The American Sedan Is Dying. Long Live the SUV

With lucrative sport utility vehicle and truck sales on the ascent, Detroit automakers are racing to ditch slow-selling cars in favor of the big rigs that mint them money.

Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne started it off by killing the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 to reorient Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV around Jeep SUVs and Ram pickups. The profit boom that’s followed has emboldened Detroit’s other CEOs to consider snuffing out sedans such as the Ford Fusion and Chevrolet Impala.

“The industry thought Sergio was a mad man when he did that, and now he looks like a genius,” said Jeff Schuster, an analyst with LMC Automotive. “He paved the way for everyone. Now, with the Detroit brands, virtually every car is under review.”

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The Le Mans-Winning Chevrolets: Corvette C1 Coupe and C6.R

For the first Made to Drive installment in 2018, we got back together with our good friend and all-around good guy Bruce Meyer and a pair of American heroes from his impressive collection. We met up with him and his ‘Vettes at Thermal Club for some track time in these iconic endurance racers—specifically, the Briggs-Cunningham-prepared C1 that brought the Corvette name to Le Mans for the first time in 1960, along with the indomitable force of red-blooded horsepower that won its class in 2009, known simply as the C6.R.

The duo is the perhaps the perfect summation of Bruce’s collection, which features a number of noteworthy American hot rods alongside Le Mans champions like the 1979-race-winning Porsche 935. The Corvettes he brought out for our cameras occupy both of those worlds, and as he puts it, “I’ve always been a hot-rodder, a bit of a patriot and I love to see the American dominance in sports, and in motorsports. I love the American effort at Le Mans, and I decided to go see if I could find one of the original Le Mans Corvettes. So my first entry was with the C1 Corvette, and this was the very first Corvette to ever run Le Mans.”

“This car has an extraordinary race record. Never having been destroyed, and having won an incredible number of races. In its career, it raced 15 races, and of those 15 it finished 1st in 10 of them, and when it didn’t finish first, in four of them it finished 2nd, and one time it DNF’d. So it’s come through unscathed, and as you see it today, is exactly how it finished Le Mans in 2009.”

In other words, it has the bite to back up the bark. And it certainly barks: “If you’re not prepared when they turn that car on, you know it’s gonna give someone a heart attack. It’s 7 liters of just ‘let me go’ racing horsepower.”

WATCH: Tesla Roadster’s acceleration is like nothing you’ve ever seen

A short while back Elon Musk announced the introduction of a surprise model in Tesla’s line up, the Roadster. Yes it comes at an opportune moment in trying to divert attention from the woeful production delay surrounding the Model 3 (the company expected to have rolled 1,500 off the line by now but only 260 have actually materialised). But let’s take nothing away from the Roadster as a pure exercise in what electric vehicles can achieve.

So, the stats then. The Roadster will go from 0-60 mph (96.5 km/h) in 1.9 seconds making it the first car to accelerate to this speed in under two seconds. It doesn’t stop there either. 0-160 km/h will take just 4.1 seconds and it’ll cover a quarter mile in 8.9 seconds. Provisionally the top speed has been set at 400 km/h.

Being an electric vehicle the question of range is always a big one. With near 1,000 km available on a single charge, thanks to its 200 kWh battery, it’s safe to say the Roadster is as complete as a performance oriented electric car one can get.

Those are all just numbers on a page though. Until you’ve seen this video below it’s very difficult to quantify just how electric (see what I did there) the Roaster’s performance really is. It’s mind bending stuff.

I’ll leave you with a final thought from Mr Musk alluding to the belief that the Roadster is capable of even more…

1990 Volkswagen Mk2 GTI: The People’s Sports Car

There are few cars that reach the status of “legendary” without some kind of claim on an extreme—performance, looks, whatever it may be. The majority of the world’s most revered and coveted automobiles are viewed as such because of their capabilities, their striking aesthetics, or the marriage of the two. Whether it set a new performance benchmark, was the first to incorporate or perfect a new technological feat, or its design redefined what it meant to be radical or beautiful, the list of legends is mostly populated by unobtainable machines. But not entirely so.

There are a few outliers that manage to become pop culture favorites despite not appearing all that incredible on the surface. Perhaps no other car embodies this theory better than the Golf GTI. It’s a seemingly ordinary car that’s genuinely far greater than the sum of its components, and what the GTI might lack in visual braggadocio compared to other ’80s icons, it more than makes up for in useable real world performance and functionality. While many have followed in its footsteps, the Golf GTI is the hot hatch that not only rewrote what an economy hatchback could turn into, it led the way into that new market and hasn’t left the top of the pile yet.

Andrew Tucker, the owner of this 1990 Volkswagen Golf GTI, knows a thing or two about the “People’s Hatchback.” Andrew fondly recalls riding in the back of his father’s GTI as an impressionable youngster gearhead; “It harkens back to my childhood, but it’s also a very usable car,” adding that, “It’s not perfect, but it’s perfectly usable, and I think that’s what I love about these cars most of all.”

Naturally, after spending so much time in his father’s Volkswagens over the years, it was only fitting that Andrew’s first car would be a Golf—a Mk2 to be exact. Unfortunately, his first GTI fell victim to fire, deeming the car unsalvageable. No real bother though, as Andrew isn’t the kind of enthusiast to let a carbecue extinguish his passion.

However, the Golf GTI is the Civic Si of Europe in a sense, meaning that sourcing an original, unmodified, clean example is nearing impossible after decades of deprecation yielded to adolescent abominations—the kind of owners who tend to place more emphasis on questionable modifications rather than routine maintenance. But Andrew was determined to find a suitable replacement, and in 2012, after years of searching, he found a squared-away 16-valve Mk2 GTI, which you’ll find him driving through the back roads outside of Bristol, England.

“The car is completely original minus the suspension rebuild—original interior, original 15-inch BBS RA alloys, still running the original clutch, engine, and gearbox,” and aside from running a modern Eibach and Bilstein suspension setup, Andrew plans to keep it this way. “Part of the beauty of this car is that it’s been preserved, not modified,” Andrew believes it’s his duty to keep that going.

Porsche 911 Carrera T: Unfiltered Passion

Rather than a portrait of a single car, our film this week spans multiple continents and decades as we explore the legacy and evolution of the Porsche 911T. There is a clear evolution that’s taken place between the stripped-down sports car’s inception in 1968 and the latest twin-turbocharged 911 to wear the badge, but their shared philosophy is a timeless one, and the cars both stand distinctly among their respective 911 families for reasons that haven’t changed over the march of time in between.

To start with the perspective of experience, we visited our Southern Californian neighbors and internationally-renowned Porsche restoration specialists CPR Classic, to see how they celebrate both the vintage and modern era of the 911, the T model in particular.

Maserati Tipo 61 Birdcage

Join us this week for a special film as we follow along with Marino Franchitti for a track session in Nick Mason’s 1959 Maserati Tipo 61 “Birdcage.” Delicate and purposeful in single swooping package, this is the car that defines what it means to be ethereal, and it is the best looking bit of motorsport engineering to be housed in a web of chromoly steel.

The intricate but calculated tangle of tubing afforded more rigidity while also shedding some serious weight, and the Tipo 61 remains one of the most significant case studies of tube-frame construction. It was one in a series of five cars designed with this methodology by Giulio Alfieri, but it is by far the most recognizable of the lot.

1991 Acura NSX: The Multi-Tool Supercar

In this week’s film, we sit shotgun with Sean Lee for a drive around Los Angeles and its famed canyon roads in his first-generation 1991 Acura NSX. Tastefully modified with period-correct parts, this lithe streak of silver is an evolution of the stock car that was already a fantastic blend of sport and practicality, and though it isn’t factory-original, it has respectfully followed the trajectory, embodying the idea of “OEM plus.” It is, in a sense, more of an NSX than it was before; Sean has built upon the car, honing and enhancing this Honda (sorry, “Acura”) without coming at the cost of the car’s original identity.

We love thoughtfully-modified cars like this one, especially when the base is something significant. The NSX in its box-stock form has always been a car with few peers, not because it did any one thing remarkably well, but because it did everything well. It’s understandable then that it has become a car with multiple identities, depending.

On one hand, it is often part of the same import wish list as your typical JDM Skylines, Supras, and RX-7s. It is a boy-racer dream machine for some, but it also possesses a level of maturity and subtlety that’s all but absent in the cars mentioned. It is the original livable supercar after all, a mid-engined machine developed with input from Formula 1 cars and drivers—you’ve already seen the Senna video where he tests it in loafers around the Suzuka, I’m sure—that is equally happy to be cold-started on a frosty morning to do some holiday shopping. The passenger seat looks equally appropriate holding a helmet or a golden retriever.

But it was not a thing of compromise, achieving this duality of purpose. It still looks every bit as captivating and exotic as its Italian contemporaries, and it’s the common and true stereotype that it’s often mistaken for something that you’d expect to hold a V12 rather than an Accord-based V6. It does in fact have some Italian DNA mixed in with the Japanese build quality, for the NSX project was the result of Honda contracting Pininfarina to work on sports car concepts for the brand in the 1980s.

It is a car that adapts to however its owner wants to drive it. In the case of Sean Lee’s example, he enjoys it thoroughly and has clearly built it to his desired spec and look, but he also likes to share the driving experience that he’s come to love so much. He explains that unlike a fine painting or other piece of static artwork, cars like this do not leave your mind so readily once they’re out of your sight. You might remember seeing the “Mona Lisa,” sure, but actual tangible connections to objects are much more meaningful, which is why Sean is happy to give the keys to friends to take it around the block: “You’re come back and you’re gonna have a memory and a smile that you will talk about for generations and generations.”

It’s not hard to imagine why in a car like this; R-compound tires, adjustable coilovers, supreme balance, and an F-16-inspired cockpit make a compelling case for good times to be had behind the wheel. While Sean lists it as one of his favorite cars to take into the canyons for the blow-off-steam kind of driving that follows a long day at the office, he also acknowledges the fact that you can climb out after a few hours of highway driving without being reduced to an aching mess of sore butt cheeks and a swollen clutch leg.

It was ahead of its time, and in many ways it still is. You just can’t get away with offering even hardcore sports cars without satellite-linked infotainment systems anymore, and all too often people mistake those kinds of sparkly features for true comfort and usability. The NSX achieves its status not through gadgetry, but through a mechanical harmony between sport and comfort. It is a very human car in this regard, reflecting our numerous desires for driving, and it delivers so much more than a single car has any right to.

Drive Tastefully®

The 2017 Chevy Camaro ZL1 Is an Amazing Bargain For $65,000

I recently had the chance to drive a 2017 Chevy Camaro ZL1, which looks like a normal Camaro to people like my mother, but actually has the same performance as a supercar. I’m not exaggerating here. It’ll do zero-to-60 in 3.4 seconds, it’ll do nearly 200 miles per hour and it went around the Nurburgring faster than the last-generation Porsche 911 GT2 RS. Oh, yeah — and it’s 65 grand.

Sixty-five grand. Seriously. What you see above you is a Chevy Camaro that costs $65,000, which is really not all that much in the grand scheme of things. I was at my local Land Rover dealer today, and they have a Range Rover in the showroom with a sticker price of $219,000. Cars are really expensive these days. And yet, here’s Chevy, and for less than a third of that they’ll sell you a brand new Camaro with the same horsepower as a Ferrari Enzo, and the same top speed as a Lamborghini Huracan. This is mind-boggling.

And it’s not like they’re selling this car solely as an engine strapped to a body with no equipment. On the contrary, the ZL1 has a lot of cool equipment, which I’ve shown you in the video above. I don’t want to be repetitive here, but I’ll tell you about my favorite feature: valet mode. A lot of cars have a valet mode, where it limits the stereo volume and the engine speed, and maybe locks out the trunk. Well, the ZL1 has a valet mode that records the valet’s entire behavior using a built-in dash cam. I’m serious: The car has a built-in dash cam, primarily used to record your lap times. But it also automatically starts recording when you put it into valet mode, and that’s just one of the most hilarious things I’ve seen in any new car.

But beyond the equipment, you get behind the wheel in the ZL1, and it’s just a wildly exciting vehicle. Performance is extraordinary, especially in a straight line: It feels monstrously fast with endless torque, and it’s tremendously quick whether from a stop or when you’re already moving. The engine sound is wonderful, too, giving you the feeling that you’re driving an old-school muscle car — which, basically, you are.

Or, at least, you are until you start to go through the turns, because the ZL1 handles them tremendously well. Body roll is minimal, the steering feel is excellent and it’s easy to see how this car puts down such an incredible time on the Nurburgring — between the amazing steering and handling and the incredible power you’re able to put down when you’re coming out of a corner, the former old-school, cheaply-built, ancient-design muscle car champion is now world class. Really, it’s a magnificent car, and it’s probably the best American sports car on the market today … except for the Mustang.

Ahh, yes, the Mustang: The Camaro’s age-old foil, the famous other half of America’s longest-lived muscle car rivalry. I haven’t spent a lot of time in lower-level versions of the latest Mustang and Camaro, but I’ve now driven both the ZL1 and its closest track-focused Mustang rival, the Shelby GT350R — and as much as I like the ZL1, I have to say that I think the GT350R is better.

No, the Mustang isn’t as powerful (it has 526 horses to the ZL1’s 650). It’s also not as quick — and I hear it’s not as fast around a track, either. But the GT350R has a few distinct advantages — namely the fact that it’s nimbler. Here’s the best way to put it: During the few minutes I drove the ZL1, it felt like a really, really good Camaro. I spent more time in the GT350R — and it felt like a really, really good anything. It felt like it could’ve gone toe-to-toe with the best from Europe in terms of steering precision and nimble driving feel, while the Camaro is more of a brute-force assault on the road. Oh, and the GT350R sounds better.

Then again, comparing these two cars is almost hilarious, because they’re both so amazingly good. Years ago, if you were buying a Mustang or a Camaro, you were on a budget, or perhaps you were doing it because you specifically wanted something that was flag-wavingly American. Now, you can buy one of these cars and truly have among the best in the world — and regardless of whether you pick the ZL1, which is amazing, or the GT350R, which (in my mind) is slightly amazing-er, there’s little doubt you’ll be satisfied with your choice.


Mazda Live Reveal in LAAS

In front of the 2017 or 2018 Mazda CX-5, MotoMan catches up with old friend of the show, car guy extraordinaire and Mazda engineer, Dave Coleman.

Redline’s First Look:

With more muscle under the hood in the form of a 2.5 turbo engine from the 3-row CX-9, the 2018 Mazda6 looks to challenge new rivals from Honda and Toyota. A redone interior with more features and premium materials further bring the latest Mazda6 into a premium class. It should put up a good fight against the latest Accord and Camry.