Behind the Wheel

Tapered tail, savage sport

Behind the Wheel: 2014 Audi RS 7

We hopped a flight to the deserts of Las Vegas, where early one morning we had our pick of 10 shiny new 2014 Audi RS 7s ($104,900). Over its short tenure, Audi’s A7 Sportback has garnered endless praise and multiple awards, and the sportier S7 has impressed wholeheartedly with its ramped up athleticism and rakish looks. But we were righteously eager that morning in particular because the maniacal RS 7 takes both and soundly trounces them to smithereens.

Going where no RV has gone before

Behind the Wheel: Sportsmobile 4WD

When Charles Borskey started Sportsmobile in 1961, he had no idea the brand would rise to the popular status it holds today as the ultimate vehicle for adventure camping -- or for simply making drivers look badass. Specializing in converting full-size vans into custom recreational vehicles, Sportsmobile turns your base people hauler into a rugged, rock-luvin' beast. We recently visited Sportsmobile West's Fresno, CA location to see the factory and take a van on the road; the conditions -- snow and ice -- created the perfect playground for these hulking yet nimble beasts.

Power For The People

Quick Spin: Volkswagen 2014 Full Line

Volkswagen is making some driver-friendly improvements to their 2014 model line. Good: they're replacing the somewhat disappointing 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine option in the Jetta and Passat with a torquey (for its size) 1.8-liter, direct-injection turbo four. Better: five models will be given VW's hot rod R-Line treatment for the 2014 model year. Best: we got to drive them all.

The Lebron James of luxury sedans

Behind the Wheel: 2014 Audi S8

If the 2014 Audi S8 ($112,000) were a person, he'd be the CEO of a tech conglomerate who lives in Manhattan, competes in triathlons, dates supermodels and always finds himself surrounded at the coolest who's who parties. The S8 has daily driver looks with supercar stats, making it arguably the perfect car for those who can drop $112k. Lucky for us, we didn't have to sell our Apple stock to get some wheel time in this 520-horsepower German statement.

Steering in the Right Direction

Quick Spin: 2014 Infiniti Q50S

The 2014 Infiniti Q50 (essentially the next generation G37 with a new name) brings ground-breaking tech, a strong engine and grown-up styling to the table and could be a major pivot point for the brand as they leave the shadow of parent company Nissan. We took a quick spin in the upgraded Q50S ($43,550), which is loaded with even more tech and an interesting new Direct Adaptive Steering system.

A Skyline in the city

Behind the Wheel: 2014 Nissan GT-R Track Edition

With one of the highest thrill-to-dollar ratios of any production car on the planet, the only way to make the Nissan GT-R more monstrous (hello, 0-60 in less than three seconds) is a limited Track Edition. Luckily, we didn't have to call in any favors or cash in our Bitcoins to get our hands on the 2014 Nissan GT-R Track Edition ($117,000), which serves dual duties as a sports car and a missile.

The Snake Lives On

Track Day: SRT Viper Time Attack

When thinking of an automotive CEO, one expects a suit topped with a lot of gray hair, moved along with the help of a tidy personal chauffeur in the brand's finest flagship sedan. Not so with Ralph Gilles of SRT. The man wears a baseball cap and jeans, is remarkably affable, and helms his own supercar creations at the track. He's passionate and proud of his vehicles, and his latest, the new SRT Viper Time Attack ($123,080) is more deserving of those dotings than any other. This is no "base" version -- it's an impressive track edition of a true American sports car that's no longer the unhinged, unrefined, chopped-top V10 monster that took to the streets and scared respectable citizens way back in 1999 in the form of the SRT10.

America Gets a World-Class Supercar

Behind the Wheel: 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z51

The Chevrolet Corvette is an American icon as popular as baseball and apple pie. But it hasn't all been pretty. Through its iterations the 'Vette has brought to mind everything from '70s chest hair to midlife crises to silk Tommy Bahama shirts, stale cigars and trailer park access. There's been beauty and power, too -- especially in the C4 through C6 generations -- but America's car has always failed to achieve world-class stardom, perhaps pulled down by those sour associations. Everything changes in the seventh-generation C7 'Vette. Yes: the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray ($51,000+) could go down as one of the best American cars ever built.

Charmed by the snake

Behind The Wheel: 2014 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

A perfect homage to the spirit of Ford's and Shelby's original GT 500, the 2014 model takes "steroidal" to a whole new level. Starting at only $54,800, this savage serpent uses all 662 of its horses to hit 202 miles per hour at full speed, though you need only start the engine once to believe it's capable of extreme and endless thrills. It's capable of eating pavement for breakfast, lunch and dinner but also perfectly happy cruising around town; just be prepared for rubberneckers.

Driving, on the rocks

Quick Spin: Zamboni 522 Electric Ice Resurfacer

When Frank J. Zamboni opened one of the largest ice skating rinks in the country just outside Los Angeles in 1940, he realized he needed to streamline the ice resurfacing process. Using surplus war parts from Jeeps and tractors, he perfected his design on a number of iterations -- and in 1949 the Model A Zamboni Ice Resurfacer was born. Fast forward more than 60 years and the company, which has become ubiquitous with hockey games and halftime shows, now offers more than 10 machines ranging in capacity, price and ability. We had the chance to take the all-electric Zamboni 552 ($160,000) model for a spin, and the drive was, as expected, extraordinary.

Enough room for passengers, enough excitement to forget about 'em

Track Day: 2014 Porsche Panamera

When choosing a car for the track, it's key to choose a ride with certain distinct criteria -- things like sports-car dimensions and weight, great handling, two seats, an eye-brow singeing top speed and extreme impracticality for everyday driving. But what if your tool of choice just happens to be a luxury sedan? In that case, you obviously like challenges; maybe you're the kind of guy whose idea of a workout is strapping a bag of rocks to your back and scaling a hillside in track spikes. Or maybe your choice of luxo-sedan just happens to be the 2014 Porsche Panamera ($78,100+). We hit the track in one at Atlanta Motorsports Park.

Red, White and Blew Me Away

Quick Spin: 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8 Core

The Dodge Challenger first hit the scene in the '70s to compete in the "Pony Car" market along side the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro. The third-generation Challenger (unveiled in 2006), retains cues from the '70s version -- hood scoops, round headlights, and an overall wide and flat design -- to look every bit the American muscle car. New this year, the 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8 Core ($40,000) is made for those who want a massively powerful 6.4-liter V8, but who don't care about the $5,000 extras in the fully loaded SRT8.

The Caddy that wows

Behind The Wheel: 2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport

The CTS Vsport ($59,995) takes a big step forward in Cadillac's new era of design and driving excellence. The car is more elegant than the previous model thanks to a leaner profile; the front grille is smaller but no less noticeable; the faux vents aft of the front fenders from the previous car are, thankfully, gone. This clean-up is part in parcel of a smoother and more unified countenance that's attractive and less busy. The result is the first Cadillac that elicits automotive desire a la BMW, Mercedes and Audi -- and we had a chance to get behind the wheel.

Fueled by Champagne

Behind the Wheel: 2014 Bentley Flying Spur

The application to work at Bentley must go something like this: here's some wood, some metal and a cow...go make a car. Bentley arguably sets the industry standard for this wild world of luxury vehicles, and it's mind blowing how much work goes into their hand-crafted, hand-assembled chariots. As the Flying Spur is essentially a stretched Continental GT, it had carried that namesake since its inception -- but the 2014 Bentley Flying Spur ($200,000) drops the prefix and gets a boost in power and a fully refreshed exterior that separates it from its two-door brethren.

Time travel on two wheels

A Great Cup of Café: Riding the Royal Enfield Continental GT

Motorcycling is all about speed, freedom and personal style. Look at a bearded and tattoo festooned Harley-Davidson Electra Glide rider, and he's clearly making a statement that's half showman, half American pride, all tough guy. There's no subtlety there, unless there's a frightened chihuahua in one of his saddle bags. And then there's the café racer rider. His is a statement about retro-style and a unique simplicity you don't often see anymore. He's just the kind of guy who'd fancy the new Royal Enfield Continental GT, a motorcycle that does more than just move two wheels: it brings back a style from yesteryear while showing what a modern café racer is capable of.

When Godzilla gets Juke'd

Quick Spin: Nissan Juke-R

Have you ever seen "that couple" -- the short, rotund Geek Squad individual and the Olympic beach volleyball player walking hand in hand? A similarly weird aura surrounds the incredibly unnecessary yet blissfully real 545 horsepower Nissan Juke-R ($665,000). We got some seat time in this, one of the rarest production automobiles in the world.

Silicon Valley does motorcycles

Behind the Wheel: Zero DS

With the recent proliferation of electrified transportation, it seems things are swinging solidly from Who Killed the Electric Car? to "Who Maimed the Gas Engine?". Motorcycles are no exception. One of the best e-bike makers out there, Zero, let us test their Zero DS ($14,000) for a few weeks in L.A. to see if a silent motorcycle is a groundbreaking way to ride or a tad emasculating.

It truly is a party

Behind the Wheel: 2014 Ford Fiesta ST

Though the Ford Fiesta (not to be confused with the midget-special Ford Festiva) has been around since 1976, it wasn't available stateside until 2011. Back then, we enjoyed the original 1.6-liter 120 hp inline four cylinder hatch but longed for more pep. Obviously the engineers behind the Shelby GT500 and the F150 Raptor SVT follow Gear Patrol closely, because they answered our need for more zip with the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST ($22,000).

To drive or ride? That is the question.

Behind The Wheel: 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class

If anyone "missed" purchasing a Maybach, then it's time to rejoice in the heralding of a German luxury sedan that makes no bones about its levels of refinement, complexity and utter technological wizardry -- the all-new 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class. We got to drive (as well as experience) the limousine-level sedan recently in Toronto.

When perfect is not enough

Behind the Wheel: 2014 Audi R8 V10 Plus

In 2008 Audi introduced the R8, a mid-engine V8 somewhat inspired by their highly successful R8 Le Mans Prototype race car, and blew the world away, winning both the World Performance Car and World Design Car of year awards. It's undergone only minor changes -- until this year. The 2014 Audi R8 V10 Plus ($171,000) gets one of the best upgrades yet, a smooth-as-glass and lightning fast seven speed dual clutch S Tronic transmission. We drove it.

Jurassic Park(ing)

Behind The Wheel: Ford F-150 SVT Raptor

After twelve generations of model updates, the Ford SVT Raptor is arguably the most tenacious version of the Blue oval's numerous F-150 iterations. Truly testing this machine called for something more than a few days piddling around Los Angeles, so when when we were invited to go attend the one-day Raptor Assault School at Miller Motorsports Park in the wide open Utah countryside we moved quicker than a rattle snake on the floor of a country line dance. What we drove was an out-of-the box, insanely capable machine able to run, jump and crawl over just about anything in its path.

Grand Touring Family Style

Behind the Wheel: Ferrari FF

It's a well-known fact that the mellifluous sound of a Ferrari V12 is ultimate bellow of the vehicular gods. The now-famous Ferrari V12 first showed up in the 1947 125 S, the Italian automaker's first roadgoing car. Since then, some form of 12-cylinder Ferrari engine (V12 or Flat-12) has showed up in no fewer than forty cars over the past seventy years. One of Ferrari's most recent offerings, the Ferrari FF, makes use of the V12 staple, albeit in its most powerful form ever in a roadgoing car -- but the FF also makes a noticeable departure from Ferrari Grand Tourers of the past through polarizing style, all-wheel-drive, practical (yes, practical) seating for four and enough cargo room to hit the road for more than a day. We got the behind the wheel with family in tow.

Vee Dub-steppin' it up

Behind the Wheel: 2014 Volkswagen CC R-Line

Wikipedia astutely defines a dark horse as, "a little-known person or thing that emerges to prominence, especially in a competition of some sort". There's a dark horse in every race: Abraham Lincoln in politics, Mark Cuban in everything, and that one Nickelback album in music. The VW CC ($31,795+), we believe, fits that bill in the upscale midsize automobile realm. We got behind the wheel for a week-long driving review.

The Poster Child For Invincibility

Behind The Wheel: 2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG

Mercedes-Benz's longest-running production model, the Gelandewagen (G-Wagen), is a testament to versatility and timeless style. For $135,000 one can not only look ultra tough in this military-inspired ride but drive like it as well. Plus, the humble 382 horsepower, 5.5 liter V8 from the "regular" G-Wagen goes bi-turbo in the AMG and jumps to 536 wild horses. We got behind the wheel deep in the Catskill mountains to give AMG's beast a good thrashing and see how much it would bite back.

Slow bullet

Behind The Wheel: Volkswagen XL1

In the current automotive landscape, true environmental halo cars don't exist. Volkswagen, however, has produced their own version of a hippie halo car. It's no V12 powerhouse, nor does it even come close to resembling anything supercar-ish in appearance. But what the VW XL1 definitely does is make a bold statement about what an ultra-efficient, super-small displacement hybrid can be. Our recent trip to VW HQ in Wolfsburg, Germany gave us a prime opportunity to evaluate the XL1 from all angles, including the view from behind the wheel.

Not exactly roughing it

Airstream Land Yacht

The vintage polished aluminum of Airstream Trailers is as recognizable as the curvaceous body of a 'Vette. Nowadays, they transport everyone from happy families to celebrities; Felix Baumgartner even holed up in one before his stratospheric leap. Previously unchanged in its 82-year history, the newly released Airstream Land Yacht ($140,000) brings a new level of sophistication in materials and design to this classic roving hotel room.

A weekend track-attack in orange

Behind The Wheel: 2013 BMW M3 Lime Rock Park Edition

BMW has a history of using racetrack names for their paint colors: Marrakesh Brown, Laguna Seca Blue and Dakar Yellow. But the 2013 BMW M3 Lime Rock Park Edition ($80,000, as tested) is the first time they’ve used one on a car itself and the first time the iconic track has lent its name to...

Andiamo!

Behind The Wheel: 2013 Fiat Abarth 500 Cabrio

It's nearly impossible to miss the iconic Fiat silhouette made more aggressive and distinctive in the 2013 Abarth 500 Cabrio ($26,000). Fiat's answer to the 500's supposed lack of soul carries the fervor -- in its looks, its performance, and its aural delight -- of an operatic crescendo. The sound of the engine and smooth long revs mean you can exploit every tick on the tach and push this thing hard -- which, of course, we recommend, having tried it ourselves.

To see one is to lust

Behind the Wheel: 1968 Jaguar E-Type Series 1.5

Ali Sadrieh is a man who lives in the present. From his cutting edge podiatry practice in Los Angeles, to his love of all things tech, he believes there has never been a better time to be alive. It is this very love of all things digital that inspired him to own an "analog car": the iconic and rare 1968 Jaguar E-Type Series 1.5. Through a chance crossing of paths, we were able to meet Ali and take his gorgeous Jag for a ride. Read on to see the video.

Tanks for the memories

Off Track: Driving the Abbot FV433 Self-Propelled Gun

The mud pit looked impossibly deep, twin ruts at least two feet high and half full of a murky stew from the rainy spring. “Does this thing ever get stuck?” I asked. My driving instructor, Brendan, an Airborne infantryman a few weeks shy of entering Green Beret selection, smiled and said, “Nope, just keep her straight so we can keep some trees upright.” Just another day, taking the Abbot FV433 Self-Propelled Gun out for a spin.

Behind the Wheel: Star Motorcycles Bolt & Bolt R-Spec

A day of cruising sunny, funky San Diego is enticing enough without a brand new ride underneath you. All the better, then, when Yamaha brought us to downtown San Diego for a well-organized day aboard their new Bolt, an American-style bobber -- an exercise in convincing some die-hard riders that their bike is a viable alternative to Wisconsin iron.

Some cars take it to 11. This takes it to 13.

Bull & Bravado: Driving the Lamborghini Aventador

Six hundred ninety-one horsepower. All-wheel-drive. A gearbox so mechanically high strung you instinctively quiver before each pull of the shift lever. And of course, the obscene sheet metal geometry. Enormous in every direction and specification, it makes us pause and wonder if this is what pornographic design is. Welcome to the Lamborghini Aventador.

Stirs the senses, not the wallet

Quick Spin: 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250

When we found out the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA ($29,900 Base) wouldn't be available stateside till September, we were willing to do anything to get our hands on it early; we even pondered selling our souls to the devil. Fortunately, we didn't have to go quite that far. All we had to do was fly to the South of France for a day and half of driving. Yes, we spent 26 hours in the air to get 13 hours behind the wheel of this sub-$30,000 German ride.

The Ultimate Dreamliner

Quick Spin: 2014 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible

Bentley is undoubtedly a mega-luxury brand that backs up ridiculous comfort with serious performance. Take the 2014 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible ($240,000 base), for instance. Though its looks and interior are nearly pornographic in their excesses, it'll also punch you in the throat and drink your beer without hesitation. After taking it for a drive in non-ideal conditions -- and almost wrecking it on the icy streets of Squaw Valley -- I got firsthand experience on why the brand is held in such high regard.

One hell of a legacy

Behind the Wheel: Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG

The SLS AMG by Mercedes-Benz is truly the 300SL Gullwing reincarnate. Only the resurrected version is so much faster, you'll wonder what happened to your eyebrows. How do we know? We got behind the wheel and watched it make people's necks sore.

From isn't to IS

Track Day: 2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport

The suburbs of Austin, Texas are hilly, colorful and vast, and look especially pretty when seen out the windshield of the latest, all-new sports sedan. They're even better looking when reduced to a racetrack blur. The 2014 Lexus IS F Sport has been redesigned to look sexier, feel more solid and drive harder, and recently gave us the distinct pleasure of melting scenery around the track at Driveway Austin while testing out its sporting mettle.

Luxury within reason

2014 Acura RLX

On the heels of the NSX concept last year and the brand new entry-level ILX, the longer, leaner Acura RLX looks nothing like the car it replaces, so we were piqued when Honda's luxury division invited us up to Napa to experience all the RLX has to offer. Fine wine and luxury cars. Makes sense to us.

True British Muscle

Aston Martin V12 Vantage Carbon Black Edition

Aston Martin recently decided that being one of the most prestigious and sexiest car makers on the planet wasn't enough. They needed to be audacious. Their execution of this? Surgically transplanting the 6.0-liter 510 hp V12 from the DBS into their smallest and lightest offering, the Vantage. The Carbon Black edition adds carbon-fiber side strakes, lightweight carbon fiber and Kevlar seats, piano black accents and gloss black painted wheels, which convey the same kind of ballsy aggression as the drivetrain underneath that extruded aluminum body. Read on for a video and photo essay of this Brit stunner.

An unincorporated territory, a Mini, and some wild roads

Setting the Pace in Puerto Rico: Mini Paceman S All4

Puerto Rico is a peculiar place. It's not an American state but is under US law. It's only 100 miles by 35 miles but has a thriving car culture. Though it feels a world away, it's only three and a half hours from JFK. This land of contradiction was the perfect place to experience the new Mini Paceman ($24,000 Base), which at first glance appears to be a small version of Mini's largest offering.

Driving in a Winter Wonderland

Battling the Ghost of Winters Past: 2013 BMW 650i Gran Coupe

My winter BMW driving history is a sad one, littered with shattered taillights, bent frames and too many loaner cars. After one too many calls to my insurance agent, I finally gave up on the Bayerische Motoren Werke for good, moving on to more sensible Scandinavian cars that understood what winter is all about. Given my less-than-stellar driving past, the prospect of piloting a 2013 BMW 650i Gran Coupe, in Germany -- in winter -- both thrilled and mortified me. On the one hand, the opportunity to put the whip to 445 twin-turbocharged horses on the very roads for which they were bred was a once in a lifetime opportunity. But it was December, and my PTSD flared up, with visions of mid-Autobahn donuts making my palms sweat.

Stay Focused

Quick Spin: 2013 Ford Focus ST

What Ford has done in the few years is nothing short of brand reinvention. A new focus on technology and consolidation of their various models sold globally and in the States has left many a test driver of a new Focus, Fiesta, Fusion or Escape asking "Is this really a Ford?" The 2013 Focus ST ($24,000 Base) continues this leave-drivers-impressed trend. We take a quick spin.

S is for Sexy

2013 Audi S7

We want everything -- always. That's the American way. We want our gourmet burger with egg, parmesan crust and arugula, our clothes to fit well, be cheap and last forever; we want to marry the veritable hot girl who drinks beer... craft beer... at a football game. Audi's answer to this consumer desire to have it all(ish) is the S7 ($79,000+). Despite the A7's success, rumor has it (thanks, Adele) the performance division of Audi wasn't satisfied yet -- so they snuck into the garage one fateful night and replaced the standard 310 hp V6 turbo with a 420 hp 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8. The S7 emerged.

King of the hill and vale

Behind The Wheel: 2013 Range Rover

The remote West is a far cry from where most modern SUVs claim their stomping grounds, but it's exactly where we found ourselves recently. Utah's desert landscape isn't what you'd call sparse, as far as scenery is concerned. Sedimentary rock formations that range from the utterly massive to the small and bizarre are scattered as far as the eye can see, peppered by small patches of remnant snow and capped by the beautiful winter desert sky. But this is where we tested the 2013 Range Rover -- and the car felt right at home.

Fun Per Gallon

Quick Spin: 2013 VW Jetta Hybrid

If a hybrid vehicle is what you seek, there are two ends of the spectrum. On the left: the Toyota Prius, sipping fuel at 51mpg through an uninspiring 98 hp engine for $24K. On the right: the Porsche Panamera S Hybrid, which will run you close to $100k, with an “is-this-really-a-hybrid” 22mpg due to its...