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2016 Lexus GS-F – A Velvet Wrapped Sledge Hammer

2016 Lexus GS-F – A Velvet Wrapped Sledge Hammer

The 2017 GS-F is the most powerful sedan Lexus has ever built. It’s longer, wider and lower than the standard GS. The 467 horsepower dual overhead cam 5.0 liter V8 launches the car from zero to 60 in four and a half seconds. All that power is sent to the back wheels through a torque vectoring differential that’s standard equipment. This trick differential dynamically varies the level of torque delivered to either rear wheel. It has fifteen inch front brake rotors that spin between six piston Brembo calipers that drag this two ton four door from 70 to zero in 160 feet. All this, and four swinging doors. Welcome to Lexus’ attempt at carving out its own slice of the performance sedan market.

Inside, carbon fiber trim abounds. Our press car was trimmed in the conservative gray and black color scheme. The racy high-bolstered seats don’t look all that comfortable, in truth, they are. Everywhere you look in the cabin the fitment and quality is excellent. The tach is front and center in the digital gauge cluster. Above the requisite luxury car analog clock, there’s an infotainment screen that’s over a foot wide. Our press car was fitted with the Mark Levinson audio system, which means there are 17 speakers stuffed into this car. All the amenities one comes to expect in a luxury car are present, radar cruise, rain sensing wipers, blind spot monitoring and a bevy of other features.

There’s plenty of leg room for passengers in the back seats. Leather, suede, and carbon fiber are all neatly integrated into a clever interior design. And it all feels good, well, almost all of it. For whatever reason, someone at Lexus decided to use Alcantara here and there, namely on the door panel which you grab it every time you shut the door. For those not in the know, Alcantara is fancy for pleather. It’s ok to look at, but has a distinctly synthetic and thin feel. It feels out of place in a high-endinterior.

This is like ascending Everest, and then ten feet from the summit saying, “well, that’s good enough” and hiking back down. This car is beautifully designed and built, but using a cheap material in a place where it often falls under the hand seems like they stopped short. That, and the absurd navigation interface is useless while driving, but I’ve gone on ad nauseum about that in other reviews. However, it’s easy to forgive the these quibbles the first time you climb in, hit the starter button and hear the low, guttural report from the exhaust tips.

On everything but very smooth roads, the ride is rougher than is really comfortable. This is in part to sporty suspension. The chassis on this car also feels very stiff. Lots of car writers talk about a stiff chassis feel, but what does that mean? It’s something that can be sensed. There’s a loaded feel to the car, as if it’s under tension. It’s not a lightweight feel like a sports car, nor is it a heavy battleship feel. It’s substance without mass. On the highway the car is quiet and refined.

The engine has four power modes, Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport plus. Twist the big knob on the console two clicks to the right and gauge cluster transforms as you engage sport plus. Drop the pedal and the big V8 snorts and the car leaps forward. Acceleration comes on smoothly. It’s not abrupt like a ‘Vette, but it’s no slouch either. Lexus engineers had the foresight to know that owners would want the option to completely disable the traction control and vehicle stability. You know, in case you want to do something as uncouth as sliding around corners is a flourish of smoke and noise. It’s highly undignified but entirely within the capabilities of this powerful sedan. The excellent throttle response allows for precise control and the high tech differential keeps things from going too wayward.

From the outside the car looks good. Yes, it has that crazy Lexus grille. But the wide, triple-beam LED headlights do a good job of drawing the eye out toward the fenders, giving the front of this car a wide and aggressive aesthetic. From the side the car looks long but not out of proportion. The fender vents on a four door seem a little shouty, but that’s kind of the point of the F type cars. It’s luxury with an edge. The 19” forged alloy wheels, some of the best looking I’ve seen from any manufacturer, allow a peek at those big brakes. If the bright orange caliper paint seems a little over the top don’t fret, owners can opt out. The carbon fiber spoiler and diagonally stacked exhaust outlets make this car look as good going as it does coming. There’s a grace and economy in the body lines. The result is something effective and uncluttered.  It is not just gorgeous for a four door, it’s a great looking car, no qualifiers needed.

On paper, the GS-F doesn’t stack up against some cars in its class. They may cost less, have more power, or get to 60 quicker. But when you drive this car all the things that can’t be described in numerically make this car a stand out. This car is about sensation, it’s about owning one car that can haul the kids and haul some ass.  Sure it has a few shortcomings, but these are very few, and the rest is good enough to look past them. This car is a balance between raw and refined, and it is hands down the best Lexus I have ever driven.

2016 Mazda Miata – Less Cute, in a Good Way

2016 Mazda Miata – Less Cute, in a Good Way

25 years ago Mazda decided to create their rendition of a classic sports car in the vein of the old MGs and Triumphs.  Plunk down a plucky little four cylinder up front that sends power to the rear wheels through a manual shift gearbox.  Japanese engineering and reliability blended with the original drop top fun of the early English cars, turned out to be the perfect recipe for the world’s best-selling sports car. So, how good is the car after a quarter century?

It’s fantastic. While most cars in the American market are gaining size and weight relative to their previous iterations, we’re looking at you GMC Canyon, the MX-5 actually got smaller. How does a small car get smaller? Well, it’s a half inch lower and the wheel base is about half an inch shorter. That’s right the 17 inch alloy BBS front wheels are actually a little bit closer to the rears.

The most notable difference with the new MX-5 is the face lift. The happy little headlights and the cutesy rounded off corners that defined previous generations are gone. In their stead reside aggressive, catlike headlights that have a malicious look to them. It’s almost like they’re gunning for all those bright eyed Miatas of old, with their Mickey-Mouse styling. The grill is set in a happy sneer and gives the front of the car a slightly demented aspect, in a good way. The fenders and quarter panels flare out over the wheels, and there are hard lines and creases where there once was a smooth, slightly bulgy body. The back of the car is a little less inspiring but it looks good.

Inside the amenities are sparse. So spare in fact, that in an effort to fill space on the window sticker, Mazda listed two passenger seating. Is this a selling point? The trunk space, while laughably small, is big enough for a couple arm loads of groceries. Luckily the space is not invaded by the manual convertible top. The top is a snap to put up and down. If you’re looking for a spare tire you won’t find one. In a move to save weight, and probably money too, Mazda equipped this car with a “good luck buddy” kit that includes an air pump and a bottle of goop. There are little signs of cost cutting sprinkled through the interior, the sun visors for example feel a little flimsy, but overall the leather accents and thoughtful arrangement come together to create a space that feels good to sit in. There’s not a lot of space but that’s to be expected from a car this size.

Our car featured the Bose nine speaker sound system controlled by an intuitive system of shortcut buttons and rotating joystick mounted on the console. The leather wrapped wheel has a tidy array of driver controls for the stereo, Bluetooth and cruise control, all of which fall naturally under the thumb. The tachometer is front and center so it’s easy to keep an eye on the revs. In typical Mazda fashion, the seven inch touch screen looks a bit like an add-on, but it really doesn’t distract drivers from what this car is really about. It’s about the drive.

Miata fan-boys need not worry. All the power, braking and wonderful cornering prowess is still present. It’s just wrapped up in a more serious looking body. Getting into a car this low is a practice in faith. You open the door, turn around, and trust fall into the driver’s seat. Once there, the prominent bolsters give you a gently reassuring hug from behind. Punch in the clutch, hit the starter button, and the 2.0 liter DOHC four cylinder heart beats to life with a low growl. The shifter is a little leather wrapped ball that fits nicely in the palm. It stirs the gears through a tight little pattern. There’s not much in the way of sound deadening in this car, so interstate speeds are noisy even with the top up. The car is light and nimble with just a bit of body roll around the corners. It seemingly whispers, “of course you can go faster around that curve.” It’s a car that inspires drivers to commit automotive mischief. Second gear scratches are second nature to this spritely little sports car. It’s in its element with the top down on a windy road around sundown.

Like the Miatas before it, this car is built for fun. Depending on your priorities this may not be the daily driver for you. If your intention is to carry more than one other person without making multiple trips, that sort of rules this one out. However, if you’re in the market for a hysterically fun commuter or weekend ride that will leave your face sore from smiling, look no further than the 2016 MX-5 Miata.