Aki Sugawara

  • Driving the 2015 BMW 4-Series Grand Coupe: The right way to slice

    Aki Sugawara at Motoramic 8 days ago

    We’ve all been to that birthday bash where a small cake gets cut into wafer-thin wedges to serve all the partygoers. That’s what comes to mind with BMW slicing up the sporty luxury segment into delicate pieces with the 3 and 4 Series; not only you do you have traditional sedan and coupe, but there’s also the endangered wagon, and awkwardly proportioned Gran Turismo, which potentially competes with the bro-mobile X4. Then you get into the different engines, or whether you should get the AWD xDrive. Choosing the right trim sounds daunting, until you realize one’s sweeter than the rest: the 4 Series Gran Coupe. When BMW dropped the car off at our offices, the 435i initially struck me as a 3-Series with a hatch tacked on, with a porthole-sized glass for a rear window. But take in the swept-back silhouette of a high-speed yacht, and it’s clear this is the stunner of the line-up. It felt right at home cruising through the gold-hued hills of Napa Valley for our press junket, passing by the jet-black Mercedes S-Classes and the occasional Bentley in Yontsville (where BMW engorged and pampered journalists with a dinner at French Laundry). The raked greenhouse does cut into rear headroom compared to a standard 3, but the mild compromise is worth the aesthetic payoff. Moreover, it drives like the two-door coupe instead of the emotionally detached sedan. The venerable 3-Series saloon has gotten soft over the years, like a long-time boxing champ starting to take it easy in training. It’s to the point where a Cadillac trumps it as the better driver’s car with the ATS. The 3-Series GT is even less engaging. Fortunately, the 4-Series Coupe addressed much of those wrongs, even if the mechanical differences between the sedan are minor; the ride height is lower, suspension geometry is tweaked, and it uses the same electronic-power steering system. Yet the coupe has a livelier steering and chassis, and communicates the changes in grip more clearly. Since the 4 Series Gran Coupe is more closely related to the 4-Series Coupe (the front clip is the same), it retains all the laudable dynamics of the two-door. The only exception is the xDrive trim, which although feels snappier upon corner exit, loses a lot of the tactile feel of the RWD 428i and 435i.

  • 2015 Jaguar F-Type S Coupe review: When a V-6 is more desirable than a V-8

    Aki Sugawara at Yahoo Autos 1 mth ago

    Usually it’s unthinkable to spring for a V-6 over a V-8, like preferring the Jar-Jar-infested Star Wars prequels to the original trilogy. In the pony-car world, you’re driving grandma’s Mustang if you settle for anything less than a 302. I can’t remember the last time I preferred six cylinders over eight with any car — that is, until Jaguar dropped off a V6 supercharged Jaguar F-Type S Coupe at Yahoo’s doorstep. That’s not dismissing the superlative V-8 version; the supercharged 5.0 burbles, howls, and pops with unbridled aggression, and hits 60 mph from a stop in a scant 4 seconds. Yet the V-6 feels more balanced weight-wise, with a power band that’s more reasonable for driving without brazenly breaking the law at the touch of the throttle — and yet is only 0.8 seconds slower to 60 mph. Although it “only” makes 380 horses in S trim, it’s lively yet composed at the same time, with the same snappy eight-speed ZF transmission as its burlier counterpart. The 19 city / 27 highway mpg is roughly 20 percent more fuel efficient than the R trim, making it a more practical option. Plus, there’s a nostalgic throwback with the exhaust; like the E-Type, the exhaust tips poke out of the center,...

  • 5 reasons why Tesla's new Autopilot could change driving for good

    Aki Sugawara at Yahoo Autos 2 mths ago

    With the Google self-driving caron the horizon and even Hyundai stepping into the autonomous game with the 2015 Genesis, Tesla’s Autopilot feature on the Model S, announced last night, may sound like yesterday’s news. But it’s a potential game changer—and here’s why. 1. It’s in production, not a distant concept. All major automakers know autonomous driving is destined to come. But whereas Audi’s self-parking tech announced at CES this year still isn’t out yet, Tesla’s Autopilot tech will be hitting the streets this December. Mercedes-Benz comes close to self-driving with its Intelligent Drive, but much of the tech only works above 30 mph, and the system disables if the driver's hands are off the wheel for too long. To be fair, that’s not necessarily because the other luxury automakers are slower: Europe has strict regulations on self-driving, whereas the United States has been a bit more ready to experiment. 2. Ultrasonic sonar gives 360 degrees of coverage. The avoidance/detection systems out today, be it Subaru’s camera-based EyeSight, or Audi’s bumper-mounted radar sensors primarily cover the front and rear. Holes in coverage mean the car never has a complete grasp on its surroundings—which isn’t confidence inspiring for autopiloted driving. 3. Cameras, radar, or sonar — the answer? Yes. Whereas other automakers will sell you the virtues of one or maybe two types of detection/avoidance technology, Tesla just integrates them all. For long-range detection and avoidance, it uses radar; to recognize pedestrians and speed limit signs it uses a camera; for any other objects close by it relies on the 360-degree sonar. Plus, that elaborate suite of tech wizardry is nicely hidden, and you don’t notice them sitting inside. 4. Self-parking — and starting. Similar to Audi’s parking tech, the Tesla can parallel park on its own, or even pull into the garage by itself. What’s crazier is that you can set on a calendar to have the Tesla pull up to you at a specified time, with the AC keeping the cabin cooled. Unfortunately, this won’t work if your Tesla is plugged in, but Elon Musk sprung a surprise on the engineers at the unveiling, saying he’d want them self-charging, too. 5. Execution. At least in our closed course on the airstrip, the Tesla performed smoothly, to the point where you’d think a seasoned chauffeur was behind the wheel. Granted, we may see hiccups in Tesla’s system in the real world – lane-keeping systems tend to have trouble with wider interstate lanes, whether it’s a Honda or Porsche.

  • Tesla reveals 691-hp AWD Model S with autopilot, its most powerful model yet

    Aki Sugawara at Motoramic 2 mths ago

    As predicted, Tesla unveiled a new version of the Model S sedan tonight, featuring an additional motor up front to make it a 691-horsepower all-wheel-drive rocket — and one of the fastest sedans on the planet.

    Tesla says the new Model S P85D can hit 60 mph in 3.2 seconds — just slightly slower than the 2015 Dodge Charger Hellcat — and has a range of 275 miles on a full charge, 10 more than before, thanks to being able to recapture more energy from the front wheels. "This car is nuts," said Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk, addressing a massive throng of Tesla owners at Hawthorne Municipal Aiport in Los Angeles, Calif. "It's like having your own roller coaster."

  • 2015 Honda CR-V review: Staying at the top of the game

    Aki Sugawara at Motoramic 2 mths ago

    Even though the Honda CR-V lacks seductive lines and even nuances of excitement, it’s one of my favorite crossover SUVs. Sure, it lacks the agility of the CX-5, or cabin refinement of a Ford Escape; but the engine, chassis and suspension are dialed in to velvet-smooth satisfaction. Top that with everyday practicality, and it’s one of the highlights of Honda’s lineup. Sales figures show that I’m not alone with that sentiment, and it has consistently been the top seller in the segment in spite of the stiffening competition. Escape sales have been creeping closer to the CR-V, even if it’s no immediate threat in taking the sales crown. Yet Honda has recently been aggressive with its mid-cycle refreshes, starting with the 2013 Honda Civic, and when the company invited me to drive the updated 2015 CR-V, it promised a “major minor refresh.” Getting behind the wheel, I didn’t feel a big change, but the biggest improvement was something that didn’t show in the half-day press drive. The highlight of this reworked compact crossover is its 2.4-liter directed-injected four-cylinder, which at first glance isn’t newsworthy considering it makes the same 185 hp as last year’s model. The peak power comes lower though, at 6,400 rpm versus 7,000 rpm, and max torque increases by 18 ft-lb to 181. It’s paired with a “sporty” CVT, which only reveals its true colors when you floor the ute and hear that slurry drone as it hangs in the higher revs. That said, the engine is quieter, a bit more responsive, and the “shifts” are quicker than the old five-speed automatic.

  • Driving the 2015 Kia Sedona, a minivan with a sense of style

    Aki Sugawara at Motoramic 2 mths ago

    Try as automakers may, it’s a losing battle to portray a minivan as something lustworthy; even large famlies now prefer crossover utility vehicles instead of the traditional breadbox minivan. The Kia Sedona has fallen off the radar even among those still shopping family haulers in recent years, but Kia hopes to change that with the smartly redesigned minivan for 2015. Driving it through the streets of Palo Alto finds it to be a serious contender — but not in the same way you'd appreciate a Honda Odyssey. As with the other recent Kias in the lineup, designer Peter Schreyer and team added a much-needed image boost to the third-gen minivan.  “We want to capture the CUV appeal,” said Orth Hedrick, Kia’s vice president of product planning, who went on to say that its profile will feel more like a compact ute. Although it's still unmistakably a van, the Sedona no longer looks like a beached whale, and in person it comes off trimmer than its dimensions suggest, especially when parked next to an Odyssey, which is similar in size. I daresay it’s the best looking in the segment. The company has also done a superlative with the interior and cabin — the dash feels downright luxurious, with a gratifying blend of matted plastics, real-looking metallic trim and soft touch materials, though you'll notice some cheaper plastics creep in around the rear seats. By contrast, although Volkswagens typically get the nod for cabin refinement, the Routan can’t hide its plebian Chrysler roots, and the Odyssey looks like a bloated economy car. Part of the downside with most minivans is it feels like none of that $40,000 you’re paying (when options like a rear entertainment system pile on) goes into styling; with the Sedona the finish feels appropriate, even a bargain, for its starting price of $25,900.   Spring for the seven-seat configuration in the higher trim, and it feels like you’re riding in a luxury chariot from the second-row seats, which come with reclining footrests and padded headrests. Even as my driving partner pushed the minivan through the hills of Cupertino, Calif., I felt at ease, even comfortable from what felt like sitting in first class on Luftansa. While the chassis and suspension still isn’t as composed and dialed in as an Odyssey, especially over mottled pavement, it strikes the right balance between comfort and firmness. Behind the wheel the Sedona feels like you’re driving a hulking, albeit composed, sedan like a Chevy Impala, and unsurprisingly it’s not something to relish flogging in the bends. The sole engine choice, a 3.3-liter 276-hp V-6, feels adequate enough to pass slower traffic, or when you’re running late to your kid’s soccer practice. In a decked out SX-L trim, that’s good for 17/22 city/highway mpg, whereas the SX trim fares a bit better, at 18/25 city/highway. The powertrain advantage seems to edge towards the Odyssey: although Honda’s V-6 makes 28 horsepower less, in real-world driving the acceleration feels similar. The Odyssey also gets 19/28 city/highway mpg, though it’s difficult to gauge the real-world fuel efficiency of the Sedona when we’re snaking through hilly roads.

  • Smarter driver: The health downsides to commuting and what you can do about it

    Aki Sugawara at CNET 3 mths ago

    It's little surprise that lounging on a couch all day watching episodes of Revenge is bad for your health -- according to recent studies , sitting for more than four hours a day leads to all kinds of maladies, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. But that also means your daily commute can be as bad for your health as sitting in front of a computer all day--and as the average time spent commuting has increased, so the risks have increased. Nor does extra exercise necessarily offset the detrimental effects; researchers have found that there was no difference in heart disease risk between those who didn't work out much, and those that exercised for more than two hours of exercise a day if they were sitting for an extended of time. To help keep your blood pressure, body mass and waist size in check, CNET's Brian Cooley shares some tips on how to stay healthy while commuting to work. More at CNET Ferrari F40: Analog animal Top 5: Things we value most in car infotainment XCAR: Racing blind: Visual impairment needn t stop you from hitting the track...

  • Driving the Jaguar XJR, the plus-sized sprinter

    Aki Sugawara at Motoramic 3 mths ago

    Very few automakers pull off a large luxury sedan that zigs like a sports car—nimble dynamics in a hulking case with a muscular engine is a seeming contradiction, like a linebacker trying to do ballet. While there are some notable exceptions in the ultra-high end of the spectrum, namely, the Aston Martin Rapide S and Porsche Panamera, it’s why BMW has shied away from making an M7 for decades, although that’s rumored to change.

  • Driving the BMW 335xi Grand Turismo, and appreciating a Bimmer that doesn’t feel like one

    Aki Sugawara at Motoramic 4 mths ago

    Clearly, BMW knew better than enthusiasts and some auto journalists when it released the oddly styled BMW X6, a crossover that elicited cries of protest unheard of since the Bangled-rump 7 Series. Its success emboldened the automaker to create similar strange concoctions, like what I drove from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back: the 335xi Gran Turismo. While I never warmed up to its sheet metal, driving nearly a thousand miles had endeared myself to the car—but for reasons atypical for a BMW. Just don’t stare at the exterior for very long. The GT is like a standard 3 Series, except bloated in all three dimensions. The end result almost looks handsome from some angles (hint: not the rear quarter), but it’s still aloof; like a lungfish, it looks the evolutionary process got stuck between two different kinds of body types. Is that needlessly sloped rear hatch a vestigial organ from an SUV? And if space was the concern, why not just a good old wagon? On the upside, the rear cargo room is cavernous compared to the standard sedan, and while there’s legroom to spare, the slanting roof cuts into the rear headroom. From the driver’s seat though, the cabin feels like a standard 3; ditto for inline-six turbo and the satisfyingly stout chassis.  But traveling across the mountain pass between Gilroy and the I-5, I realized it’s not as sporty as the relentless M-sport badging suggested. The GT isn’t a driver’s car in the traditional sense; the electronically assisted steering didn’t transmit the minute road imperfections, and with its taller profile, the GT rolled a fair amount in corners through the back roads of central California. There’s still some BMW DNA there with its firm yet comfortable damping, and while it’s poised and grippy, I just didn’t care to push it hard. “Hard” is relative though, because compared to other crossovers the Bimmer hauls, whether in turns or in a straight line. Squeeze the throttle and GT nonchalantly hits 60 mph from a stop in just over 5 seconds, which makes passing effortless on single-lane roads. Depending on how you look at it, that effortlessness in its character could be the GT’s biggest drawback or its strength. It kept the road at arm’s length, isolating me from unwanted feedback or engine noise. It's a phenomenal cruiser — so much so that I stopped caring that the trip would take more than seven hours. Content to just absorb the scenery around me, I found beauty in seemingly trivial things, like the sunset in the rearview mirror. Helping the experience was the $875 Harmon Kardon surround sound system, which sounded like a personal concert hall. Usually I'd gun it and try to get through the 350-mile journey as quick as possible, but I found myself taking country-road detours, or pulling off the road to snap a picture of the California water reservoirs that are whittling away from the drought — things I’ve never done with any car between L.A. and S.F.