The Times They Are a-Changin’

Mechanic fixing old car engine

Everyone knows someone who regularly gripes about “the end” of the manual transmission, uncovered V8 engines, and our ability to get away from it all. We prefer to drive with a stick, thank you, but we know manuals aren’t always faster, cheaper, and less expensive anymore. And while we love the sound and power of a V8, a turbo four can go a lot farther on a tank of gas and lets a driver get more value out of the car’s stereo. And we think our newfound inability to really escape has more to do with smartphones and the Internet than the advance of car technology.

So we’re going to take a look at some new and different cars that mark big changes we hope all drivers can agree are positive. We’re not sure they’ll end up on as many high-schoolers’ bedroom walls as the GTO Judge and the Lamborghini Countach did, but we expect to see plenty of them on the road, and who knows which 2016 might just become a sought-after collectible to today’s hipsters.

2016 Volkswagen e-Golf

As we noted already, V8s produce plenty of horsepower and a great rumble, but they also gobble gas. Vehicles driven by electricity rather than an internal combustion engine produce less pollution at the tailpipe and make so little noise that they’ve been recognized as hazardous to pedestrians. Even better, electric motors provide maximum torque at zero revs, which means EVs get full driving power the moment the driver hits the gas. So while an EV won’t deliver everything a V8 does, it will deliver strong, speedy starts that won’t drown out your stereo. Charging stations aren’t available everywhere yet, unfortunately, but we test-drove the similarly priced Nissan Leaf and the Volkswagen e-Golf in the San Francisco area, and we found them both usable, with the Leaf taking the range crown and the e-Golf offering a better driving experience.

2017 Jaguar XE

Jaguar’s legendary E-Type was very beautiful but tended to be in the shop as frequently as it was on the road. Many loved the E-Type despite its tendency to be troublesome, so we think Tata Motors made a good choice to follow the E with the F-Type after it acquired Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford in 2008. The F-Type and its fantastic exhaust note have earned wide acclaim, and it’s proven more reliable than its ancestors, but we’re curious to see how American drivers react to the new Jaguar XE, a sport sedan designed to battle the BMW 3 Series that can be powered by another gasoline alternative: diesel. Volkswagen’s emissions scandal has left a very bad taste in the mouth of those who bought allegedly clean TDIs, and our reviewer didn’t enjoy the diesel engine quite as much as the 3.0-liter V6, but the diesel’s estimated to beat the V6’s mileage by over 40% in the city and more than 30% on the highway. Hmmm.

2017 Ford Escape

We mentioned smartphones already, and they’ve become so widespread and useful that today’s non-performance cars absolutely need to have at least a couple of charging ports. The relatively new Apple Carplay and Android Auto systems let a driver interact with apps on a connected smartphone via the infotainment system. Smartphones get updated more frequently and cost a whole lot less than cars, so why not let the phone handle connectivity and processing and spare drivers the difficulty and possible distraction of having to learn to deal with their phone through another interface? Ford’s 2017 Escape offers both smartphone projection systems as well as the FordPass app, which lets you lock, unlock, remote start, check fuel levels, and schedule maintenance for your car through your smartphone as well as providing parking help. We look forward to seeing automakers find more ways to take advantage of connected smartphones instead of trying to charge us extra for a system that fails to duplicate their functionality.

2016 BMW M2

We’ll close with a car that will likely win more respect from old-school car fans than the others we’ve mentioned. BMW’s M3 is the only car that holds even more motorsport titles than Porsche’s 911, but many M3 fans have found the more-recent arrival of BMW SUVs with M badging troubling. Our reviewer found the brand new BMW M2’s steering a little less direct than that of an older M3, but he had a blast helping it show its stuff on a track. Built on the current 2 Series platform, the M2 uses the N55 inline six from the M235i tuned to produce 365 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. It’ll get from 0 to 60 in less than 4.5 seconds with the manual and 4.1 seconds with a dual-clutch automatic (DCT). The M2 isn’t terribly practical, but it does have a larger trunk (13.8 cubic feet) than the M3 and M4. And while it’s very nice that the M2’s Active Driving Assistant includes forward-collision warning, we recommend turning it off on track days.

-Steve Halloran

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