Tuesday, June 10, 2014

2014 VW Eos- Desert Delightful

The triple-digit days in Palm Springs are fast approaching. It was high 90s this afternoon, and is still in the upper 80s a little after seven in the evening as the Eos and I head up winding Highway 74 toward the mountain town of Idyllwild. The turbo is humming softly, the DSG transmission is slapped into third with a couple thousand revs to go before redline, and the corner illuminating foglamps are darting back and forth to illuminate the twisty path. Of course the top is stowed. The passenger side windows are raised, partially in anticipation of the cooler temperatures up the mountain in Idyllwild, and partially to preserve a the remains of a really good hair day. The CD player is blasting K-Tel’s Greatest Hits of Drag and in this moment, the Eos is simply perfect. It and I seem to exist only for the enjoyment of the other.

I’ve always had a strong affection for open Volkswagens, and the Eos is no exception. In fact, if anything, the little hardtop-convertible-with-sunroof coupe might just be my favorite topless VW offering in recent memory. It’s certainly not the newest offering in the line-up, the Golf-based charmer has been around since 2007 and had only had a minor refreshing back in 2012, yet it continues to make people smile.

For how long is an open question, what with the seventh-generation Golf platform headed toward our shores, it’s just unlikely that VW will invest in a new generation for the likable little car, and that’s really a shame. Because the Eos has something most convertibles don’t- a sliding glass sunroof, which is a huge plus in Palm Springs. Yes, we love our desert but there are times of the day when it’s too hot for top down driving but just right for a sliding sunroof- and only the Eos gives you the choice of all three in a hardtop convertible. Drive to breakfast with the top down, then home with the sunroof open to avoid the sun on your neck. From there the little beret is tightly sealed until sundown, when the top does down and the Eos comes out to play.

Since the EOS is essentially a high-line Golf with a disappearing hardtop, I just have to take a moment to talk about the roof itself. It disappears completely in about 30 seconds, was water tight in the epic car wash test, rattle free and almost sedan quiet when raised. And the solid sunroof shade was a big plus in the desert heat. Yes, the roof is an expensive item, but at least you’re getting value for the money spent.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a pricey little piece. My base-level Komfort represents the least expensive Eos one can buy, with a base price of $36,460 including freight. It’s pretty tall, but the level of standard equipment is quite high. There’s only one drivetrain- VW’s 2.0-liter turbo four with direct injection, it’s 200 ponies are mated to a six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic. Navigation is standard too, as is a back-up cam, bluetooth, 17” alloys, electronic climate control, a 12-way power driver’s seat, and VW’s pretty-darn good but unbranded audio. From there you can step up to a $39,190 Sport or a full-boat $42,960 Executive, which is some pretty serious coin indeed.

But don’t. The $36,460 Eos Komfort gives you a well equipped little VW complete with the sun, the moon and the stars.  Is it expensive? Yes. The power disappearing top with moonroof appears to add about five grand to the price. But on the other hand, I can think of a lot of $36,000 cars that aren’t nearly as much fun to drive as the Eos. And with the new seventh-generation Golf just around the corner, the window of opportunity will be closing sooner than  we’d like.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

2014 Nissan 370Z Nismo- Godzilla with a Z

Man had just barely walked on the Moon when the first Z car landed on these shores- October of 1969, to be precise. Of course, back then it was the Datsun 240Z, and it was a remarkably nice, powerful and well balanced little car which pretty much started when you turned the key, which was a revelation to sports car drivers of the day. Not a Corvette, but a lot of fun for a screaming deal with a $3601 base price. At the time, it seemed to quickly become a favorite of young enthusiasts and those planning a midlife crisis.

Four and a half decades later and the now sixth-generation Z car is still with us. There have been stops and starts, and some regrettable misfires with two-plus-twos, crushed velour, and two-tone paint schemes, but all in all the car remains true to its mission. I’m pretty familiar with the current iteration of the Z-car and reviewed it last year, but somehow had never spent time in the Nismo, so when the opportunity arose I gladly snapped it up.

The Nismo is considered the ultimate edition of the 370Z, and much more than just a “track pack” with numerous cosmetic and mechanical enhancements. For starters, it has unique front and rear fascias that extend the length by approximately 6” over the base car. Add to that an integrated chin spoiler, side skirts, an underbody air diffuser on the rear fascia and a rear double wing spoiler. So it’s not the car for skulking around anonymously and we haven’t even gotten started. Throw in a gray lower body treatment with red striping, special gray 19” wheels with Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires (wider in the rear), a uniquely tuned exhaust with polished tips, sport brakes with huge rotors and jungle red calipers and a retuned suspension, and you pretty much have the Godzilla of Z cars.

Inside there’s a lot of charcoal and red, including red stitching, black and red seat trim with the Nismo logo, and an alcantara wrapped steering wheel with a red leather accent at twelve o’clock, which proved remarkably engaging on twisty roads.

Lift the hood and there’s an old friend- Nissan’s pretty darn brilliant 3.7-liter VVT V-6 (VQ37VHR). I’ll admit that this particular engine is one of my favorites, with a wide band of torque and a 7,400 RPM redline. It’s fitted with a special Nismo engine cover and a cowl brace. In this application, it’s rated at 350 horsepower, pretty much because of the special exhaust.

As interesting as the Nismo package is, it’s also amusing what it is not. It’s not offered with an automatic, instead Nissan’s excellent six-speed manual with rev matching handles the shifting duties. It’s not offered with Nav, just a large enclosed cubby on the dash. And it isn’t cheap- the base price of our test car was $43,020, and with Bose audio ($1350), Nismo logo floor mats ($125), Illuminated sill plates ($200), a cargo mat ($95) a cool but too-small-to-take-seriously rearview mirror mounted camera ($790) and destination ($790), our Nismo retailed for $46,370. Not small change, and close to the price of the fully loaded Touring convertible we tested last year.

Before we get behind the wheel, let’s just talk about the appearance. Make no mistake, The Nismo is indeed the Godzilla of Z-cars- just ask my neighbors. The elderly-pushing-ancient lady next door who pretty much ignores my test cars came out in her bathrobe to tell me it reminded her of her husband’s Porsche Carrera from four decades earlier. Another neighbor I had never met was out in my driveway taking pictures of it one afternoon. The Nismo Z commands attention even when you’re not driving the damn thing. So far, so good.

The interior gets high marks as well, Instead of the sampler platter of textiles we saw last year, everything is black cloth and red trimming. The cloth covered sport seats are very supportive, the same fabric is applied to the door panels so it's all tied together, and the entire cabin is very businesslike. The headroom was a welcome relief from the hairdo-destroying hellcat Camaro I had previously, and with the exception of the Senta-grade texture on the dash pad, it's what you'd expect the well-dressed ultimate Z-car to be wearing.

Turn the key and the story becomes more mixed. Yes, the 3.7-liter and six speed stick is one of my favorite drivetrains on the market, but it’s only 18 horsepower more than a base coupe- and a base coupe starts at a mere $29,990. The revised suspension handles brilliantly but the usual Nissan tradeoff of handling at the expense of ride rears its kidney-busting head. Don’t get me wrong- the Nismo is downright delightful on smooth twisty roads (smooth being the key) and I’m crazy about the rev-matching six-speed, but here it’s track-pack DNA comes to the surface. I have no doubt I’d be mad about it on an big oval, but the everyday ride over expansion strips and botts-dots is rather firm. And that’s fine, as long as you know what you’re getting into.

And that's pretty much an analogy for the whole car. If you want the ultimate attention-getting Z, the Nismo fills the bill. It’s got a Godzilla look-at-me factor that’s pretty darn hard to beat for a car at this price point. If you have access to a track, you’ll be crazy about it. Hands down, it's the ultimate Z-car. But as much as I love the drivetrain, this car screams out for more go to match the looks and the handling. For me,  I’d go for a Touring Convertible with Sport package for roughly the same money and trade some of the wow for the wind in my hair.