Why do people hate Autotrader NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski?
Every time Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski wins a race, you can feel people (and hear them, depending on where you’re standing at the track) groan.
Sure, I’m the guy wearing the #2 hat in the above picture, cheering my ass off in Victory Lane with a forward-facing Miller Lite in my hand after Brad’s come-from-behind win in Atlanta, so I’m not as partial as some.
But perhaps I’m even more judgmental considering I’ve hitched my fanboy man-wagon to the BK express since becoming a NASCAR fan three years ago.
It was refreshing and fun to interact with BK and confirm that the reasons I liked him as a driver were the same reasons I liked him upon meeting him. So why does everyone hate Brad Keselowski?
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First Drive: 2014 Corvette Stingray Convertible
Last summer I had the opportunity to drive the all-new 2014 Corvette Stingray on the backs roads of Monterey. It was a thrilling experience and you can read about my impressions of this amazing sports car here. The Corvette team more than met the challenge of creating the seventh-generation Corvette that would also be worthy of reviving the Stingray name. The new design is striking and the performance surpasses the already high standards achieved by the Corvette team.
With the removable hard top, any new Corvette owner can enjoy the experience of driving this great vehicle while enjoying the fresh air and beauty of the surrounding scenery. But the Corvette convertible makes that experience even more convenient of course, and I recently got to experience the thrill of driving this beast of a sports car with the top down in the mountains surrounding Palm Springs when we were invited to test drive the new convertible.
All convertibles are fun on a nice day, but the experience in the new Corvette Stingray is quite different when you consider the 455 horsepower engine with 460 lb.-ft. of torque. The Z51-equipped models are able to accelerate from 0-60 in 3.8 seconds, run the quarter-mile in 12 seconds at 119 mph, achieve 1.03g in cornering grip and stop from 60 mph in 107 feet. Factor in the incredible handling and the various drive modes, having the top down with this vehicle gives you quite an experience as you navigate the roads. I had a beautiful day in the area near Palm Springs and it was a challenge to keep my eyes on the road with the stunning scenery surrounding me.
The Corvette Stingray convertible features an all-new, fully electronic top that can be lowered remotely using the key fob. With the all-new folding mechanism the top can be lowered in just 21 seconds. For even more convenience, the top can also be opened or closed as you’re driving at speeds of up to 30 mph. I tested it at low speeds and it worked great. The Corvette is also pretty quiet when the top is up. The designers focused on luxury and comfort with this new model, and the thick fabric top, along with sound-absorbing padding and a glass rear window, contributes to a quiet cabin and premium appearance.
As you can see from the photos, this beautiful vehicle looks fantastic as a convertible with the top down. The profile view looks great along with views from all other angles. I also liked the Stingray’s signature “waterfall” design which brings the car’s exterior color into the interior in the valley between the seats.
The coupe and convertible share identical chassis tuning and performance technologies along with nearly-identical curb weights, as the only structural changes for the convertible model are limited to accommodations for the folding top and repositioned safety belt mounts. With the all-new aluminum frame structure, no structural reinforcements were needed in the convertible. You’ll sacrifice some cargo space in order the have the convenience of the convertible, and it costs $5,000 more than the coupe.
“An important goal for the team was to create a more intimate and connected driving experience for the new Corvette Stingray,” said Mike Bailey, chassis vehicle system engineer. “Because they share common chassis tuning, power-to-weight ratios and structural rigidity, the coupe and convertible feel almost identical behind the wheel.”
As I said when I reviewed the coupe, the Corvette team hit a home run with this new Stingray, and now with the convertible buyers have another great option to choose from along with the Z51 performance package. And it doesn’t end there. The Corvette team just unveiled the new 2015 Corvette ZO6 for those enthusiasts who want to take their track experiences to an even higher level. But for most buyers, the base Corvette or the Z51 will offer a driving experience that will far exceed their expectations.
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First Drive: 2014 Nissan Rogue
I was on hand on a beautiful fall day in Nashville to drive the all-new 2014 Nissan Rogue. The Rogue is the latest in a series of redesigns from Nissan as the entire lineup has been revamped. With the Rogue we see many of the exterior and interior design improvements we’ve seen in other Nissan models we’ve tested.
The new Rogue has been completely redesigned with a more muscular look. The new vehicle is taller and wider than its predecessor with a longer wheelbase. All new headlamps and front grille replace the harder edges of the front facia of the current model. The high, muscular ridges along the wheel wells also enhance the styling of this compact CUV. The new model also incorporates new design elements like available LED headlights and standard LED signature daytime running lights. Check out the slideshow above and you’ll see how the vehicle looks great from every angle.
The Rogue interior was impressive and comfortable. Soft touch materials and premium trim accents were added in all the right places, and I liked the oversized center console that has room for a 10” tablet computer. Nissan emphasized the “Zero Gravity” seats developed from NASA research on natural-stress-free postures measured in zero gravity. They are designed to optimize comfort and reduce fatigue. I spent the good part of the day in the Rogue and can attest to the seat comfort.
For the first time, Rogue will offer optional 3-row/7-passenger seating. This isn’t intended to have this compact CUV compete with larger models, but it offers younger families some flexibility when needed. The cargo area was well put together with the Rogue’s Divide-‘N-Hide cargo system which helps keep wet/dirty items like muddy soccer gear separate from clean dry items with an easily cleaned lower level. The two-piece cargo organizer has 18 possible configurations, and combined with the back seat folding options offers plenty of flexibility.
I particularly liked the class-exclusive Around View Monitor available in the SL model. The ability to have a 360-view of the space around the vehicle along with the rear-view camera makes maneuvering in tight spaces a breeze. Other available features include Moving Object Detection, Blind Spot Warning, Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Warning.
The Rogue features a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that is rated at 170-horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque along with the Xtronic CVT transmission with a sport mode option. The power was adequate for this class of vehicles though acceleration sometimes lagged. But drivers will get a best-in-class highway fuel economy of 33 MPG. The handling was more impressive as the Rogue easily zips around corners. Also, Nissan has added technology features which help to stabilize the vehicle around corners in slippery conditions. The Active Trace Control technology can automatically engage the inner and outer brakes to optimize the line through turns and I was impressed as we tested this on wet surfaces. Drivers can also decide to turn this off.
The compact CUV segment is growing but it’s also very competitive. With this redesign the Rogue will likely remain a popular choice among consumers and should be on consumers’ test drive list. Pricing for the 2014 Rogue starts out at $22,490 for the base S model with front-wheel drive, and then can go over $32,000 for the SL AWD with the premium option package. However, in order to attract buyers looking at lower pricing options, Nissan will continue to build the 2013 version of the Rogue as a 2014 model called Rogue Select. This vehicle will start at an MSRP below $20,000 and offers an option for customers who want a compact CUV at the lower price point.
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First Drive: 2014 Toyota Corolla
The Toyota Corolla has earned a reputation for reliability over the years, making it one of the most successful vehicles in Toyota’s lineup. But the Corolla was also known for pretty conservative styling, and in today’s competitive car market Toyota listened to its customers and made it a priority to improve the exterior and interior styling. The result is a radically different front end for the all-new 2014 Corolla that sets the tone for the new model. The Corolla lineup also features sport model (the S) that has an even more aggressive look.
Just take one look at the new front end of the Corolla and your impression of the vehicle will change immediately. It’s much more expressive with a large, trapezoidal grille under the LED headlights giving the Corolla a more memorable look (see first two images above). In the S model the grille shape is flipped to set it apart from the L, LE and LE Eco models, giving consumers an interesting set of choices (see images 3 and 4 above). The S model also has beautiful 17-inch alloy wheels that help the overall look of the car. The exterior dimensions have also changed a bit from the previous model as the new Corolla is a little longer and wider and also a little shorter.
The interior of the Corolla has also been revamped with a horizontal design across the dashboard. The seats and materials have been improved and the overall driving experience was very comfortable. It’s pretty amazing how far these compact cars have come over the years. The steering wheel had a sporty feel to it and the addition of more soft touch materials made a difference in overall comfort.
I had plenty of drive time with several of the Corolla models as Toyota prepared a number of routes in the Minneapolis area on a beautiful fall day. I started with the S as I wanted to see how the sportier model would drive and I came away impressed with the acceleration and handling. I’ve mentioned many times that I prefer vehicles that offer a separate sport mode and here drivers can choose between sport and eco settings. The Corolla felt more nimble and quick in sport mode which made it fun to drive, and still performed adequately in eco mode. Toyota offers a new Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that it calls the CVTi-S which has been designed to give a driving experience more similar to a traditional automatic transmission with the gear changes. The transmission has the feel of seven “gears” or shift points, and in the S model drivers can use paddle shifters to manually control the shift points. The S model does not offer a more powerful engine so buyers looking for small performance cars won’t be looking at this model, but the transmission and suspension changes improve the driving experience enough for many consumers.
The LE Eco model was a very pleasant surprise as it performed well in both eco and sport modes. The Corolla offers a 1.8 liter engine that is rated at 132 horsepower, but the LE Eco has a 1.8-liter engine with Toyota’s “Valvematic” system which produces 42 miles-per-gallon on the highway and 140 horsepower. At the moment Toyota is projecting roughly 10% product mix for the LE Eco with 40% for each the S and LE, and capacity restraints will prevent that from going much higher in the short term. Still, it will be interesting to see if demand for this 42 MPG option causes the company to adjust its plans over time.
The compact car segment has seen much more aggressive and interesting designs in recent years, so the new Corolla design should help get the attention of younger buyers. Overall this is an impressive vehicle. It’s always been a big seller, but the new design should attract plenty of new buyers considering the various options in this segment.
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First Drive: 2014 Corvette Stingray
The buzz around the 2014 Corvette Stingray has been intense since the all-new seventh generation (C7) was unveiled earlier this year in Detroit and I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel. I got my chance recently when Chevrolet invited me out to California to test drive this incredible new version of the iconic sports car. I drove the new Vette on long stretches of remote roads near Monterey and Carmel that offered winding paths, tight turns and inviting straightaways, and then we had the opportunity to push it even further on an autocross coarse set up for us by the Corvette team. The experience blew me away.
The executives at Chevrolet wanted to make a statement with the design of the new C7 and they obviously succeeded. The new design generated rave reviews from the moment is was unveiled as the designers created a completely new vehicle as opposed to the more incremental styling changes we saw with the C5 and C6. The Corvette team provided us with a Corvette from each of the previous six generations so we could see up close the design changes over the years.
The bold new design also moved the brand team to revive the iconic Stingray name with the new Corvette, and I certainly agree that this new model lives up to that legacy without relying on a retro design. The new design is stunning and the Corvette looks beautiful from all angles.
The most controversial design change involved the rear tail lights with a departure from the classic, rounded lights in favor of new angular lights. Some Corvette purists were disappointed, but the designers wanted a bold, new look and the result looks fantastic. The designers came up with a new look for the tail lights that work for this Corvette design, and that’s why the entire package looks so good.
The designers explained that function helped drive the design process and that the team was heavily inspired by the Corvette racing team. Every vent on the new Corvette has an important cooling function, and the beautiful curves of the new car serve important aerodynamic functions. The new Corvette Stingray shares only two parts with the previous-generation Corvette, incorporating an all-new frame structure and chassis and a new powertrain and supporting technologies.
The designers of the new Corvette made the interior a priority as well. The goal was to provide a more upscale interior to go with the bold exterior design and to enhance the driver’s connection to the Corvette. The result is a high-tech, cockpit feel coupled with a much more luxurious experience where every surface is covered with premium, soft-touch materials such as hand-wrapped leather with elegant stitching. Other highlights include carbon fiber and aluminum trim, two high-definition, configurable screens and a smaller steering wheel.
Buyers can also choose between two seating choices: a GT seat for all-around comfort and a Competition Sport seat with more aggressive side bolstering for more support on the track. By observing high-performance driving experiences, designers included a steel-reinforced grab bar on the center console for the passenger and soft-touch materials on the edge of the console where the driver naturally braces during high-load cornering.
I was in the Corvette practically all day and the level of comfort is impressive for a sports car, whether you’re cruising on the highway or powering through a tight corner. For the driver, everything is laid out nicely and the center console screen is angled towards the driver, and the driver displays vary depending on the driver mode selected.
For years the Corvette has set the standard for performance as it could stack up to exotic sports cars that cost much more. In its price range nothing has come close for years, and the new C7 continues that tradition by setting the bar even higher.
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