Cars

The latest automotive trends, road cars, concept cars, and manufacturer news.

Noel Gallagher’s ‘Chasing Yesterday’ Is The Perfect Driving Album

‘Chasing Yesterday’ released in February of 2015 and is quietly one of the greatest driving albums of all time.

The roar of a V8 or the hiss of a turbo may be all the petrolhead needs for a Saturday morning thrash around the bends, but on the daily commute or a long road trip, the stereo makes its case. This is where former Oasis guitarist/singer/songwriter, Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds take the stage.

‘Chasing Yesterday’ is a blend of terrace rock riffs, blues and jazz that sets the canvas for the perfect drive. Here are some of the album’s highlights:

Riverman

The album’s opening and arguable best track, ‘Riverman’ plays like a road movie. The kind of song that comes on past midnight when you’re the only car on the road. The engine hums in the background, crisp night air wafts through a cracked window as the chorus fades into a haunting guitar solo that elicits the blues and purples of lights in the distance. It’s a song that lets our minds wonder and replay old memories of love lost in a journey down the open road.

Lock All The Doors

‘Lock All The Doors’ is the speed freak,  a song for the kind of hard hitting drive that makes your hair stand on end as your adrenaline takes you to a primeval place that every racing yearns for. It’s Senna at Jerez, the delicate dance between total control and chaos.

Do The Damage

Everyone has that one perfect road – it’s quiet, the bends are plenty and it confirms exactly while we all love driving. ‘Do The Damage’ is the song for that perfect road, the soundtrack for chasing every apex, the perfect heel-toe downshift and the welcome backfire from the exhaust. It fuels an excitement that causes us to shout from behind the wheel in pure driving bliss.

You Know We Can’t Go Back

In California we have the Pacific Coast Highway, an epic piece of tarmac the follows 655 miles of coastline. It captures that out of body experience when we become the stars of our own films, the wind tussling our hair as the warm sun begins to set behind the Pacific horizon.

Ballad Of The Mighty I

‘Ballad Of The Mighty I’ is the grand finale and it begins to play as your reach your final destination. There’s something beautifully somber in this song about a person on the hunt, perhaps it’s a metaphor for every petrolhead seeking that car that got under their skin. The echoing reverb of Johnny Marr’s guitar solo sets the table for the final verse, just as you ease off the accelerator, flick the indicator and coast down the exit ramp.

As far as I know, Noel Gallagher isn’t a petrolhead but his music certainly provides a compelling soundtrack for us all.

Video credit: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

Japan’s Automotive Identity Crisis

List five sports or performance cars under $50,000 that the Japanese automotive industry is producing right now. I’ll get things started:

  1. Honda Civic Type R
  2. Mazda MX-5 (Miata)
  3. Toyota 86 (FR-S)/Subaru BRZ
  4. Subaru STI
  5. ???

What else? Anything besides the 370Z which I’ve intentionally not mentioned because no one bought one. Don’t be fooled by unattainable halo cars priced to compete with Ferraris or wishful thinking concepts that will never see a production line – the Japanese automotive industry is in the middle of an identity crisis.

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Tokyo Auto Salon continues to be one of the most important motor shows in the world and the 2016 edition just wrapped up last month. It was an interesting glimpse into not only Japan’s aftermarket industry but the country’s automotive industry as a whole. What really stood out in 2016, as opposed to other years, was the lack of new sports cars. A show long celebrated for its variety, has become a showcase for the Nissan GT-R, a car that’s been with us since 2007 and now costs over $100,000 new.

Seeing the finest examples of affordable performance cars has always been what’s made Tokyo Auto Salon so exciting. Historically, the show’s been filled with the best modified offerings from Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Subaru, Mitsubishi, and Mazda. For a nearly a decade now, the focus has begun shifting more heavily towards European cars the GT-R, a fine example of Japanese engineering, now mostly a case of been there, done that. The fact that aftermarket parts manufacturers and tuners are still so focused on this car speaks to the larger problem of a lack of alternatives from Japan’s half dozen automotive heavyweights.

With the exception of the four models mentioned above, there’s been a sharp decline in affordable, performance-oriented cars coming from Japan. In the last decade we’ve seen production end for the Honda S2000, Mazda RX-8 and Mitsuitbishi Evo. Mitsubishi also threatens to pull out of the North American market completely. Honda, who once set the gold standard for their entire market were forced to redesign the Civic after one model year because it did so poorly. Nissan, the Japanese manufacturer with the richest motorsports history has become more known in North America for SUVs, trucks and crossovers. More recently, Korean manufacturers like Hyundai and Kia are starting to take Japan’s place in the automotive marketplace.

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Everyone is obsessed with the Ford Focus RS right now. It arrives in North America later this year and will be a massive hit with enthusiasts. Starting at around $35,000 which is cheaper than you can get a Subaru STI for these days, it’s just more proof that there’s a market yearning for this type of car. The Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ was supposed to be the wakeup call to Japanese manufacturers when it became a global sensation 4 years ago. We had all hoped it would jumpstart a second coming of Japan’s greatest hits in the forms of new Silvias, Supras and RX-7s. Instead, Toyota lost money on their LFA technical exercise, Honda gave Tony Stark an NSX that thinks it’s a McLaren and Nismo’s IDx concept pointed at all of us and laughed.

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An automotive industry founded on affordability, cleverness and fun is producing more questionable offerings than ever, but it doesn’t have to stay that way:

Understand your customers – If you listen to the media, everyone drives a hybrid or an electric these days. Wrong. The Prius remains the one exception that’s had overwhelming success globally. Aside from it, Japan’s hybrid and electric offerings (think Honda CR-Z) cater to even more obscure, niche markets than their performance cars. How did Subaru make the transition from cult car maker, thought to be from Australia and driven by people in Vermont, to the powerhouse it’s become? They have the Impreza and its loyal owners community to thank. Enthusiast culture continues to thrive and with an entire generation growing up in Japanese cars, the customer base is well established and ready for the next 86/BRZ competitor.

Stop trying to be European – Japan has always been great at doing its own thing. Cultural philosophy plays a huge role in the design process and that sets them apart from their competitors. Everyday heroes like the Skyline and Supra took on and in many cases beat some of the best Europe had to offer. Luxury is never something Japanese cars have done very well, but functionality, reliability and affordable performance are. The ever bloating ranges from Acura, Infinity and Lexus have come at the cost of their parent brands and with little to no motorsports pedigree, halo cars priced well into the six figures will always struggle to lure away buyers from the established Europeans.

We deserve your very best – This is an argument that can also be applied to the European manufacturers and something I discussed concerning the Subaru S207. Past arguments made pertained to fears over sales figures and the archaic notion that we’re not worthy. Welcome to globalization. Japanese manufacturers would do well to take more calculated risks with some of their special performance models. The limited production S207 is a prime example of a car that would fly out of Subaru showrooms in America. Japanese manufacturers should have little concern over being able to sell upgraded trim and performance packages abroad. If it’s really an issue, make it a special order option through the dealership. The days of impossible to obtain JDM bumpers should be long gone.

Time to move on from the GT-R – Our collective fascination with all things Nismo, Skyline and GT-R will never wane. The R35 defies what’s possible in a production car and will remain one of the greatest technical achievements of its generation. With an asking price of over six figures however, few will be lucky enough to ever own, much less modify one. That’s unfortunate considering a majority of the Japanese aftermarket caters so heavily to the GT-R. It’s time to build something else!

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It could be argued that the late 90s through the early 2000s were the golden age of Japanese sports cars. Nearly every manufacturer had multiple offerings in their respective stables. The aftermarket industry was also thriving at pre-stance movement levels when people still upgraded performance. We can blame stricter emissions globally as a reason for the demise of many of Japan’s greatest hits, but consider the fact the BMW are still putting inline-6’s in their cars with great success and most European and American manufacturers have made the jump to turbochargers, something Japan made mainstream long before everyone else.

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Automotive brands are obsessed with tapping into their histories and using them as marketing strategies. How about using history as means of understanding what you’ve always been best at? Japanese manufacturers should challenge themselves to rekindle some of what made them great in the first place. People don’t remember who made the most successful mid-sized sedan, they do remember who built the engines for the most dominant car in Formula 1 history.

Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Mazda – it’s time to have some fun again!

Photos courtesy of Subaru, Ford, Lexus, Acura & Nissan.

Is The New Top Gear A Complete Mess?

Earlier today it was announced that ‘Friends’ star and petrolhead Matt LeBlanc will join Chris Evans on the Top Gear reboot. Huh?

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We’re all familiar with LeBlanc’s previous appearances as a guest on the BBC motoring show, but naming the actor as a host feels a bit left field. The announcement comes after recent rumors that Chris Harris and Sabine Schmitz would join Evans as the show’s other new hosts. Neither have confirmed whether or not they’ll be taking part, but Schmitz did appear to be with Evans during a recent bout of car sickness on set. There have also been reports of unrest between show producers and Evans who wants the same creative control Jeremy Clarkson had at the helm. For obvious reasons, nervous BBC executives are keeping much tighter reigns on the reboot.

LeBlanc will join production immediately with the other hosts announced shortly. Clearly the BBC will be eager to get the show back on air before Clarkson, Hammond and May premier on Amazon Prime.

I’m not sure we needed another Top Gear reboot. Lets be honest, it was the chemistry between the three hosts that kept everyone coming back long after the show stopped being about cars. Even if the old show hadn’t come to the abrupt end that it did, it was already nearing the end of its run. With all the excellent automotive content online from /DRIVE, Harris himself, EVO and many others, this reboot feels a bit Top Gear Australia.

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What would the chemistry be like between LeBlanc, Harris, Schmitz and Evans? My first thoughts of Harris and Schmitz when thrown into the rumor mill were that they were too good for Evans who seems more content looking at cars than driving them. It’s the most coveted gig in the automotive world, however the BBC seems like they need this to be a hit a little too badly, they seem a bit desperate.

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Ultimately the fans will decide if the new Top Gear is worth watching. I joined Amazon Prime last month.

Photos courtesy of BBC & Amazon.

The S207 Is The Impreza We Need

Subaru have always had a knack for teasing foreign markets with limited production models. Since the days of the 22b and Spec C, the automotive industry has shifted towards making performance and exclusivity more accessible. With North America becoming Subaru’s largest sales market, the all new S207’s 400 unit production run makes little sense.

Set to hit the Japanese market on March 6 of next year, every unit will likely be sold within minutes and that’s kind of a shame. With a reported 328 horsepower and the very best off-the-shelf parts as standard, it’s the car the current STI should’ve been and the Impreza North America needs.

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The Impreza is a car that’s continued to gain weight and surface area since its inception. The current generation’s chunkier profile, designed by the most uncompromising of health and safety standards bares little resemblance to the World Rally Championship winning car that started the bloodline. With the addition of all new mesh wheels, a carbon front lip, rear diffuser and spoiler, the S207 wears its sportiness well.

Unlike S20X models of the past, the S207 will come with two different trim levels. 200 units will be available in standard trim while the remaining 200 will be sold with the NBR Challenge package (pictured above) and that’s the one you want.

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Why not make the NBR Challenge which includes the additional aero the only option?

Of the 200 NBR Challenge units, 100 will be painted Sunrise Yellow. Additional upgrades include everything you’ve come to expect from these models including fully adjustable suspension, upgraded ECU, turbocharger, 6-pot front brakes, exhaust and premium interior. The latter has always been a major selling point for these special edition Subaru models.

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A car with a racing pedigree, built for the backroads, at home on the track, turbocharged with 328 horsepower, AWD, a proper 6-speed manual and they’re building 400 units? It’s kind of a farce to be honest.

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Lets consider the price – the top of the line NBR Challenge model will run about $53000 and that’s not so bad considering your average BMW 435i costs about the same these days. The S207 is an enthusiast’s car and there’s little doubt if sold in North America it would be a massive hit even at that price.

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The sad reality is that a majority of the 400 will spend their lives tucked away in the garages and showrooms of Japanese car collectors. With STI putting their very best efforts on display, the S207 is a car that’s meant to be driven. Subaru are doing themselves a disservice by continuing to neglect the North American market when it comes to their special performance models. It’s a brand that unlike most, gained popularity through a rich and devoted enthusiast culture. Without petrolheads starting off in WRXs and eventually growing up into Foresters, Legacies, and STIs, Subaru wouldn’t be the fastest growing Japanese manufacturer in the market.

In a in more sheltered past it made sense for Japanese manufacturers to keep the very best for themselves. However in this growing global marketplace, making their very best accessible to the masses may be just what Japanese manufacturers need to be doing to regain relevance with consumers largely looking elsewhere.

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Photos courtesy of Subaru.

 

35 Seconds

German racing driving and D Motor presenter Tim Schrick shows off his Lightspeed Classic Porsche 911.

The combination of car and driver makes for 35 seconds of the most exciting automotive footage I’ve seen in ages.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time editing footage and I can assure you, creating this clip probably wasn’t easy. But as they say, art which appears effortless is often the most difficult to create. It’s an homage to all classic 911s and the star of this video isn’t unlike the very popular Singers we’ve all lusted over in recent years.

The music is pretty brilliant as well.

Video courtesy of Tim Schrick.

The New Honda Civic Type R That We’re Not Getting

Yesterday I criticized Honda for blending in with its Korean competitors who at the moment are building more interesting cars. Lets be honest here, the last few years haven’t been great for the Japanese manufacturer. The CR-Z has mainly been a dud, the Civic was taken back to the drawing board after just one model year and their lineup looks as if the words “speed” or “performance” aren’t allowed to be mentioned in the design department. However that was then and this is now, Honda is looking to make a comeback (sort of).

The brand’s new partnership with McLaren could be their biggest news of the last decade. The late 80’s in Formula 1 were dominated by McLaren-Honda, one of the most successful partnerships in all of professional motor sports. The team hopes to recapture some of that success with the new turbocharged MP4-30 and possibly the most exciting driver pairing in the sport, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso. With all the attention Honda are getting from Formula 1, a new performance road car is precisely what the brand needs.

Enter the all new Civic Type R.

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It’s a striking thing to say the least. Based on the European hatchback version of the Civic, the Type R hopes to inject some fun back into the brand. The car has been in development for quite some time – the original concept was revealed at the Geneva Motor Show last year.

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What makes this car so different? You’re looking at the first ever turbocharged Civic. The 2L 4-cylinder VTEC engine is expected to produce something in the range of 300 HP which will make the Type R Honda’s most powerful Civic ever.

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Combine that power plant with those extreme looks and you’ve got something pretty special.

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With the Mitsubishi Evo on its way out and the Subaru WRX dominating that portion of the market, the Civic Type R will hopefully be a new option for those growing tired of the same old thing.

The good news is that this year’s Geneva Motor Show will unveil the production model for the first time. The bad news is that it won’t be coming to the US.

By now we’ve all gotten used to this sort of thing. Manufacturers teasing American enthusiasts only to reserve their most exciting creations for the European and Japanese markets. It was this type of thinking that kept us from getting the Subaru WRX STI until 2004 and never the other countless models of Japanese and European performance cars kept out of our reach. Emissions and crash safety are a large part of the reason why the United States has been missing out. We have possibly the strictest crash safety regulations in the world and one of the strictest emissions policies. When a manufacturer looks to sell a model in the US, they must be willing to invest millions of extra dollars into R&D just to meet our strict regulations. For flagship models like the BMW 3-Series, the investment is warranted, however performance models produced in smaller quantities at a greater expense are the casualties. Unfortunately what we get instead is usually something in between the high end performance model and the more sensible commuter.

The Civic Type R is indeed coming to America, likely not in these clothes however. Hot hatches are all the rage in international markets but Americans and their big lumbering SUVs never really bought them. Size matters here and it’s why compact cars have never gotten a strong foothold in the market. Our Civic Type R will likely be an iteration of the coupe or sedan but Honda says the power plant will be the same one everyone else is getting. So maybe there’s hope yet?

With the new NSX and Formula 1 season looming, it’s about time Honda retraced some if it’s performance roots.

Photos courtesy of Honda.

The Glorious Ferrari 488 GTB

Ferrari are one of the few remaining automotive manufacturers designing new cars that are arguably their best ever. Look towards Germany and you’ll find 3 manufacturers playing top trumps and producing carbon copies of one another’s increasingly difficult to identify ranges. Japan has become somewhat of a laughing stock in recent years as Honda and Toyota do their best to blend in with their Korean competitors who are far ahead of the curve. The Brits and the Americans remain firm in the belief that bigger engines are best and more power to them. In the increasingly environmentally conscious, safety obsessed automotive industry, fun cars are few and far between.

Luckily the Italians aren’t very interested in any of that, they’re still of the old school – form over function, unless function looks absolutely beautiful. The 488 GTB is no exception.

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On first impressions it’s shocking that Ferrari have managed to produce a car even better looking than the stunning 458 Italia.

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Design cues to LaFerrari are all over the 488 GTB.

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The Formula 1 DNA is strong with this one. Active aero has become a big part of Ferrari’s road cars and it’s no exception on the latest model.

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The black and red contrasting interior is a nice departure from the standard tan leather which will most certainly be part of the long options list.

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Positively stunning from every angle.

So where does the 488 GTB stack up exactly? Well for starters, gone is the 4L naturally aspirated V8. In its place is a twin turbo 3.9L V8 producing 670 HP. Purists will initially question the decision to go turbo, but it wasn’t necessarily Ferrari’s choice.

Emissions have become a crucial part of the automotive industry and under Ferrari’s new leadership, the brand has vowed to produce a greater number of cars. More cars being sold within more markets including the very strict European Union, North American and Chinese means smaller, more environmentally sound power plants. No longer will large displacement engines pass emissions regulations so to increase the power, most manufacturers have gone turbo. Ultimately it was a change that was bound to happen, even for Ferrari. Some solace can be found in the fact that Formula 1’s current power units are also turbocharged so there is a direct connection to racing.

Ferrari claims the 488 GTB is half a second faster at Fiorano than the 458 Speciale. While the 458 is likely Ferrari’s final naturally aspirated “entry-level” offering, they’ve certainly upped the ante with the successor. The 488 GTB will be officially unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show next month. Expect a Challenge Stradale version at some point as well.

The future is looking promising for Ferrari’s road car division, hopefully their Formula 1 team follows suit.

Photos courtesy of Ferrari.

An Ode To The Original

Once Jalopnik does one of their “buy this now” posts, it’s already too late. Earlier this year, it was classic 911s, then the E46 M3 and most recently the original Impreza GC.

It’s becoming ever more difficult to find an Impreza 2.5 RS in good shape. Most have been poorly modified, abused or a combination of the two. While most GC owners opt for more aggressive, WRC and track day looks, t3hWIT has gone a different route by channeling the original WRX STI RA.

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It’s a brilliant take on a classic and in many owner’s opinions, the true embodiment of the Impreza.

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A nod to Colin McRae on the rear wing.

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th3WIT’s car helps to explain why the Impreza is so unique. Unlike most other performance cars, the are 2 very distinctive camps in which it resides – rally and track. Having had great success in both arenas, Subaru owners have had a difficult decision when they arrive at the fork in the road of which route to take with their builds. Many GC owners in particular go the rally path. It’s what makes the Subaru community so unique in the way that one car is able to adopt so many different personalities. Go to any Subaru meet and you’re likely to find lifted off-road ready WRXs sharing the same space as their slammed, tucked, and caged counterparts.

However this particular car incapsulates something a bit different – heritage. There are no front lips, fancy forged wheels, wide fenders or aftermarket trim pieces, it’s just an honest representation of the best Subaru OEM had to offer at the time. As the GC continues to get older, the word classic will start getting thrown around more. These are the kind of builds that people will be gravitating towards at their local Saturday morning coffee meets.

Photos courtesy of th3WIT.

Audi A3 Clubsport Quattro

Build it and they will buy it.

Every once in a while a car comes along that makes enthusiasts question the decision to buy a BMW M3 or go a different route. The Mercedes C63 AMG has always been an enticing option with one of the truly great motors ever produced. Audi has also risen to the occasion in the past with the RS4. Neither were quite in the same league as the M3 in terms of offering the total package, but they got close.

The Audi A3 Clubsport Quattro however may get more than a few to switch allegiances. If they can be bothered to put it into production.

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If in fact you have an Internet connection and the most fleeting of interests in cars, you already know the specs: 2.5L 5-cylinder engine capable of 525 horsepower.

It puts the car right in the crosshairs of the upcoming M3 or M4, if you’re into BMW’s bizarro naming conventions.

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The A3 Clubsport Quattro is set to debut as a concept at this year’s Wörthersee, a uniquely Austrian cruise/meet/show that brings out some of the best modified cars in Europe. It’s a place where VW have long shown special skunk works style projects.

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The Audi looks absolutely stunning from every angle but take it in with a grain of salt. Auto manufacturers love teasing enthusiasts with these kinds of concepts. It wouldn’t be the first time Audi has tried to rebrand the original Quattro name on something too good to be true.

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Audi A3 clubsport quattro concept

What this car really is, is a glimpse of the upcoming RS3 and if it looks and performs anything as good as this, the M3 will most certainly have a new rival on its hands.

Photos courtesy of Audi.