Written by Chad Taylor
Full disclosure: I drive a 1995 Honda Civic. It just rolled over 175,000 miles, and the hood is bent at an odd angle after a mishap changing a headlight (don’t ask). Naturally, this means I am the perfect person to break down some of your best buying options in 2015’s crop of new vehicles.
And brother, there are options a-plenty. Whether you are looking for a muscle car to impress the ladies, or a luxury touring vehicle to impress the ladies, or even a sporty SUV to get you across the Serengeti and still impress the ladies, we’ve got you covered. There was no need to tell you about the new Ford Focus or Kia Sorrento — who doesn’t already know everything they need to about those vehicles? So instead we focused on the fun. The exotic. The rarities that will get you noticed. Read on, dear fellow,
Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
Engine: 6.2L V8
0-60: 4 seconds
MPG (City/Highway): 17/29
Base MSRP: $55,000
For the most part, American muscle cars are all built the same way: shaped like cereal boxes, but with enough horsepower to damn the wind. Chevy has always bucked that trend with the Corvette, releasing a string of low-slung cars with aerodynamic shapes that hug the ground like lions on the hunt. The 2015 update of the Stingray is no different.
This is a purely American take on speed: With a low front end and a body that’s more angular than anything coming out of Europe, there is no mistaking the Corvette for anything else. The interior was given a major overhaul for the 2015 models, and everything was done for the better. Hand-stitched leather seats, a driver-first cockpit and the best heads-up display on the market all combined to make sitting in the Stingray nearly as enjoyable as driving it.
On the performance end, an improved rear suspension and better drag coefficient mean the car handles considerably better than its predecessors. Though it can still feel a little tail happy on quick acceleration, corners are a breeze, as the car provides incredible grip while turning.
There are only two downsides worth mentioning, and one of them won’t affect you unless you’re a technology-scorning purist. First, there is the matter of sight lines. In the coupe version of the car, you are surrounded by so much hardtop and so little window space that you never feel 100 percent certain about your blind spots being clear, which makes highway lane changes a thrilling adventure.
The second issue is in the transmission. The Corvettes all default to an automatic transmission (don’t scoff; Lamborghini and Ferrari are all-automatic lines now as well), but paddle shifters are included on the steering wheel for the folks who want a more interactive driving experience. However, Corvette’s shifters, unlike some of the other models I drove, are sluggish and unresponsive, as well as feeling flimsy and cheap. That concern, however, is a mere nit to be picked when it comes to the overall performance and experience of driving America’s finest muscle car.
Carrying the Family and Everything Else:
Engine: 6.2L V8
0-60: 6.1 seconds
Base MSRP: $73,000
Since its inception, the Escalade has come to embody all the perceived ills in American consumerism. It’s a huge, ungainly cow of a vehicle that swallows gas like W.C. Fields on a bender. As such, sales have been flagging over the past couple of years, but now Cadillac has put its heart and soul into bringing its flagship luxury SUV back in a big way.
The ’15 model features a retooled interior and a new eight-speed gearbox, of which the former helps to justify the vehicle’s lofty starting price, while the latter gives the behemoth a stunning amount of giddy-up, with various testing agencies posting 0-60 times as low as 5.5 seconds.
Inside, the Escalade is opulent. Three rows of seating and enough space for even the tallest of your relatives give the Escalade a cavernous feel when you’re driving in it alone. The third row seating can be collapsed flat at the push of a button, and the second row can be completely removed, giving the Escalade a potential 95 cubic feet(!) of cargo space, meaning there’s plenty of room for anything you would need to take home, up to and including two of every animal, in case of flood.
From the driver’s seat, the Escalade was the least satisfying experience of the vehicles on this list. The windshield features a heads-up display, but it is poorly positioned and difficult to read. Additionally, the center console still features the CUE input system that never seems to respond as cleanly as it should, making simple tasks like changing the radio station or upping the volume an adventure in frustration. Over the years, CUE has become such a notoriously difficult system to work with that many people have reported avoiding certain model lines altogether, specifically because of it.
There’s always going to be a limited customer base for the Escalade, which basically amounts to people with large families, and rappers. But if you fit into either one of those categories, this SUV is the biggest, baddest way to get around.
Touring in style:
Mercedes CLS 400 Coupe
Engine: 3.0L biturbo V6
0-60: 5.7 seconds
Base MSRP: $66,000
Mercedes-Benz is the creator of the first car, so it has literally been doing this longer than anyone else. Mercedes originated the idea of the “four-door coupe” with the CLS class in 2005. Since then, the series has undergone a litany of interior upgrades, engine refits and minor exterior adjustments and today stands as one of the most beautiful and thoroughly capable cars on the road.
The biggest change for the 2015 model comes under the hood. The CLS 400 now comes with the same twin-turbo V6 that was found in the E class last year. In the latter car, the engine was capable, if unremarkable, with a power band that lost a little oomph on the top gears. In the lighter CLS 400, however, the engine feels peppy without being overpowering, and acceleration is smooth and steady, with plenty of power to spare.
In the driver’s seat, you’ll immediately notice what sets Mercedes head and shoulders above most every other manufacturer in terms of comfort. The CLS’s suspension and seats work together to eliminate all but the worst bumps in the road, while the door and window seals keep virtually all road noise on the outside, where it belongs.
The CLS class now comes with all of the driver safety features previously only found in the E class, including adaptive cruise control, front, rear and top-down camera views for parking, automatic emergency braking and blind spot monitoring. In short, riding in the CLS class is like traveling on a cloud, and the car can practically drive itself in a pinch. And while the back seat only seats two, somewhat limiting the CLS 400’s usefulness as a family touring car, singles or couples will love the amount of room in the front of the cabin.
Long story short, the GLS 400 is a delight to spend time in, no matter where you’re sitting. It’s a responsive, dynamic car to drive, and the retooled front end gives it one of the sexiest exteriors around. If I happen to die tomorrow, please bury me in this car.
The SUV For People Who Actually Go Off-road:
Range Rover Sport SVR
Engine: 5.0L Supercharged V8
0-60: 4.5 seconds
Base MSRP: $81,000
Land Rover’s Range Rover line has always been a middling contender in the midsize SUV market. But trust me, you haven’t seen anything like the Sport SVR model. The starting price might seem high for a midsize, but if you’re in the market for a luxury SUV and you want one that can handle literally anything the terrain throws at you, and you happen to want a vehicle that can haul your camping gear and still blow the doors off just about anything else on the road, good golly Miss Molly, this is the vehicle for you.
First things first: Yes, the Sport SVR brings more horsepower to the table than a Corvette. And with an all aluminum body, it comes in about 800 pounds lighter than the standard Range Rover. All of that combines to create a monster driving experience, as the Sport SVR absolutely explodes from a dead stop and hits 60 mph faster than many sports cars.
But don’t think for a second that the Range Rover has sacrificed Land Rover’s core abilities in the name of speed. The Sport SVR features a four-wheel drive system with a low-range transfer case and a lockable center differential, which is tech-talk for “this thing will climb over rocks with ease and cling to a 45-degree angle like an angry billy goat.” So while you will (hopefully) never do both things at the same time, the Range Rover Sport SVR can get you over a mountain range and still top out at 162 mph.
There is nothing on the road that combines the cargo, off-road and handling capabilities of the Range Rover Sport SVR. The vehicle was originally slated to have a base price of around $111,000, but it can now be had for roughly the same price as an Escalade — or about $40,000 cheaper than the comparable Porche Cayenne Turbo.
Speed. Mind-Melting, Unadulterated Speed:
Jaguar F-Type R
Engine: 5.0L Supercharged V8
0-60: 3.8 seconds
Base MSRP: $99,000
Holy crap. Remember the 550 horsepower V8 that made the Range Rover Sport SVR rocket to 60 mph in under five seconds? The F-Type R has the exact same engine and is half a ton lighter. Even sitting quietly in the driveway, this car looks fast. Getting behind the wheel and hitting the engine start button, the car practically belittles you for driving on surface streets. This is not a vehicle made for 30 mph. It’s a car that announces its presence with glorious, unashamed volume, thanks to a push-button-controlled active exhaust system. Open it up and step on the gas, and the F-Type R will bully everyone in the area with its full-throated pops and roars. It’s a feeling that is indescribably fun.
Inside, this baby is all about the racing experience. Tight, comfortable seats and a low ceiling keep you hemmed in on all the action, and the racing-tuned suspension feels glorious in your hands as you whip around corners tighter than anything you’ve ever experienced. The transmission is manual by default but, like every other car on this list minus the Escalade, the F-Type R comes equipped with paddle shifters on the steering wheel, should you want to take over. The one big difference here, however, is how responsive and quick they are. While the shifters on the Corvette and Mercedes felt sluggish and light, the F-Type R snaps to attention as you flick the paddles, making the whole experience more visceral than anything else currently on the market.
There are two versions of this Jaguar on the market. The regular F-Type starts at $65,000 and looks identical to its cousin. But get into an F-Type R, find a clear stretch of highway and goose the gas pedal. You will definitely see where the extra money went.