Lexus Debuts Their New UX Luxury Compact Crossover with Bold Art Installation in NYC

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On any given night in New York City there are probably a million events happening, only a few of which are actually cool. So, you know if we’re going to actually leave the house, it has to be worth it — and on Tuesday night, it was.

To kick off the annual New York International Auto Show, Lexus threw a banger, and debuted their new UX compact luxury crossover. And you know, because all the best parties also include a really great collab, the brand teamed up with NYC non-profit RxArt to premiere a custom urban-landscape art installation by artist Daniel Heidkamp, which will later be placed in a New York City Pediatric Cancer Center. The piece was a life-size Manhattan skyline in bold neon Pop Art colors — the perfect backdrop for Lexus’  chic new ride.

 

 

Of course, they also gave us tote bags. But don’t worry, you can get one, too — we don’t want you to feel left out. It’s not as great as the Lexus UX, which is not only the brand’s first luxury compact crossover, but also introduces an “all new platform built for exceptional handling, an ultra-efficient powertrain and innovative luxury features,” made for young, cool, city-slickers just like you. And hey, if the L train’s going to close next year, what better option is there?

The Lexus UX (in hybrid and gas models) arrives in December 2018.

Photos by Daniel Byrne

 

Start Your Engines: Ron Howard’s “Rush” and Claude Lelouch’s “C’était un Rendezvous”

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Ron Howard’s upcoming film Rush tells the story of the infamous rivalry between Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the World Championship at Fuji in Japan. There’s no better way to gear up for all the burning rubber than to watch C’était un Rendezvous.

Director Claude Lelouch’s nine-minute-long cinematic masterpiece was made in the same year that Howard’s film is set. Rendezvous depicts a high-speed early-morning drive through the streets of Paris that most certainly broke a few laws. There is no narration. No music. Simply the sound of a revving engine going through its paces, images of an awakening City of Lights whizzing by (thanks to a grill-mounted camera) and an ending that is trés romantique.

Rendezvous has become the stuff of legend (Who drove the car? Was it a Formula One driver or Lelouch himself? What car was used?), with fans tracing the actual route in Paris—or making their own versions in other cities, including avid car collector Jay Leno, who did his own tribute ("one of my favorite car films of all time") on a circuit near his Beverly Hills home in a Mercedes SLS AMG.

C’était un Rendezvous (1976) [full]:

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Rush (2013) [trailer]:

Looking for Fun in a 2014 Lexus IS

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The skepticism began when I received an invitation to fly down to North Carolina to drive a Lexus around a racetrack that wasn’t their LFA flagship supercar. Rather, I would be driving the newly redesigned for 2014 Lexus IS. My lack of enthusiasm stemmed from the fact that previous iterations of the IS have never showed any signs of sport, despite their place in the entry-level luxury sports sedan segment. They weren’t bad cars by any means, and they embodied the luxury, comfort, and reliability that Lexus is known for. But when compared with its German—and now, with the addition of the Cadillac ATS—domestic competitors, the Lexus IS always fell short in the fun-to-drive department.

So when the engineers at Lexus told a room full of auto journalist (aka “driving enthusiasts”) that the goal for the 2014 Lexus IS was to create “the most fun car to drive in its class,” there was a lot of eye rolling and perhaps a snicker or two amongst the crowd.  But with over a million miles put into testing the car, I was at least willing to hear them out.

002 Lexus

Exterior

Just looking at the new IS you could tell that Lexus was taking this whole “fun to drive” thing seriously. If the design of the previous IS was plain vanilla, the new design is a flavor so intense it doesn’t even have a name yet. Too intense, in fact, for my tastes upon first glance, particularly the large front “spindle” grill, an exaggerated play on Lexus’ new signature design feature. That said, you need to tip your hat to Lexus knowing that in order to disperse the preconceived notions that the previous IS carried with it, and capture the attention of would-be 3-series or C-class drivers, they needed to offer the boldest and most aggressive styling in its class.

In any case, the more time I spent with the car, the more I came to appreciate—dare I say love—the subtleties in the design that actually make this the best looking car in the segment, save for perhaps the more conservative 3-series M-Sport.

Of particular note is the swooping line that starts midway through the bottom of the front doors, cutting through the rear wheel well to meet up with the rear lights, and finishing off through the rear trunk lid. I even came to appreciate the front end, with its aggressive air inlets and headlamps and LED’s that seamlessly integrate into the bodywork.

Lexus Interior

Interior

If you’ve ever sat in the outgoing IS, forget everything. In line with the old IS exterior, the interior was equally boring, with nothing about it inspiring spirited driving.  But with the newly aggressive exterior of the new IS comes a revamped interior to match. Replacing the wide-open feel of the outgoing model, the new IS benefits greatly from a more cockpit-like layout and lowered driver position. The seats in the standard model are comfortable and provide ample support, but the sport seats from the F-Sport package are, in my opinion, the best seats available in any car in the segment, and worth splurging for the F-Sport package on their own.

Similarly, the standard 8-speaker, 250 watt sound system is great, but the 15-speaker, 800 watt Mark Levinson system is remarkable—but only worth spending for if you’re an audiophile.

And while the computer-mouse-inspired infotainment system is safer to use than a touch screen, it still requires too much driver attention to be considered a better alternative to the tactile feel of buttons and dials found on the exceptionally easy to use system in the Mercedes C-Class. Thankfully though, some buttons and dials remain for the most regularly used functions, such as volume and climate control. 

Speedometer Lexus

Performance

So about that whole “fun-to-drive” thing Lexus was going for with the new IS …

It was smart on Lexus’ part to have an outgoing IS350 on hand for us to drive at the track for a side-by-side comparison, because, like the exterior and interior, the new IS drives like a completely different car—for the better. Where the old IS suffered from oversteer, body roll, and poor braking, the new IS felt confident in the corners, both under speed and during braking. The new chassis and suspension work perfectly together to provide you with a sporty feel when pushing the car, but not at the expense of a comfortable ride when casually cruising.

But the fun factor depends heavily on your engine choice. While most will find the 204hp and 184 lb-ft of torque 2.5 liter V6 in the IS250, with a 0-60 time of 7.7 seconds (8.3 seconds with AWD) to be enough for general driving, it lacks the power necessary to really feel fun. So if fun is what you’re after, spring for the 306hp and 277 lb-ft of torque 3.5 liter V6 in the IS350, with a 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds (although most agreed it felt faster). It not only provides you with the power that’s lacking in the IS250, it also sounds a lot better too.

Lexus Art Shot

Wrap-Up

So is the new Lexus IS fun to drive? Absolutely. Is it “the most fun car to drive in its class”? It’s hard to say. When you remove cost as a factor, the 335i M-Sport still gets my nod in the fun department, but fully loaded comes in a few thousand dollars higher than the comparably equipped IS350 F-Sport. If cost is a factor, you could argue that the Cadillac ATS, which is a blast to drive and comes in a few thousand less than the IS, is the best value.  But regardless of those minor differences, there’s no question that the 2014 IS is now a serious contender in the entry-level luxury sports sedan segment, and a car that its competitors should be worried about.

[More by David Heath]

First Drive: 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish

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After nearly an eight-year hiatus, the 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish returns to reclaim the top stop as the king of the Sports GT world. Evolving from the recently departed, and wildly fantastic, DBS, the second generation Vanquish leaps forward borrowing on many of the technologies and styling cues, both internally and externally, from the $1.5-million dollar Aston Martin One-77 Supercar.

The design of the new Vanquish finds the perfect balance between modern and forward thinking elements while maintaining heritage styling cues that make it unmistakably an Aston Martin. Take, for example, the addition of the Vanquish’s new Aero Duct on the deck lid, an unique passive engineering feature designed to counteract lift of the cars rear while travelling at speed, takes one person nearly two days to complete a single unit.

Every body panel on the Vanquish is constructed entirely of high-grade carbon fiber, a first for an Aston Martin production vehicle. The use of carbon fiber throughout the body is due to it’s incredibly high strength-to-weight ratio and its flexibility of form, allowing for an increase of torsional rigidity by more than 25 percent over that of the DBS, allowing for a great responsiveness and predictability in the Vanquish’s handling.

Powered by an all new, hand-assembled, 6.0 liter V12 matted to a performance honed six-speed transmission, the Vanquish produces 565hp and 457 lb/ft of torque, which will accelerate the car from 0-62 mph in 4.1 seconds with a top speed of 183 mph. Utilizing a proprietary torque converter borrowed from the One-77, the transmission seamlessly shifts through gears without hesitation or pause.

Keeping the Vanquish glued to the road are 20-inch light weight alloy wheels wrapped in Pirelli P-Zero rubber that were specially developed for the car, with 255/35ZR20 in the front and 305/30ZR20 in the rear. Utilizing the latest iteration of Aston Martin’s Adaptive Damping System, the driver is able to change the suspension, body rigidity, throttle response, brake position, and steering response by simply switching through three distinctive modes: Normal, Sport, and Track, taking the car from a comfortable cruiser to a track-day dominating monster. Helping instill confidence in braking are Carbon Ceramic brakes at all four corners, with the same calipers used on the One-77.

Inside, you’ll find exactly what you would expect from Aston Martin. An interior where nearly every panel is covered in the finest leather, requiring over 70 hours of expert craftsmanship, and seven leather hides, to complete the sport cars luxurious interior. The engineers at Aston Martin have managed to create 140 percent more storage space over the DBS.

One of the most defining interior improvements for the Vanquish is the introduction of the new center stack and infotainment system, another direct descendent of the One-77, which proves to be significantly more user friendly than it’s predecessor found in the DBS. Completing the package is a 1000w Bang & Olufsen 13-speaker audio system that can compete with the best home theater systems available. However, we much preferred the natural aural notes produced by the Vanquish’s incredible engine and exhaust.

So while it took nearly eight years for us to receive the new Vanquish, the wait was certainly well worth it. Embracing its multiple personalities allows the driver to feel equally comfortable with the Vanquish on crowded city streets or on long haul drives. And then, when the situation calls for it, provide immediate confidence swallowing up miles of twisted pavement at speed. These are claims for which most of its Italian counterparts aren’t as able to easily make.

And that is, of course, the defining difference with Aston Martin. While the Italian rivals show up to the dinner party in their purple velour dinner jackets emblazed with Swarovski crystals begging for attention, the Aston is more than content simply knowing that he’s the one hosting it. While other super cars pride themselves on being aggressive, the Aston Martin Vanquish prides itself on being assertive. 

Finally, when you consider the immense amount of technologies taken directly from the $1.5mm One-77, and the fact that this is one the most well rounded supercars ever built, at a starting price of $279,995, the 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish is a bargain that will make any one who is fortunate enough to get their hands on one more than pleased with their purchase.  

 The Aston Martin Vanquish is currently available for pre-orders now with first expected deliveries to take place in early 2013. 

McLaren’s New $270K Drop-Top Beauty

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We hope you have a napkin handy because if you’re anything like us, get ready to start drooling. No less than a few hours ago we got word that McLaren is soon to be releasing the drop-top version of their “only-car-to-give-the-Ferrari-458-Italia-a-run-for-it’s-money” McLaren MC4-12C and, damn, it is gorgeous.

The car is set to debut in the fall, so stay tuned for a more in-depth report when we finally get behind the wheel of this 3.1sec 0-60, 616hp, beast of a machine. For the time being just enjoy the slideshow and head on over to www.configure.mclaren.com to start customizing your own. 

Spasso Launches Aperitivo Menu Full of Small Bites and $5 Cocktails

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Five dollar fruit-infused cocktails are hard to find in New York. So are $3 crostinis, prosciutto, and stuffed eggs. So when a homey Italian restaurant in the West Village launches a daily aperitivo menu offering all of these things from 4-6pm, we take note. We listen. And we RUN there. To Spasso. Where limoncello and foccacia await.

Spasso’s Milanese-style menu features up to eight seasonal $2-5 snacks and $10 cocktails. But if you check in on Four Square, the drinks are actually 50 percent off  for the first round.

The cocktails feature such drinks as the limoncello and lime-based Maserati; the prosecco and peach Alfa Romeo; and the bourbon and orange twist Lamborghini. Yes, these deliciously-filled flukes are “driving” you and your night in the right direction. Most likely in the direction of THE SMALL BITES.

These bites are more than bites: when put together, they form an assorted platter of all the pre-dinner nibbles your grandmother served that your mom never let you have seconds of. But you’re an adult now, so go wild on such offerings as sliced mortadella and prosciutto, marinated eggplant, seafood salad, and sweet and spicy nuts.

If you’re still hungry when the clock strikes 6pm, stay for one of Spasso’s full meals that are equally as satisfying and three times the size. Or just sleep outside and come back in the next day at 4pm for some more sweet and spicy nuts. Whatever works. 

GM’s EN-V Pod Car at CES

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In the works for the last year, GM’s EN-V mini-pod-car for stylish, ergonomic urban assault made its debut at the CES gizmo-show in Vegas this week. Check out video from Kotaku after the jump.

The Transition Car-Plane: Not a Delorean, But It Flies

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Move over hybrids — the Transition is here. Half car, half plane, this “roadable aircraft” is 19 feet long and 6 feet 9 inches high, with an expandable wingspan of 27 feet. It runs on regular unleaded gas for both on-ground and in-air travel, cruising at highway speeds on land and upwards of 115 miles per hour in the air. The two-seater car-slash-plane had its maiden voyage March 5 at the Plattsburgh International Airport in New York, with a retired US Air Force Reserve colonel in the pilot’s seat. Video after the jump.

The Federal Aviation Administration is categorizing the vehicle as a light sport aircraft, and presumably you’d have to have both your pilot’s license as well as your driver’s license to operate one of these guys. With the first “road” test behind them, the Transition will now go through a few rigorous years of prototyping, building, testing, and certifying, with 2011 as the projected roll-out date. Having your own plane to drive you to work won’t be cheap though; the estimated sticker price is $200,000. Which would still be cheaper than lifetime first class airplane tickets.

Slow Auto Rentals Mean More Trouble for Detroit

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imageThe auto industry is getting a nice punch in the nads with recent slowdowns in car rentals. The current economy doesn’t really make people feel like traveling so much, so sales to rental cars fleets are in steep decline. This dropoff is then passed directly to automakers because the rental car companies are not restocking their lots as much. “Fleet sales” — large-scale sales from the automakers to rental car companies — are no longer so popular, and they’re cutting into what used to be a reliable 20% of all sales for companies like Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford.

While the rental car companies continue to stick it to the big three, the silver lining comes in the form of cheap daily rentals for those who dare to travel in the face of the declining economy. Deals are as low as $10 a day.