topspeed garage

topspeed garage

U.S. Highway 129, cutting through the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, is a ribbon of tarmac that spans the gap from Tennesee to North Carolina. The section of the road that cuts through Deal’s Gap is known as the Tail of the Dragon, and it is regarded as one of the best driving roads in the world. With 318 turns in a span of only 11 miles, it is easy to see the appeal. Still, with so many sharp hairpin turns and sheer drop-offs on one side, the Dragon is not to be trifled with. Since 1995, nearly 40 people have lost their lives on this tiny strip of asphalt.

Despite being only an hour from my house, I have never tackled the Tail of the Dragon. Sitting in my driveway is one of the latest and most advanced toys from the house of Porsche, a 2014 Panamera S e-Hybrid . What better vehicle to tame the Dragon with than a plug-in hybrid that is over 16-feet long and costs more than my house? Best yet, I got news that a plug-in charging station had just been installed at the top of the mountain and nobody had used it yet.

I took it as a sign that I needed to be the first. I pointed the big Porsche south and went hunting for Dragons.

Read on to see how my first trip to U.S. 129 went.

Kia and luxury once went together like bleach and ammonia, but as we creep into the 2015 model year, things are starting to change. It started with cars like the Optima and Sorento getting more luxurious digs, then came to a head with the introduction of the Cadenza . And now for 2015, Kia presents its K900, a luxurious sedan that shares a platform with its sister brand’s luxury rig, the Hyundai Equus.

Not only is the K900 the most luxurious car that I have ever seen from Kia, but it is also the most powerful, thanks to is 420-horsepower, Tau V-8 that is borrowed from Hyundai . As of July 2014, this Tau V-8 remains the standard engine in all K900s, but soon the 3.3-liter V-6 found in the Cadenza will make its way into the engine compartment.

In the Cadenza, the 3.3-liter engine produces 293 ponies, but I am willing to bet it will exceed 300 horses by the time it makes its way to the K900. And this tuning is likely why the V-6-powered K900 is not on dealer lots yet — a 293-horsepower V-6 is not suitable for a 4,600-pound lard yacht.

Fortunately, I got my crack at the K900 before the V-6 had a chance to ruin the fun, so I got to enjoy all 420 roaring ponies from this Korean masterpiece. But the real question is, can it actually hang with BMW and Mercedes this early into its life?

Find out the answer and read all about my time with the K900 after the jump.

The Nissan Versa Note is the smallest and cheapest hatch you can get from Nissan . It was built to provide the highest level of space and equipment for the lowest possible price. The car has been a solid seller for Nissan in the past, but for 2014 it is all-new. A new exterior shape comes to the car , along with a fresh interior design and new gadgets that have been pulled from some of the much more expensive cars in the Nissan family.

With a new design, revised equipment levels, improved interior space and the promise even better fuel economy, the Versa Note is offering a lot. Has Nissan had to cut corners on build quality and refinement to hit a price target? Will the increased fuel economy come at the cost of driving fun?

I was handed the keys to a top-level model with every bell and whistle Nissan could throw at it. Would the cheap five-door win me over, or did Nissan drop the ball with its reinvented people mover?

Read on to see what we thought about the 2014 Nissan Versa Note.

Cadillac has come a long way in the last 12 years. Before the CTS, the brand was suffering a slow and agonizing demise, exacerbated by the popularity of several European luxury brands. That first-generation CTS helped pull the iconic American brand upward. Lasting from 2003 through 2007, the first generation established Cadillac’s new "Art and Science" design theme that still continues today. For 2008, the second-generation CTS rolled off assembly lines. It was a quantum leap forward in quality, reliability, and even desirability. Now entering its third generation, the 2014 Cadillac CTS has again made a quantum leap forward in nearly every imaginable way.

Its exterior carries a futuristic interpretation of the "Art and Science" theme while the interior still features an angular and sophisticated look. Under the hood lies three high-tech engines capable of hustling the 3,600-pound sedan to 60 mph in roughly six seconds or faster, yet still achieve 30 mpg highway.

I recently spent a week behind the wheel of Cadillac’s new midsize sedan and came away with great impressions and high hopes for the luxury brand’s future.

The full report and video review are just below the jump.

The Avalon has long been the king of the Toyota lineup. It was the largest and most luxurious thing car you could buy from the company without having a Lexus badge on the nose. Now moving into its fourth generation with an all-new design and platform shared with the Lexus ES , Toyota promises best-ever levels of comfort and refinement from the 2014 Avalon. With the freshly available hybrid drivetrain option, the Avalon is also one of the most fuel efficient models in its class as well.

With a price of more than $40k, the new Avalon is also one of the most expensive sedans Toyota has ever created. With the redesign and hybrid powerplant, does this new Avalon still have what it takes to compete in the land of large luxury land barges? Does the new higher price tag put it too close to Lexus territory to justify a purchase? After a few days and several hundred miles, I think I have an answer. Head past the jump to find out what I thought.

Continue reading for our full review of the 2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

The Lexus IS has been roaming the streets of America since 2000. That IS 300 came powered by a 3.0-liter, inline-six-cylinder engine making 217 horsepower and 218 pound-feet of torque mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. The IS’ first generation was a groundbreaking one, setting plenty of design standards and even setting a few trends with its clear taillight housings. Then for 2006, the second-generation IS launched with an updated look and a slew of V-style engines. The car came in IS 250 and 350 guises until Lexus launched the IS F , a high-performance variant powered by a 5.0-liter V-8, in 2007. A clean sweep came across the IS lineup in 2008, along with the addition of a hardtop convertible. Still utilizing the second-generation platform and styling, the 2014 IS 350C soldiers on as the rest IS lineup gets a whole new look.

I just recently spent a week behind the wheel of Lexus’ 2014 IS 350C, complete with the F Sport package. Despite its exclusion from the redesign, the IS 350C is still a lovely car to look at and drive. Of course, the main focus surrounds that aluminum-alloy folding hardtop, and with good cause. A short, 20-second transformation makes the two door coupe into a 2+2 drop-top perfect for boulevard cruising and back-road burning.

Click past the jump for the full review

In 2007, Honda rebadged its useful and popular Jazz model as the Fit and released it in America. Americans immediately took notice, as the unstable prices in fuel led us to start looking at smaller vehicles. What’s more, the debut Fit also had a massive 57-cubic-foot cargo area that no other compact hatchbacks could come close to. In 2015 — after a one-year break — the Fit returns with an all-new look, new cabin, updated engine, and a huge increase in rear-seat room.

I spent a week behind the wheel of the range-topping 2015 Fit EX-L — the first Fit to feature leather upholstery — and came away mighty impressed. The roominess was out of this world, the cargo area was incredible and the smattering of features were nice additions. As with most entry-level cars with leather interior, this was the sore spot in the whole thing. The leather seemed haphazardly slapped over cloth and hard plastic, leaving some fit and finish issues, and black leather is simply unbearable in the summer.

the real question is whether the iffy leather left a bad taste in my mouth or were the good parts of this compact hatch enough to make me overlook my problems with the cow hide?

Click past the jump to read my Driven review on the 2015 Fit and find out.

The Mazda Miata is regarded as one of the greatest driver’s cars in the world. Not only is it the best-selling roadster of all-time, but the Miata is one of the most raced cars ever created as well. If you want a cheap and enjoyable driving experience, the Miata can’t be beat. At least that used to be the case, anyways. Now the current generation car is nearly a decade old, and new challengers like the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ have arrived promising the same type of fun.

Mazda will be replacing the current NC-generation Miata with an all-new, fourth-generation car next year, but does the current car still deserve your attention? Mazda dropped one off in my driveway and I spent 8 days and drove more than 2,000 miles in the search for driving nirvana and some pie. In that time I learned a lot about this little roadster. Some of my thoughts are expected, but some other ones were quite surprising.

Is the Miata still the best cheap sports car in the world? Read on to find out.

The Prius is the flagship of the environmental movement. Toyota ’s wonder child has dominated the world of hybrids since its introduction in 2001. As a man with petrol in my veins and a favorite cars list that includes names like Porsche and Lamborghini , the Prius should be the antithesis of all I love about motoring. With a focus on quiet and environmentally friendly transportation, the Prius has been branded as one of the worst and most uninteresting thing to drive in the world.

This is my first real experience with Toyota’s darling though, and I wanted to at least give it a fair shake. The model sitting in my drive is the Prius V model, the largest of the family and the least fuel efficient. It has a CVT, some batteries and only two pedals. After a week with this machine and more than 500 miles I learned a lot about it.

Was it the terrible car I had feared or did it turn out to be something else entirely? Hit the jump to find out.

Read more about my drive of the 2014 Toyota Prius V after the break.

TheGMC Yukon traces its roots back to 1992 when GMC took the Jimmy nameplate from its full-size SUVs and gave it to its midsize, Chevy Blazer counterpart. Since then, the GMC Yukon and Chevy Tahoe twins have been topping sales charts year after year. In 1999, GMC launched the Denali trim line as an answer to the Lincoln Navigator. Over the years, the Yukon Denali has continued with good success as a stepping-stone between the regular Yukon and the all-out luxury Cadillac Escalade.

I got to spend a week behind the wheel of the all-new 2015 GMC Yukon Denali, and boy is it a sweet ride. Chrome accents, 22-inch chrome wheels, metallic white paint, and HID and LED lighting make this Yukon a standout. With the Denali trim comes a bevy of standard upgrades, including the powerful 6.2-liter, EcoTec3 V-8, Magnetic Ride Control, and power-everything inside the leather-lined cabin.

Though it’s on the pricy side, the Yukon proved to be a capable rig with room for seven and plenty of posh to go around. Head past the jump for the video review, photo gallery, and full review.

Click past the jump for the full review of the 2015 GMC Yukon Denali.


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