The Volvo station wagon has returned, and it’s called the 2015 Volvo V60 Sportswagon ($35,300). Ours was a bodacious blue; they’re all turbo, five doors deep, and, as Volvo puts it, about both work and play.
America, as a whole, hates station wagons. But instead of despising the wood paneling, the center-of-gravity elevating roof loads and the smell of cheap vinyl seats, we should be clinging to every bit of wagon-dom that we can — who knows how much longer they’ll be around? Fortunately for history’s sake, they’ve made their mark in a handful of great movies and TV shows, not just as family haulers but as quick and capable chase vehicles and hero (and antihero) steeds of choice.
More beautiful than a Swedish bikini model
As great as Volvo’s first two concept cars (the Concept Coupe and the Concept XC Coupe) were, it’s the Volvo Concept Estate that’s got us giddy with “build it” fever. About to unveil at the Geneva Motor Show, the Concept Estate is essentially the shooting brake (two-door wagon) version of the Concept Coupe, bettered by the addition of a big rear door. Plus, it appears to be as beautiful under the skin as it is on the outside.
The Wagon of My Dreams
As much as I’d love to press my garage door opener and find a wickedly fast Audi A6 Avant 3.0 TDI bi-turbo or Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S 4Matic Wagon waiting within, the real wagon of my dreams might actually be even more difficult to come by and definitely moves at geologic speed compared to the aforementioned family rocket sleds. It’s a true driver’s car that just happens to be an iconic station wagon, too: the Volvo 240 GLT Turbo Wagon.
Another automotive kidney punch to us Yanks
Packed with the same kind of rip-roaring five-door flavor as the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S 4Matic Wagon and the Audi RS6 Avant, Jaguar’s XFR-S Sportbrake does up the wicked and track-ready XFR-S sedan with more cargo space and a nice big rear door for all those Home Depot runs.
Takes on the flat and the bumpy
No longer just a lame substitute for a real SUV, crossovers have grown in terms of quality, capability and available amenities such that there seems virtually no end in sight. Mercedes-Benz has been busier than just about anyone lately when it comes to redesigning their lineup and introducing new models, and the GLA Class is the latest to come down the Teutonic pike to fill this new crossover mold. We made our way to Málaga, Spain to take two iterations out for a spin: the GLA250 4Matic and the zippier GLA45 AMG.
Rubbin' is racing
The best way to appreciate NASCAR is not by cracking a Bud and plopping on the couch but by getting in the driver’s seat. Unfortunately that’s a pipe dream for most — but when PEAK Motor Oil invited me to their Stock Car Dream Challenge as they searched for a future driver for the Michael Waltrip Race team, I grabbed my helmet and Nomex onesie and streamed Garth Brooks/Chris Gaines all the way to Charlotte Motor Speedway.
A trip to (what we thought was) the ragged edge of control
Most drivers, including Porsche owners, spend little time at the ragged fringe of control. Daydreams of record-time morning commutes are one thing, but precise, high-speed driving is rarified air for most. Porsche has a solution: driving school. At Porsche Sport Driving School you won’t come away with points off your license or a lower insurance rate. Instead, you get a crash-course in precise driving at high speeds.
4 Wheels, 5 Skills
Becoming a skilled driver is about more than going fast and having the will to beat everyone else. Understanding physics, driving the line well and having hours under your belt in both your vehicle and the track or road on which you’ll drive all play key roles in maximizing your abilities. The fastest and most comprehensive way to improve these things? Opening up your mind and your wallet to a reputable driving school. Here are our picks for the five best.
Look track serious, be track serious
You’ve set aside a full day to improve your track driving skills, so don’t show up wearing a motorcycle half-helmet, a pair of jean shorts and thick-soled running shoes. Track driving is a sport of extreme focus, extreme speeds and extreme temperatures — and you’ve got to be fully prepped. Leave anything out and your concentration and skills development will suffer. We put together a track kit that will give you the confidence to nail the apexes like Senna.
Searching for enlightenment at Drag Racing's Garden of Eden
Drag racing at its core isn’t a complicated sport. Two cars line up. Their drivers hit the pedal on the right. A thousand or so feet later someone wins. It stands to reason that there must be something more to this sport, something visceral that has kept people interested in pure, unadulterated speed for so long. With that in mind we headed to the first race of professional drag racing’s pro circuit, The NHRA Winternationals at the historic Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.
Two extreme cars from our border buddies
Two new and rather unique automobiles prove that dedicated performance for the tarmac doesn’t have to come from Europe, Asia or the States: the track-ready Vuhl 05 from Mexico and the angular Felino Cars CB7 from those French-Canadian secessionist wannabes in Montreal, Quebec. Both cars are built for a niche market of drivers who are serious about either driving fast on the track or turning heads — or likely, both.
Go, Speed, Go!
One of the most iconic cars the world has ever seen doesn’t even exist. It’s sleek, has a three-pointed front end, a huge red M emblazoned on the hood, myriad gadgets like saw blades and a periscope and sometimes has a little kid and a crazy chimpanzee in the trunk. It’s Speed Racer’s Mach 5, and both the car and its super-skinny driver made an indelible impression on me as a boy. More than candy and snow days, I longed for the next episode of Speed Racer with its high drama, fast cars and peril on and off the track.
Aging well at 100
You know Buick, but you probably don’t know their rich motoring history: they won the inaugural race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, are the oldest American automotive brand still producing cars and led industry innovations such as the overhead camshaft, a closed body car and turn signals. So how does a brand more than 100 years old compete in the 21st century? The 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD ($40,000) has a few ideas.
A bit more involved than the miyagi method
Waxing your car is actually more important than you think — especially since it’s about far more than just seeing the sun glint off your steed’s resplendent paint. Waxing protects your car’s paint and body from grime, road salt, moisture, sun damage and other finish-ruining elements. We’ve broken down the steps for proper waxing. Do it quarterly and you’ll keep your car looking as radiant as the day you drove it off the lot.
Because it's going to happen, eventually
Winter is prime dead battery territory, and jump-starting during cold weather requires nearly twice as many cranking amps as its t-shirts-and-shorts counterpart. There’s also another, more worrisome issue to deal with: regardless of weather, most people go about their jump-starts incorrectly. We’ll assume you’ve been smart enough to keep functioning jumper cables in your trunk and someone has been kind enough to offer their car as a source of juice. With those in place, follow these simple steps to jump start your car correctly.
Bringing sexy back to Toyota
By all accounts, the 2014 Detroit Auto Show was a huge success — the best in years, even, by virtue of the array of new production cars as well as the daring concept designs that the automotive culture demands. As much as it’s tough to choose a favorite, the Toyota FT-1 Concept has our vote for the best concept car of the entire show. Though it’s evocative of the Toyota Supra, the FT-1 clearly points in a far more daring design direction that any past or current Toyota. We break it down.
Tapered tail, savage sport
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.
The Blue Oval gets Ballsy
The most devilishly good detail in the 2015 Ford F-150 is more than skin deep. In fact, it sits just below the no doubt soon-to-be scuffed paint job. You see, Ford has made its boldest move in decades by building their flagship truck’s body out of aluminum instead of tried-and-true steel. It’s move that’s both expected because of the environmental trend and pioneering due to the vehicle in which Ford has chosen to make the paradigm shift.
Optimus Prime's Second Cousin
Cross a helicopter with an SUV and you get the Advanced Tactics AT Transformer, a platform that enables the world’s first roadable, vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (VTOL). We break down the AT Black Knight Transformer, a Mad Max-ian vehicle that aims to use the Transformer technology for cargo drops or extractions during urban firefights.
A Taste of Things to Come
Concept cars are the stuff of dreams, representing the wondrous “could be” situations that make us salivate. Every year various auto shows pull the veil off auto industry pageants every year, and every year our collective pulses race to see what car companies have wrought in the way of wild designs, impressive technology and a foreshadowing of what might come in the not-too-distant future. Detroit has delivered ten of the most eye-catching concepts of 2014, and we’ve jumped in with a gusto. See which ones we love and why, here.
Making Detroit Shine
The North American International Auto Show is one of our favorite events of the year. It’s a time when just about every carmaker descends on Detroit, and the moment is a golden one. Picture it with us: gleaming steeds — SUVs, sports cars, sedans, pickups and more — as far as the eye can see, a field that’s tough to whittle down to our favorites. But we’ve done just that with these ten beauties, the best of NAIAS.
Going where no RV has gone before
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.
Racing Prodigy, Porsche test driver
Most sixteen-year-olds spend their time learning how to parallel park and struggling with acne. Just after his sweet sixteen, Patrick Long moved to Europe to work on racing strategy and focus on becoming one of America’s best drivers. It worked. He’s since become the youngest American to take class victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans — all while performing as Porsche’s go-to driver for testing new cars. We grabbed a few minutes with the Southern Californian — now 32 years old — between his surf sessions and race day.
Power For The People
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
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.
One fast land barge
Rolls-Royce issues new models with a frequency not unlike solar eclipses, so the introduction of their latest car, the Wraith ($284,900), was nothing short of momentous. The public’s anticipation of the car at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show was met with a stunning deviation from the pure stateliness of the previous two cars. The two-door four-seater captured the audience and the automotive world with a bold fastback design that put an unmistakably bright feather into a strong, staid tweed cap. We shooed the chauffeur and stepped in the driver’s seat.
The gifts that keep on giving
Just about every morning, before our cup of joe, we slap ourselves as a reminder of how lucky we are to drive some of the best cars in the world and get paid for it. 2013 was another year of stupendous privileges, with wheel time in Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Land Rovers, Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, Porsches, Jaguars, Mercedes-Benzes, Audis, BMWs, Aston Martins and more. We’ve been the beneficiaries of a huge upswing in the automotive marketplace in terms of style, quality and driving excitement through virtually all segments. And you know what that means: 2014 should prove to be even better.
Here are the cars we most covet for the new year, each one a standout in its segment by virtue of its quality, technology, design, driving experience or all of the above. In a stellar field, these are the ones that stir the petrol in our veins the most. As we embark on a new year, here’s a toast to what should be an incredible 2014 on the digital pages of Octane.
High-Speed Thrills at the Legendary Raceway
Lexus, when it was created in 1989, was itself a halo brand. Today Lexus is pushing its own groundbreaking products — that is, incredible vehicles — to reach new automotive heights. We were recently invited to experience those new halos, several of the company’s latest F models, this time at the very same proving grounds on which they were first developed: Fuji International Speedway. The opportunity provided a unique chance to study Lexus’s approach to the wide spectrum of automotive performance. It also gave us the chance to routinely push 150 mph right under the nose of Mount Fuji.
Steering in the Right Direction
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.