console is canted towards the driver (purportedly another inspiration from the designers’ day in Pensacola), and the gauge cluster comes with a tilting visor straight out of the 370Z. The whole interior comes across as a nice combination of luxury and sportiness—pretty much what you’d expect from the Maxima.
Obviously, your features may vary, depending on which level of Maxima you choose. Even the basic S-level Maxima (starting at $32,410, tell your friends!) comes with navigation and keyless push-button start; the next-step SV adds on sonar and leather seats; then the SL adds a Bose stereo, smart cruise control (and a suite of assorted safety nannies), and a dual-pane moonroof. From there, the Maxima hierarchy splits; the SR adds on the aforementioned sport suspension and tires, along with a bougie interior, paddle shifters and a dynamics-control system for switching between shift modes and the like, while the top-trim Platinum forsakes the sporty stuff for a 360-degree camera system and powered memory seats, steering wheel, and mirrors.
For what it’s worth, I’m glad I grabbed the SR. And if you’re thinking about a Maxima, I suggest you do the same.
Price as Tested: $38,495
0-60: Pretty zippy
Power: 300hp, 261 lb-ft
Gas Cash: 22 city, 30 hwy
Miles Driven: 40