Monday, March 21, 2011

BMW M3 GTS 2011 - First Drive Review

With the launch of the E92 BMW M3 now almost three years behind us, we’ve resorted to testing tuner and racing versions of the car for our M3 fix. Thankfully, BMW is introducing a lighter, more powerful version for 2011, so we had an excuse once again to slide behind the wheel. Awesome side note: BMW M GmbH chief Kay Segler says the internal code name for the M3 GTS was J├Ągermeister, a reference to the famous German digestif and frat fuel with a history of sponsoring motorsports.

Segler and crew came about the weight loss the easy way: They removed stuff. There are no rear seats, the center console and the door trim have shed a few pounds, and even air conditioning is optional. The back window and the rear side glass have been replaced with polycarbonate (the front windows and the windshield remain glass). The M3's audio system was discarded, and so was a lot of sound insulation. The only music comes from the ultralight titanium exhaust system.

Weight loss is less than what we had expected—just over 100 pounds. Considering that’s partly because the standard roll bar and the fire extinguisher eat up some of the savings, though, we’re okay with it. Although three-point seatbelts come installed in the car, six-point harnesses are included as well.

Power rises from 414 hp to 444, arriving at the same 8300 rpm as in the regular M3. Maximum torque rises from 295 lb-ft at 3900 rpm to 325 lb-ft at 3750 rpm. It wasn’t easy, though: M had to bore the engine from 4.0 to 4.4 liters, a lot of effort to gain 30 hp and 30 lb-ft.


VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door coupe


ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 32-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection

Displacement: 266 cu in, 4361 cc
Power (SAE net): 444 bhp @ 8300 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 325 lb-ft @ 3750 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual

Wheelbase: 108.7 in Length: 182.9 in
Width: 71.0 in Height: 54.6 in
Curb weight (mfr’s est): 3550 lb

Zero to 60 mph: 3.7 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 12.0 sec

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lexus CT 200h 2011

Lexus Gets Young, Fun and Green
The 2011 Lexus CT 200h at a press event held in Delray Beach, Florida, a town that's the less exclusive neighbor to Boca Raton, that famously moneyed Florida retirement enclave. It's a fitting location, given that the CT 200h aims to be the affordable player in the Lexus lineup. With a sub-$30,000 price (the least expensive in the Lexus family) and frugal fuel efficiency, the CT 200h stands poised to beckon fresh blood to the brand's silver-haired customer base.

Lexus executives firmly refer to the CT 200h as a five-door compact, but as we take our first look at the car in the bright Florida sun, its sheet metal tells a humbler story. This is a hatchback, no two ways about it, a car meant to occupy the space in your imagination between a Mazda 3 five-door and an Audi A4 Avant.

It's also a hybrid, the fifth in the Lexus family, with the same powertrain as the Toyota Prius. As we'd expected, this translates into fuel economy that's the best in the premium compact segment, but what we didn't expect is how much fun the CT 200h is to drive. Though it's no overachiever in straight-line acceleration, this Lexus feels tightly buttoned up, with sharp, responsive steering. Hybrids aren't usually this entertaining, least of all those that share parts with a Prius.

Thin but diverse, the herd of premium compacts includes the lively BMW 1 Series, the handsome Volvo C30 and the luxurious, eco-minded Audi A3 TDI. Less pricey than most of its rivals and more frugal at the pump than all, the Lexus CT 200h distinguishes itself as a value-oriented luxury car that just happens to be a hybrid.

Who should consider this vehicle
The 2011 Lexus CT 200h is a good pick for shoppers who want Lexus prestige without sticker shock and steep fuel bills. It's also a solid bet for those in search of a less ubiquitous, more high-end alternative to the frugal Prius.

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