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April 20, 2014

A chance to take top cars for a spin

I recently attended the Western Automotive Journalists Media Days in Monterey, Calif. On the day of the ride and drive, we took turns driving a host of really fun cars through a well-planned, beautiful route through the Monterey Peninsula.

My first ride was a Mercedes CLA 45 AMG, a compact Benz with slinky wheels and really big brakes lurking behind. The turbocharged, 2.0-liter engine took me by surprise, nailing me into the seat at the first green light and most after, offering up 181 horsepower per liter and massive torque. Mercedes says this is the most powerful four-cylinder turbo engine made, and I was equally impressed with the broad, easy to use torque band. A super-sweet transmission and all-wheel drive put the power on the ground with intuitive grace. Handling and overall performance were right on par with the spectacular engine — it was difficult to hand this car off.

The next car driven was a Cadillac ELR (extended range electric) with an already-depleted battery. I was amazed at how well the tiny 1.4-liter, 82-horsepower gasoline engine/generator could dutifully create enough energy during cruise and deceleration periods to allow fairly impressive bursts of power as we wrung out the many turns near Elkhorn Slough. I carefully tried using the adaptive (radar) cruise control on the road and later in stop-and-go traffic (foot hovering above the brake pedal just in case) as we encountered heavy traffic near Carmel. The system did a remarkable job of pacing the car ahead during a variety of maneuvers, including full stops. An interesting yet pricey car.

Jaguar’s XJR was my favorite of all, on the road and on the track the next day. It’s a large and luxurious vehicle, yet the 550-horsepower, supercharged engine and eight-speed transmission provided launches like a 1960s muscle car.

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