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2023 Ford Bronco Sport First Drive Review: Shockingly Capable
The 2023 Ford Bronco Sport is an exciting proposition, but it’s easy to misjudge. Unlike its bigger Bronco 2-door and 4-door siblings, Bronco Sport sits on a modified platform shared with the Escape crossover. But where the Escape is tailor-made for urban cruising, the new Bronco Sport is skewed towards outdoorsy owners who enjoy an active – dare I say wilderness-embracing – lifestyle.
In fact, it only shares 70 to 80-percent of the Escape’s underpinnings. The Bronco Sport trims the wheelbase by 1.8-inches, compared to the Escape, while measuring 173-inches long. That’s almost the same length as a Jeep Compass, making it a suitably small SUV despite how it looks in photos.
It even shares the same engine choices with the Ford Escape. The Bronco Sport Base, Big Bend, and Outer Banks series have a 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine EcoBoost engine, with 181 horsepower and 190 lb.-ft of torque. This small engine packs quite a punch while still getting 25 mpg city, 28 highway, and a combined average of 26. I suspect this engine will be the lion’s share of sales for most buyers.
It took spending half of my drive time pushing the 1.5-liter on a paved road and then off-road, to instill an unexpected sense of confidence that the Bronco Sport is, despite my fears otherwise, no Escape. Even more surprising, I’m left with the suspicion that most of the time it’ll prove just as capable as the 2.0-liter engine.
That 2.0-liter turbo-4 is exclusively found in the Bronco Sport Badlands and First Edition, where it offers 245 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft of torque. Expect 21 mpg in the city, 26 on the highway highway, and 23 combined. Both engines are mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission; unlike the manual option in the bigger Bronco, this is the Bronco Sport’s only gearbox.
Also exclusive to the Badlands and First Edition models are the steering-mounted paddle shifters. The two upper trims get additional coolers, too, for their transmission and the rear drivetrain. That, Ford says, should ensure better performance during more intense off-road sessions.
You’d be happy to know that all Bronco Sport models get all-wheel-drive as standard, though not every trim gets the same system. The base and mid-tier models borrow a similar AWD system to that of the Ford Escape, albeit with new software to maximize its off-road capabilities. Unlike in the Escape, the Bronco Sport’s flavor of the AWD system is more serious in transferring power to the ground, instead of muting the engine response to improve traction.
Along with their bigger engine, the Badlands and First Edition models get a unique torque-vectoring differential in their rear axle. The twin-clutch system can transfer up to 100-percent of available torque, as well as acting as a limited-slip and locking differential, by locking the transmission in first gear.
Key to its unexpected talents are the GOAT off-road driving modes. GOAT stands for Go Over Any Terrain, and Bronco Sport has no less than five driving modes (Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, and Sand) in the base and mid-trim models, while the Badlands and First Edition models get two extra driving modes, Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl. Ground clearance ranges from 7.9 to 8.8-inches, depending on the trim, while the Bronco Sport can wade through 17.7 to 23.6-inches of water, depending on tire size.
When I say this is novice-friendly, I don’t mean it as a snub: in fact, Ford has done its best to make taking the Bronco Sport off the asphalt as unintimidating as possible. The optional Trail Control is a good example of that, essentially an off-road version of cruise control. When engaged, Trail Control can max out at 20 mph going forward (or up to 6 mph in reverse) while the system handles the throttle and brakes. It allows you, the driver, to focus on steering the vehicle when climbing over mud ruts or dunes, and proved more than useful during my test drive along a very technical trail in the Hungry Valley Vehicular Recreation area.
Towards the end of our test drive, I drove the Bronco Sport First Edition off-of a 34-degree cliff and survived to tell the tale. While Ford didn’t let me drive it back up, one of Ford’s hotshot drivers scaled the Black Diamond-level hill ascension, and the SUV didn’t break a sweat.
As for the styling, there the Ford Bronco Sport surprised me again. Pictures don’t really do it justice, especially right next to the full-fat Bronco coming midway through next year. The compact footprint and upright design give it a rugged stance, while the step-up roof design is reminiscent of old Land Rover Defenders. It has iconic round headlamps, short front and rear overhangs, and flat body sides.
“Honesty and robustness were two keywords we kept in mind in designing the Bronco sport,” Brian Paik, Ford senior exterior designer, explained. “So even if Bronco sport is more compact, we wanted it to communicate off-road authenticity without trying too hard like other small SUVs in the market.”
Now, I know it and Ford knows it: most of the time, the Bronco Sport will live on the road, not the trail. Happily there it lives up to expectations of an easy-going daily driver. The interior has more combined legroom than a Mazda CX-30, Jeep Renegade, or Toyota RAV4 – despite having a shorter wheelbase than the Escape – while thanks to the step-up roofline, the Bronco Sport has more second-row headroom than virtually any other compact SUV in the market today.
It’s also impressively practical, and the cabin is brimming with thoughtful features. The trunk door has a separate opening glass hatch, handy when loading smaller items without lifting the entire door. THe Bronco Sport offers up to 32 cu-ft with the rear seats up, large enough to accommodate oversized beer coolers and camping gear – or a big family grocery shop.
The rear compartment is large enough to store up to two 27.5-inch mountain bikes, thanks mainly to that distinctive roof design. Lifting the back door reveals a pair of adjustable LED floodlights to make loading and unloading in the dark more manageable. The compartment also has carabiner straps, while the front seats have zippered seatback pockets for additional storage. You even get a handy bottle opener in the cargo area.
All trim models of Bronco Sport also get Ford Co-Pilot 360 with standard blind-spot warning, automatic high beams, lane-keeping assist, pre-collision assistance with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, and rear cross-traffic alert. The optional Ford Co-Pilot 360 Assist+ throws in adaptive cruise control, navigation, lane centering, and evasive steering.
In my opinion, the most desirable trim is the Bronco Sport First Edition, though since it’s sold out as of my writing you’ll have to hope your nearest dealer stumbles across a spare. The First Edition essentially combines the capabilities of a Badlands with the interior of an Outer Banks; that means you get both the larger 2.0-liter engine, and a more refined cabin. It also gets unique wheels and some decal striping on the sides.
Consider me surprised. As it turns out, Ford’s 2023 Bronco Sport is not a softer version of its highly-anticipated Bronco sibling. Instead, it’s a smaller and modern interpretation of the original Bronco, pairing distinctive retro personality with strong capabilities both on and off-road, without sacrificing on the tech and creature comforts we expect from today’s small SUVs. Factor in pricing starting at under $30k, the Bronco Sport undercuts the competition with its potent mix of everyday drivability and competent off-road manners.
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2023 Ford Mustang Bullitt first drive: Back to its roots
There’s a risk, when you make a movie tie-in like the 2023 Ford Mustang Bullitt, of veering into pastiche. The most memorable part of the classic film, which saw Steve McQueen and his ’68 Mustang take on the steep hills of San Francisco in an epic 10+ minute chase scene, holds up fifty years later, even if the city today is a congested nightmare of Ubers and electric scooters with a few autonomous prototypes threading their way through the mess.
In those conditions, you’d be forgiven for questioning whether the ethos of the Mustang Bullitt is too far removed from what modern driving has become. At $46,595 (plus $900 destination) it’s certainly an affordable way to get behind the wheel of a 480 horsepower V8. However it comes with a commitment to the stick-shift, and minimal electronics to over-complicate matters – or to finesse them, depending on your point of view.
The aesthetics proved unexpectedly controversial among those I polled for their opinion. Personally, I think the Mustang Bullitt looks great with its logo-free grille, minimal smattering of chrome, 19-inch black wheels, and of course that Dark Highland Green paint job. You can order it in Shadow Black, too, but you shouldn’t. Others, though, weren’t so convinced by the debadging, though I love how visually broad it leaves the Mustang’s snout as a result.
SYNC 3 has its frustrations, too. Ford’s infotainment would’ve done better with a reskin to match the Bullitt theme at least – there’s some green contrast stitching in the cabin that looks good, but far too little of it, along with a blink-and-you-miss-it custom loading graphic when you start the car up – and it could’ve distracted you from the disconcerting slowdowns, particularly in the navigation system. You really shouldn’t have to wait more than a few seconds for lists to scroll or button-taps to be recognized.
Otherwise, though, this is a fast car. Ford takes the 5.0-liter Mustang GT as its starting point, coaxing 480 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque from its V8 engine. There’s the Mustang Shelby GT350’s intake manifold, a larger, 87mm throttle body, and a performance open air intake; 0-60 mph arrives in 4.1 seconds, while top speed rises by 8 mph over the donor car, to 163 mph.
Like in the movies, the soundtrack is key. As with the regular GT, the Mustang Bullitt has Ford’s three-stage active exhaust system, though here tuned a little differently for the limited-edition car. You can notch it down to neighbor-pleasing levels, or crank it up to really hear the car howl. It’s a seductive, burbling noise: a reminder that, though turbocharging and supercharging have their place in both performance and economy, there’s still something inherently pleasing about naturally-aspirated engines. The Bullitt blips automatically on downshifts, Ford adding rev-matching to its manual for the 2023 model year, and all the while the NitroPlate quad-tip exhaust gurgles happily.
Maximum torque doesn’t arrive until 4,600 rpm, but there’s more than enough to play with on your way there. Meanwhile, the standard Brembo brakes – with their red-painted calipers – shed speed with proficiency. There’s a mechanical directness to the whole thing which serves to remind you just how far most modern performance cars place you from the action, though the $1,695 MagneRide suspension option brings a well-injected shot of tech to proceedings.
There’s a lot to be said for accessibility, just as McQueen found. Accessibility of pricing, of power, of a driving experience – sound, speed, and stability – that rewards the enthusiast but doesn’t charge them the earth for it. Sure, the interior and its parts-bin switchgear is a reminder that you’re not too far from Ford’s more mundane models, but that also means accessibility of servicing and maintenance.
When the original movie car, arguably more the star of Bullitt than Steve McQueen ever was, was rediscovered after more than forty years, the 1968 Mustang could’ve been painstakingly restored. Instead, it’s been left pretty much as-is: a roughly 98-percent original triumph of authenticity. Much in the same way, the 2023 version that bears its name in tribute has an authenticity that beguiles you.
It’s rough and ready, plays to its most pleasing strengths, and most importantly it’s obtainable. Beyond however many of the limited-edition 2023 Mustang Bullitt cars Ford decides to make, too, it’s a reminder of the regular Mustang’s own charms. No CGI or special effects here, just good old-fashioned engineering and displacement.
2023 Lexus GS F First Drive
The car we’re seated in will arrive in showrooms in December, and when it does, it will continue the industry trend towards upmarket, increasingly niche segments. For its part, the luxe Japanese automaker has largely avoided following in the footsteps of the big German three in that regard. In many ways, the GS F will look to make its own way as well, all 2,000 of them slated to arrive in America.
Seemingly every Mercedes, BMW, and Audi has a corresponding AMG, M, S or RS model. Not one to be left out of the party, Lexus has played the variant alphabet-soup-game too, with F-Sport models adding distinct aesthetic touches, but the true performance F models have been limited to three. These include the IS F, the brand’s halo in the LFA supercar, and most recently, the RC F Coupe. And now? We’ve got a day to evaluate number four.
“Shouldn’t be more than twenty-five minutes,” I say, looking down at the nav. In retrospect, the impressions formed in that first half-hour in the morning may have been more important than those on track. While the GS F is the performance variant, we honestly can’t see anyone walking out of a dealership thinking “I’m going to track this.” Thankfully, Lexus doesn’t either.
The 2023 Lexus GS F is slated to be priced at $85,380 after delivery. That’s priced, not starting. We make the distinction because the GS F comes loaded with features, and the only options are orange brake calipers, or the fancier Mark Levinson audio system (audiophiles and creamsicle lovers, rejoice). That’s it. Again, Lexus is deviating from the course laid by the Germans, who offer attractive starting prices, but bundle most content and the options you want into pricey add-on packages that add features only as you pry open the wallet further.
In actuality, the GS F is more on par with very well-equipped versions of the Audi S6, or BMW 550i M Sport. Which brings us back to the directive of this car.
“It’s meant to be a fast road car, but capable on the track,” says Yaguchi-san, Lexus Emeritus Chief Engineer. That, it very much is. The GS F’s 5.0-liter V8 is good for 467 hp and 389 lb.-ft.—tuned and rebalanced from the RC F—and paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Peak power will arrive at 7,100 rpm, just below the 7,300 rpm redline. With a manufacturer estimated 0-60 mph time of just 4.4 seconds, and a quarter-mile time clocking in around 12.8 seconds, that’s a lot of metal—4,000 pounds worth—going very fast. And it’s track-capable, thanks to a few tricks.
First, engineers nailed the suspension. On the road, the GS F is composed, comfortable, and sporty when you want it to be. On the track, the GS F benefits from a torque vectoring differential, standard on all models. Two planetary gear packs in the rear help distribute torque to the optimal wheel, meaning more power is automatically transferred to the inside wheel when entering a corner, and sent to the outside wheel on exit. And it really works, too. During our laps of the circuit, race instructors toggled through the various settings, of which there are several.
First, there are the drive modes. Eco does what most Eco modes do: taper back throttle inputs and reduce the air conditioning in the name of saving fuel. Around town, Eco is your friend. Next is Normal, the name really gives it away. A Sport mode taps into the powertrain’s capabilities a little further, but it’s the Sport Plus (S+) mode that makes the GS F happiest. Here, throttle is maximized—with the Active Sound Control helping you appreciate the V8 with “desirable sound notes” piped right into the cabin—and even the electric power steering is wound a little more tightly.
Couple the drive modes with the TVD system—which boasts Normal, Slalom, and Track modes—and the GS F is a hyper-specific, precisely-tuned machine. In addition to TVD, Lexus has outfitted its top GS with a “G-Force Artificial Intelligence” system that detects driver inputs, and adjusts the car to maximize performance. If you’re hard on the throttle, it’ll detect that and ready higher gears for quicker upshifts, for example.
The 15-inch front and 13.58-inch rear brake calipers help the 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sports cut speed without drama after Jarama’s long straight, just before the circuit’s hard-right. Picking speed back up in Sport Plus is easy, power comes on fast, and shifts between gears are smooth. All of this is to say that the GS F will drop a few genuine grins on your face if you do find yourself on the track. But for those that just want a luxury sedan with performance at the ready when they want it, you’ll find quite a lot to like.
Alluring sheetmetal and handsome styling, make the GS F stand out: large air intakes, the infamous spindle grille, LED lights, attractive quad-exhaust pipes in the rear, there’s a lot that helps distinguish the GS F on the road. Inside, unreasonably comfy seats, a beautiful 12.3-inch screen with attractive graphics, and the best head up display we’ve seen yet—sharp, visible in direct sunlight and with bold readouts—make the interior as nice as any in the segment.
Interestingly, when we asked Lexus why they didn’t opt for an adaptive air suspension, they said that while the technology was interesting, it didn’t meet internal reliability standards in testing. If nothing else, the GS F can count on the automaker’s long reputation for quality and reliability.
In many respects, the 2023 Lexus GS F plays by its own rules. The German competitors all count on turbochargers, while the Lexus goes the classic route with a large, naturally-aspirated V8. The Germans have air suspensions, Lexus makes a pliant one and calls it a day. Mercedes, Audi, and BMW have several content packages, Lexus gives you a loaded model and charges you up front for some of it.
In many ways, the Lexus GS F stands alone. And for the 2,000 buyers that will opt for one, the combination of sportiness, style, comfort, and technology will leave them happy. The GS F feels genuinely special.
2023 Honda Civic Si First Drive: Much more than nostalgia
Every automaker in recent years has been keen to repackage our nostalgia for classic sports cars for a new generation. The resurgence in throwback styling, the revival of long-discontinued nameplates, the callbacks to brand heritage on and off the track – they all acknowledge that we miss the long-gone days of fun, affordable cars that could commute five days a week and carve canyons on the weekends. And, with the Gen X’ers that grew up idolizing the sports icons of the 80s finally possessing the cash – or credit – to dictate new model offerings, manufacturers at last have an incentive to bring back the days of yore.
In an era of stringent crash standards, EPA requirements, and increasing expectations of comfort and roominess from consumers, though, it’s rare that any of these nostalgia-laden models offer an experience that resembles their namesakes in anything but… well, name.
Image: Victoria Scott / SlashGear
So, when Honda brought out a third generation Civic Si – the very first Si model ever produced – and parked it next to the brand-new, eleventh-generation 2023 Civic Si as inspiration illustration of the newest installment for the long-running platform, I was skeptical. I’ve been a fan of vintage Hondas ever since I got a driver’s license; I drove an ’88 Prelude Si 2.0 to work every day for years. The attributes I love the classic creations of Soichiro’s company for – the airy cabins, the light and tossable on-road demeanor, and the motors that adored revs – all seemed off the table with this newest Civic Si, at least from a glance at its spec sheet.
Image: Victoria Scott / SlashGear
After all, the eleventh generation has gained fifty pounds over the outgoing model, putting it just shy of 3,000 pounds total. At the same time, it lost five horsepower, down to a flat 200 HP at the front wheels, and gained 1.4 inches in the wheelbase. Now nearly 108 inches, it’s over a foot longer than the diminutive hatch from ’87. And, although the displacement of the ’22 is the same as its ancestor from ’85 thanks to a 1.5 liter VTEC-equipped inline four under the hood, it’s now turbocharged, something that Honda had famously eschewed during their glory days of the 80s and 90s. Sum up these facts and it seemed like the newest iteration would be less like its ancestors than ever.
Image: Victoria Scott / SlashGear
Visually, at the very least, it is a return to form for Honda. The eleventh generation Civic is vastly prettier than the outgoing model, with the boy-racer tackiness of the tenth-gen Si done away with in favor of strong, uncomplicated body lines and uncluttered bumpers. It might not be the most stunning sedan on the market, but it’s undeniably handsome, and my test car finished in Si-exclusive Blazing Pearl Orange metallic paint was downright striking.
Along with the new sheet metal, the interior has gotten the complete refresh it sorely needed, and the cabin is much better for it. All of the strengths of the newest base model Civic introduced earlier in the year are carried over to the Si. The center stack has been decluttered and the standard 9″ touchscreen is now vastly easier to use, and comes equipped with also-standard wireless CarPlay and Android Auto.
Image: Victoria Scott / SlashGear
The stunning honeycomb vent trim bifurcating the dash is crisply emphasized with trademark Si red accenting, and the seats are supremely comfortable, with hip and lower back bolstering taken straight from the 10th generation Type R. As a bonus, the standard sound system – a 12-speaker Bose setup, complete with a subwoofer – is by far the best I’ve ever heard in a car anywhere close to this price point. At a $27,300 base price (plus $1,015 destination), with the only possible option being a $200 summer tire upgrade, it punches hard for its segment.
Image: Victoria Scott / SlashGear
Image: Victoria Scott / SlashGear
I was incredibly pleased to find that, in motion along routes that even supercar owners covet, the newest Si came together with a lively joy and easy-to-fling demeanor that brought me right back to those heady days of early Honda sports coupes. That redesigned cabin isn’t just packed with amenities, it’s designed to allow for as much greenhouse visibility as possible: the narrow, pushed-forward A-pillars allow for some of the best sight lines I’ve ever witnessed in a car that still needs to pass a roof crush test. Hairpin apexes were easy to spot without any of the unfortunate torso bob-and-weave routines that some modern cars require, due to their chunky pillars, and the downright airiness of the cockpit brought me back to my days of freeway off-ramps in my old ‘Lude.
Image: Victoria Scott / SlashGear
But it got better. Leaning onto the throttle out of those hairpins felt truer to the quintessential Honda experience than its engineers have ever achieved with a turbocharged motor before. The 200 HP four-cylinder is no longer naturally-aspirated, no, but Honda has taken pains to flatten the turbocharged peaks of the torque curve so that all 192 lb-ft it can deliver are on tap from a mere 1,800 RPM, then stick around all the way to 5,000.
Horsepower doesn’t climax until 6,000 RPM and, as a result, the Civic kicks early and pulls hard all the way to its 6,500 RPM redline. Even when I’d dip way down into the revs for exceptionally tight corners, it never felt like it was lugging its way back towards peak boost. It’s the traditional torque curve vintage VTEC votaries adore: floor it early, and let it rocket ’til the rev limiter beckons.
Image: Victoria Scott / SlashGear
Even when I had to throw down one more gear, the Civic handled blipping the throttle for me without complaint. It did occasionally lead to a bit more rev-hang than I would prefer, but it was nothing intrusive enough to interrupt my bliss as I wound through curve-etched canyons in Southern California.
Image: Victoria Scott / SlashGear
No matter how hard I pushed the Si, it eagerly devoured the blacktop. Honda has done away with the adaptive dampers of the previous generation, deciding instead to simply put stiffer springs, a stronger torsion bar, and more structural rigidity into the newest Civic, and the handling is outstanding as a result. The steering feels weighty without losing an ounce of road feel; the chassis is so brilliantly communicative, it could have a job in public relations. Whether it’s the beautifully-bolstered seats, the fantastic steering, or the steel-girder stiffness of the chassis, no matter – driving the newest Civic felt like wearing it. The center of rotation simply felt like it was my hips, and the entire car was orbiting around me.
Image: Victoria Scott / SlashGear
As I wrung it out relentlessly through the hills and got the summer-tire-option Goodyear Eagle F1s warmed up to temp, I could feel the sidewalls flexing before the car would break traction. When the Honda finally did begin to skitter across the pavement it did so with complete poise and an extremely neutral demeanor, with just a hint of understeer on the tightest corners that was easy to correct by letting off the throttle. It was sublime at the limit, because it would warn me long before any real danger and keep me from doing anything too stupid; it just was having fun right along with me.
The dirty secret of reviewing, though, is that nearly any car is fun to review at the ragged edge of its limits; what’s more incredible is when a car can make a pleasure cruise feel engaging. After my pulse-pounding romp, I laid back, blasted that ample Bose system, and made my way up the coast of California, and the Civic Si was still unrivaled amounts of fun. At the time, I couldn’t pin it down to any specific factor – was it the comfortable interior? maybe it was that eager drivetrain, thrilled to race up to redline? perhaps the compelling steering feel?
Image: Victoria Scott / SlashGear
Honda’s machines of the 80s were not parking-lot heroes with the statistical provenance to win arguments. Curb weight, torque curves, 0-60 times – those are irrelevant data in this context. Its finest cars have always been cohesive experiences that are far more than the sum of their parts. Honda’s best cars have always been fun at 30 MPH dawdling through traffic or 65 attacking corners like the Senna of the streets, and the newest Civic carries on that tradition with one of the most fun driving experiences a modern car can offer, at any speed.
Do not for a single second expect that Audi’s approach of keeping tech out of the way means stripping away all the digital whiz-bangery for an analog-only experience (sorry analog purists, keep lobbying). Instead they’ve taken two approaches: simplify the experience or get tech out of the way so you can focus on what you’re doing — driving or being driven.
Let’s start with the interior design. Audi designers want those who enter the A8 to feel welcomed with open arms, and once the door closes, surrounded in a comfortable embrace. On placing one’s posterior in the A8’s noticeably comfortable leather seats, your attention shifts to the cleanliness of the lines and comfortable balance of materials. It’s the antithesis of many upper-echelon luxury cars that sometimes that on the appearance of a ‘mood-board smorgasbord.’ Instead you are presented with a well-appointed, minimalistic collection of matching textures and tones, that wouldn’t be out of place in a modern downtown apartment’s interior. To my eye, the most pleasing interior combination was the Sarder Brown leather with the natural Ash timber inlays, an elegant grey-brown color reminiscent of dark coffee.
However, If you are really insistent on more expected interior combos, such as walnut panelling with warm leather tones, they’re offered, but aren’t as sharp as the more modern tonal options. The ‘classic’ tones almost feel like the interior designers acquiescence to past sales date rather than completeness of Audi’s vision. Do yourself a favor, go Sarder Brown.
There are distinct horizontal layers within the cabin that wraps around from the front console to the doors. It’s not just easy on the eyes, each band denotes function. Where possible, functionality has been consolidated into touch screens or multifunction buttons, often hidden from view, including the air vents that are covered when not in use. What appears as a wide, flowing piano-black panel, upon start-up, reveals two large touch screens. All the things in this black layer are made for interaction: vehicular function, environment and personal setting controls.
The topmost screen delivers media, navigational and vehicle setting, and the display below it contains all environment controls, seat settings and other comfort options. A nice progression from the previous A8, with most functions inside the A8 placed within reach and in a logical flow. Screens, buttons and panels are all tightly fitted in the cockpit, and the finish feels truly bespoke.
The A8 flaunts the second generation of Virtual Cockpit Plus. With higher resolution, faster processing and a smoother scrolling display, the digital experience now extends to the rest of the cabin with the media center and environmental controls integrated into one system.
While there has been much gnashing of teeth about the removal of physical buttons and replacing them with screens, after having driven the A8 for a day, you quickly become accustomed to the layout of the screens and methods of interaction. For the most part, I got into a rhythm of how to interact with the touch screen, save several moments while driving, trying to find seat functions that had been available as physical buttons in the previous generation A8. The latest generation of MMI — Audi’s infotainment, navigation and communication system — works much the same way as any other touch screen does, including the ability for users to customize the displays by moving icons around on the screen as you would on any modern smart device. Engaging with it feels incredibly familiar, just like using your smart phone.
Acknowledging that while physical controllers allow a user to reach and initiate a function from muscle memory, albeit a single use function, digital screen versions of controllers require a different kind interaction to allow users to stay focused on the road. Audi found that users quickly grew accustomed to operating the display through their peripheral vision using function color association — each function has a color assigned to it that is consistent through all Audi vehicles.
Audi’s interior designers are so confident, or perhaps deeply enamored by the aesthetic simplicity that screens offer, that they would have sucked in every single button and switch into this system were it not for pesky regulations that required they keep a certain number of functions as ‘real’ buttons. While the display surfaces are a designer’s dream in simplifying the interior, in part they were an inevitable requirements, due to the ever-growing number of features and controls being added to each new generation of vehicle.
However, using a single digit to push buttons is so 2023 — natural writing recognition and voice commands are the way of the future. Hence the A8 features natural handwriting recognition, where you can write entire destinations onto the touch screen, a leap forward from the start-stop individual character input of previous systems. Alternatively, you can talk to your A8 using its onboard voice recognition to help you in a multitude of ways, from easy tasks like changing temperature settings to finding a coffee shop, you’ll even get fed the top three Yelp reviews to ensure you pick the right spot.
Starting from the moment you step out of your home, Audi wants to be your complete end-to-end travel concierge. For example, locating a coffee house is but the first step — once you’ve identified the ideal purveyor of ground beans, to ensure you get that caffeine hit as soon as possible, Audi has a slew of systems to get you there faster. Your A8 is fed real-time traffic light information, telling you the speed you need to take to make each light (within the limit of the law of-course), or if it’s about to change.
There are seven cities in the US that already have connected smart lights — including, Vegas, Palo Alto, Washington DC— based on municipality, with more coming online. Then as you approach your coffeeshop, your A8 will help you find parking via parking search assistance, and perfectly park via Park Assist if your driver has the day off. It doesn’t stop there either. Using the myAudi app, there is continued direction if you need to walk to your destination if it’s within a mall, ensuring a continuity of experience from vehicle to final caffeination destination.
Getting there, in the back of the Audi A8 provides its own focused experience. First, the space in the back is capacious. There’s no way you’ll be bruising your knees on the back of the front seats, in fact there’s enough room to comfortably stretch out. It’s without reserve, a first-class space. The rear seats have multidirectional adjustments, and the in-seat massagers have been updated with additional massage nodes for both the front and rear seats. I already consider Audi to deliver best-in-class seat massagers, and the updated systems in the A8 continue this tradition. To further enhance your comfort, an air-quality package for ionization and aromatization is available, as are heated center and door armrests to further enhance comfort.
Passengers in the back can use either a removable remote in the folding handset, or the fixed center console that replaces the middle rear seat in the 4-seat package, to control the environment in the rear. Controlling all the expected features, such as temperature, seats and infotainment system, with the addition of a neat new directional lighting feature. Namely, a Matrix LED in the ceiling that allows you to select exactly where the light will fall and how widely it is cast, great for ensuring your personal wellness book is perfectly lit as your feet are pampered in the heated massaging footrest. Both are optional features, but it’s BYO wellness book.
To further provide you with a space away from it all, blinds for the rear, side windows are available, as is dual-pane acoustic glass. Naturally.
However, if the space in the back is going to be more about productivity as you shuttle between board meetings, then you’ll likely appreciate the folding productivity tables and utilize the large and brightly lit displays behind the front seats.
The designers and engineers behind the A8 are understanding more than ever the myriad of ways we want to use our cars, and the A8 provides a vision into how they are fulfilling our needs, while ensuring we do it in a safe, efficient, helpful and peaceful manner. Time will prove out whether Audi’s level of visible technology is the right balance, especially having sucked all the physical buttons into screens, but out of the gate, it’s not horrible.
2023 Audi S5 Coupe and S4 Sedan First Drive: Seriously Smooth
By now, Audi knows the formula for making attainable performance cars like the 2023 S5 Coupe and 2023 S4 Sedan. Take the A-series vehicles on which they’re based, glam up the exterior and interior, drop in a more powerful engine, and you end up with a rewarding driver’s car that doesn’t break the bank. In the process, you find yourself in the midst of a growing segment of enthusiasts’ wheels.
Just as Audi has its S line division, Mercedes has its Mercedes-AMG and BMW has its M Sport teams. All offer a taste of their most extreme road-legal sports models, but with fewer compromises in a vehicle that has to be usable everyday (and even with the family along for the ride). For the 2023 S4, pricing kicks off at $50,900; in the case of the S5 Coupe, it’s $54,600.
There are plenty of visual clues that you’re driving an S4 or S5 Coupe, rather than their A4 and A5 cousins. LED lights front and rear, special S model quad tailpipes, and new fascia and rear diffuser designs all help differentiate from the regular cars. On top of that, Audi throws lashings of its “All-Optic” trim, an aluminum-effect finish for the grille, mirrors, and bumpers. The result is still fairly restrained – especially in comparison to the especially aggressive front of the Mercedes-AMG C43 – but handsome nonetheless, and Audi’s designs have a tendency to age particularly gracefully.
Under the different body styles lurks the same core engine. It’s a 3.0-liter V6 TFSI, with a new twin-scroll turbocharger mounted inside the V, as opposed to the twin-turbochargers which flanked older versions of the engine. Thanks to that, the use of aluminum for the crankcase and pistons, and various other tweaks, Audi’s engineers have trimmed 31 pounds from the powertrain.
It’s good for 354 horsepower and 369 lb-ft. of torque, comfortably up from the old S4 and S5. The new turbocharger system means torque arrives much faster than in the old S4 and S5, too, with almost 200 Nm (around 147 lb-ft.) more off the line.There’s also a new 8-speed tiptronic transmission, similar to the gearbox you’ll find in the RS 7, though – likely to the dismay of some purists – no manual option.
According to Audi’s Anthony Garbis, program manager for the A4, A5, Q5, and R8, there just is the demand for them. “Worldwide, people who are buying performance cars are buying automatic,” he points out, “because they’re faster.” On paper, the S4 and S5 Coupe will do 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds, Audi says, and on to a limited top speed of 155 mph.
As you’d expect, quattro all-wheel drive is standard, with a 40:60 front to rear bias. Tick the box for the S sport package, and you get sport adaptive damping suspension and a second-generation sport rear-differential. That, Audi says, is quicker to shift power between the rear wheels depending on which has the most grip.
Speaking of grip, Audi is also pitching the 2023 S4 and S5 Coupe as the best at braking in their class. That comes courtesy of 6-piston front calipers as standard, clamping down on 13.8-inch discs. If you coughed up the $2,500 for the S sport package, the brake calipers get a red finish.
On the road, and in Comfort mode – selectable with Audi’s drive mode buttons, along with Eco, Dynamic, and the driver-customizable Individual settings – you could almost mistake either car for their regular siblings. Still, there are plenty of differences in the cabin to make things clear. Alcantara door panels and a flat-bottom sport steering wheel with shift paddles are standard, as are carbon inlays on the dashboard. S line sport seats with 12-way power adjustment and massage are also standard, both easy on the eye with their diamond quilted leather, and pleasingly supportive in the corners.
They’re heated, too, though not ventilated. If you want cooling you’ll need the Warm Weather package, an $800 option that changes the leather too, but also switches the interior to the regular sport seats. A heated steering wheel is $200.
The option I suspect most will check is the $2,600 Navigation package. That upgrades the driver instrumentation to Audi’s excellent Virtual Cockpit, with a new S model display that puts engine speed front and center. There’s also an 8.3-inch center display and a touchpad integrated into the MMI control wheel, for sketching out letters and numbers to enter addresses. You should probably also consider the $950 Bang & Olufsen audio system on the S5 Coupe – it’s standard on the S4 – which sounds great.
Audi introduces a little more engine noise into the cabin with a fancy resonating system, but I’d not argue with even greater growl from the powertrain overall. Switch into Dynamic mode, and the soundtrack is still a little muted, only really rousing itself when you’re above 3,500 rpm. Turbo lag, as Audi promised with its shortened compressor runs, was minimal; the 3.0 TFSI won’t quite convince you it’s naturally-aspirated, but neither will it – or the transmission – leave you twiddling your thumbs while you wait for the power to arrive.
Steering is precise and, combined with the quattro AWD, there’s never a sense of uncertainty as to where you’re pointing either car. Dynamic steering is a $1,150 option, adjusting the steering ratio according to speed, driving style, and other factors. In the latter portion of our drive, an unexpected dust storm in the mountains around Palm Springs sent showers of debris into the road, but the S5 proved capably nimble at dodging chunks of rock while still clinging to the asphalt.
The brakes in both S4 and S5 Coupe are certainly strong. There’s a fraction of squish at the very top of the pedal travel, but that uncertainty swiftly gives way to seatbelt-testing levels of stopping power. It can take a few miles before you’re quite used to the way Audi’s 6-piston setup kicks in, but once you’ve dialed in your foot it leaves you with no shortage of confidence. Push foolishly hard in corners and you can provoke understeer, but it’s easy to modulate with the crisp steering and tenacious AWD.
Of the two cars, the 2023 S5 Coupe arguably has more of a sense of occasion. The body-style doesn’t hurt there, but it’s about more than just losing the rear doors. The S5’s bulging hood – Audi calls it a “power dome” – is a persistent visual reminder that you’re driving something special. Inside, the fairly high rear roofline means space in the back seats is decent; it also gives the cabin an airiness that those who find many two-doors claustrophobic will appreciate.
Audi’s pitch with the S4 and S5 Coupe is that core S line buyers are pointedly loyal, to the point that they won’t even consider the C43 and BMW 340i alternatives out there. Those who are more open-minded will probably find the C43 sedan and coupe a little more raucous, compared to the Audi’s crisp, teutonic efficiency in how they put power down and pivot through the corners. The 340i sedan is the only one to offer a manual gearbox, and a darn good one it is too. That alone might be sufficient to send you to your nearest BMW dealer.
NOW READ: 2023 Audi Sport RS3 First Drive: A 174mph demon
Still, I can easily see why Audi fans would appreciate the 2023 S4 and S5 Coupe. They’re fast and easy to drive; practical enough to be your everyday car, but with enough special sauce to set them apart in the parking lot. Neither BMW or Mercedes quite delivers the combination of active safety and driver assistance aids that Audi does, either. True, the upcoming RS 5 will overshadow the performance of each with its 450 HP V6, but it’ll also demand seriously deep pockets and may well sacrifice a little comfort in the process.
The 2023 S5 and S5 Coupe request no such compromises. Indeed, you could say they offer the best of both worlds, performance and practicality. It’s proven to be a winning formula elsewhere in Audi’s line-up, and nothing about these new cars suggest that streak is likely to change.
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