After three days, the grin factor is as high as ever. And the Piaggio MP3 500ie is not just entertaining, it's also commendably useful and fuel-efficient. When the fuel gauge dropped to the top of the red reserve zone, I pumped in 10 bucks worth of premium unleaded. It only took seven and change. Eyeball estimate is between 55 and 60 miles per gallon. With a 3.2-gallon fuel tank, that's 150-plus miles between fill-ups, and, unlike many motorcycles, the tank opening takes the antivapor sheath of a California gas pump hose without any hassle.
If the 55-to-60 … Read more
As I was moving the car out of the driveway to get easier access to my motorcycle, my neighbor came up to me and said "I saw you come in on a really weird motorcycle thing yesterday and what is it?"
Never one to pass up an opportunity, I replied in my best B-movie space alien voice, "It is an alien space vehicle."
"Oh. I thought so."
Well, actually, it's a Piaggio MP3 500. Piaggio, perhaps better known as the manufacturer of Vespa scooters and owner of Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, Gilera, and other brands, calls it a "maxi-scooter", and the MP3 series is unlike anything else except the closely related Gilera Fuoco, at least on this planet. The "3" comes not from any music formatting, but from three wheels. The rear wheel is conventional, if larger than the old-school scooter norm. The usual single front wheel is replaced by two, placed close together, and connected by a patented parallelogram multilink suspension system that ensures they turn and bank together. The front wheels can be locked by an electro-hydraulic mechanism so that the MP3 stays upright when stopped, with no need for the rider to put their feet on the ground. That locking system, and a parking brake, means that the center stand doesn't normally need to be used.
At $8,899, the MP3 500 is as expensive as many motorcycles.
Since its introduction for model year 2003, the Mini Cooper has been one of the best bang-for-the-buck deals on four wheels. When the second generation of new Mini debuted last year, with the original naturally-aspirated or supercharged engines (Brazilian products of a joint venture between Mini parent BMW and Chrysler) replaced by much-improved naturally-aspirated or turbocharged engines developed in a joint venture with PSA Peugeot-Citroen), the bar was raised. The 115 naturally-aspirated or 163 forced-induction horsepower increased to 118hp or 172. More importantly, the driving characteristics, especially of the turbo, improved. The supercharged engine produced most of its power high in the rev band; the turbo does its work from nearly any engine speed with minimal lag.
And now Mini has improved on that. Enter the John Cooper Works version of the Cooper S. offered in both hardtop and Clubman body styles. Mini recently brought the previously separate John Cooper Works in house, much in the manner of BMW's M (for Motorsport) division. For about a $6,600 price premium, the JCW gets suspension, brake, wheel and tire, and interior upgrades over the standard Mini Cooper S. More immediately noticeable when driving are internal modifications to its 1.6-liter twincam direct-injection turbo engine that increase power to 208 hp (at 6,000rpm), with 192 pound-feet of torque available from 1,850rpm through 5,600rpm. If that isn't quite enough, a little extra overboost is allowed for short periods of time, bringing torque up to 207 pound-feet.
Which can be noticeable through the steering wheel, especially with the "Sport" button on. That remaps the electronically-controlled throttle and electrically-assisted power steering for more sensitive throttle response and quicker steering. Which will get you into overboost mode quite easily. Judicious throttle application is a necessity, and even then there is no doubt that the car has front-wheel drive and plenty of torque going through those wheels. Yee hah! It's not necessarily the best introduction to high-performance front-wheel drive for someone who never has experienced it, if any such persons are left at this time.
We got our hands on the Lincoln MKS, a new model featuring the best cabin tech available. The navigation system doesn't just tell you how to get places; it also tells you how to find the cheapest gas, when movies are playing, and the weather conditions for cities all over the U.S. The MKS' Sync system offers the best voice command and device integration available, letting you hook up iPods and other MP3 players and ask for music by artist and album name. Music is played through a THX sound system, the best value in high-end car audio. … Read more
Chrysler surprised everyone with the announcement of three electric vehicle concepts. The company showed working versions of the all-electric Dodge EV sports car, plus a range-extended Chrysler minivan and Jeep Wrangler. The two range-extended models use powertrains similar to that found in the Chevy Volt, an electric motor and batteries to run the car, and an onboard gas engine generating electricity to extend the range.
Let's say you're a powerful dictator dignitary of a nation in turmoil. You obviously want to ride in style, and you probably won't be driving yourself around; but security is paramount, being a dictator dignitary and all, and you may occasionally find yourself the target of assassination attempts. So what's an iron-fisted ruler to drive? Well Mercedes-Benz may have the answer for you with the company's newly unveiled S600 Pullman Guard limousine.
The S600 Pullman is the latest in Mercedes' 80-year tradition of armored vehicles and is essentially a stretched wheelbase version of the of … Read more
On the heels of this year's Audi A4 redesign comes the new S4, which Audi announced will appear at the 2008 Paris Motor Show. The 2006 Audi S4, the sport version of the A4, impressed us enough in 2005 to clinch an Editors' Choice. This new version, a 2010 model, shows some radical changes. Where the 2006 model had a 4.2-liter V-8 engine, the new model drops displacement, going down to a 3-liter V-6; but this V-6 is fitted with an intercooled supercharger, which, along with Audi's direct injection technology, pumps up the horsepower to 333. Audi'… Read more
Pontiac Manager of Communications, Jim Hopson confirmed, on the GM Fastlane Blog, that Pontiac would be selling the G3 in the U.S. General Motors must have something of a penchant for cannibalizing their own sales, because the G3 is obviously just a rebadged Chevrolet Aveo5, the cheapest least expensive new car in America.
When challenged on about the matter of the econobox G3 not fitting into Pontiac's claim of building exciting vehicles, Hopson states, "True, it's not a RWD V8, but that's why the G8 is sitting in the same showroom." What he fails … Read more
If you think diesels are slow, noisy, and smelly, or that they're only for trucks, trains, and ships, think again. Or better yet, wake up and join the 21st century.
Volkswagen's 2009 Jetta TDI, available now, is the first clean-diesel vehicle to be offered in all 50 states. To underscore that, VW introduced it to the automotive press in Santa Monica, Calif., with a drive route that included the Pacific Coast Highway, some of SoCal's finest canyon roads, and even a little freeway driving.
As Norbert Krause, director of VW's Environmental Engineering Office, put it so aptly in his part of the morning presentation, "this is not your grandfather's diesel." I got into one of the few stick shift examples in the morning, and twisted the key. No clatter, no smoke, very little noise. A little diesel sound from outside, but luxury car quiet from inside the cabin. An auspicious beginning.
Light clutch, good shift linkage, slip it in gear, and get on the road. Doesn't sound like a diesel. And acceleration is just fine, thank you, with strong torque from about 1,800rpm. Playing a bit with different gears, the engine's sweet spot seems to be around 3,000rpm, and it pulls, strongly, to about 4,500rpm, at which point power drops enough to discourage acquaintance with the rev limiter. According to the specifications, the car has 140 horsepower at 4,000rpm, with 236 foot-pounds of torque from 1,750rpm through 2,500rpm. … Read more