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October 09, 2014
By Sasha Levine | Automobiles
Drive America's Most Beautiful Roads in Three Supercars
Waldorf Astoria Driving Experience

It’s no longer news that guests desire more from their travels than the experience of passive, arm-chair sightseeing. Though eating your way through a country might be one way to sample its native cuisine, savvy vacationers know the chance to cook it alongside local chefs can be far more rewarding. The same goes for learning to play a locale’s national sport or pastime instead of simply witnessing it from the stands; or, seeing the countryside in style.

Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts is the latest to adopt the approach, giving their guests the chance to savor their surrounds behind the wheel of a Ferrari 458 Italia Spider, McLaren MP4-12C and Porsche 911 Turbo in the brand-new Waldorf Astoria Driving Experiences.

From now until December, guests can drive all three supercars on some of America’s most enthralling routes. Consider the winding roads through alpine forests near the hotel’s property in Palm Springs, California (October 15–20), or a ride alongside striking desert rock formations around Scottsdale, Arizona (December 2–7). Each leg of the journey, get pro tips from world-class race champion Didier Theys, who leads the three-hour, 100-mile sessions held morning, noon and early evening.

“While some still prefer to sit poolside and indulge in a recent best seller,” says Stuart Foster, vice president of marketing and the mind behind the initiative, “we’re finding that many of our guests are excited about booking high-end and bespoke experiences that connect them to the destination.”

Looking for an adventure beyond your own borders? Berlin, Rome, Edinburgh and other European stops are in the works for 2015. $1,000 per couple (does not include accommodations); 800-925-3673; waldorfastoria.com/drivingexperiences.

October 02, 2014
By Frank Vizard | Automobiles
Volvo Relaunches With New Luxury XC90 SUV
Courtesy of Volvo

These days, there’s nothing cooler on the design spectrum than objects of Scandinavian provenance. It’s no surprise, then, that Swedish carmaker Volvo should reassert its own Nordic identity (after being sold off by Ford Motor Company in 2010) with its new XC90 SUV, due out in the U.S. in spring 2015.

More than just another SUV people-hauler, the XC90 is characterized by the simple and uncluttered yet sophisticated philosophy typical of Nordic design. That effort is nowhere more evident than in the front grille, whose oversized iron mark harkens back to the badge used on the original 1927 Volvo. The running lights on either side reach even farther back into the company’s Viking past, resembling the t-shape of Thor’s Hammer. Plus, the hybrid version even boasts a crystal gearshift made by renowned Swedish glassmaker Orrefors.

Yet even as the car pays homage to its Scandinavian past, from the inside, the XC90 looks straight into the future. From the driver’s seat, the eye is immediately drawn to the easy-to-use touchscreen display on the center console, which makes for (virtually) button-free operation of all the seven-seater’s features. Among them is rolling WiFi connectivity and a superb Bowers & Wilkins sound system with an eye-catching tweeter prominently mounted on the center of the dashboard. The ever-safety-conscious Volvo also employs a novel—and world-first—automatic braking system that activates should, for example, the car turn in front of an oncoming car in the next lane. The XC90 also is festooned with cameras and radar that make up the backbone of additional safety features.

But while Volvo embraces the Viking legend, the XC90 may put one enduring myth to rest: that car buyers care about how many cylinders are under the hood. The standard here is a four-cylinder turbocharged engine, while the top-of-the-line version is a four-cylinder hybrid, rated at 400 horsepower. No big V8 or V6 engines here, proving that more bells and whistles don’t always add up to more power. Thor, of course, would agree. Starts at $48,900; volvocars.com.

August 04, 2014
By Sasha Levine | Automobiles, Cars

The World's Classiest Cars: Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance
Courtesy of Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance

What NASCAR is to brawn, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance (August 17) is to beauty—and this year’s selection of iconic cars and motorcycles marks another exceptional occasion to fawn over some of the world’s finest luxuries.

Set on the 18th fairway of the Pebble Beach Golf Links, in Monterey, California, Concours will display roughly 200 prized collector cars and motorcycles competing against one another for points on their historical accuracy, technical merit, rarity and, last but not least, elegance.

Some of the featured marques and special classes for this year’s roundup include Maserati Centennials, Ruxtons, Ferrari 250s, Testa Rossas, early steam cars, postwar Rolls-Royce Phantoms, Tatras and Eastern European motorcycles.

The event has been so popular over its 60-plus-year reign that it has spawned ancillary events, including the Tour d’Elegance (August 14) and the Pebble Beach RetroAuto marketplace (August 13­–16), as well as the brand new Pebble Beach Classic Car Forum, which hosts a selection of panels and interviews featuring automotive VIPs (August 14­–16), and the Pebble Beach Classic Car Expo, a place for visitors to purchase authentic and unusual vehicles from classic-car dealers (August 14-16).

But as the crown jewel of the weeklong festival, and one of the most competitive collector-car contests in the world, Concours is a must-see event for any automobile aficionado—the racers, the lookers and otherwise. Tickets start at $275; 1700 17 Mile Dr.; 831-622-1700; pebblebeachconcours.net.

July 15, 2014
By Frank Vizard | Automobiles

Test-Drive: A Mercedes-Benz Debut at the Goodwood Festival of Speed
Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Our visit to this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, held in late June in England, was a bit like going on a date only to discover that you prefer the unavailable sibling more. Mercedes-Benz used the occasion—Goodwood is a posh automotive garden party on the massive estate of Lord March in Chichester, West Sussex, a few hours drive south of London—to debut its 2015 CLS 63 AMG 4matic Coupe, which will be priced north of $154,000.

The main event is a race that is unusual by American standards: Instead of competing on an oval circuit, vehicles of varying stripes—Formula 1 racers, expensive supercars, Mini Coopers, motorcycles—speed up a squiggly, one-and-a-half-mile hill road. The fastest time (generally under a minute) wins. The race isn’t without its hazards, as Olympic-cycling-gold-medalist-turned-driver Sir Chris Hoy discovered when he crashed a Nissan GT-R Nismo through four hay barriers, emerging unharmed from a total wreck.

Our drive was less harrowing but exciting nonetheless. The 4matic Coupe has a revised front end highlighted by a new grille and front bumper with larger air intakes. The car also has a number of technical improvements, led by LED headlights with a longer reach and the ability to make minute lighting adjustments as traffic and circumstances warrant.

Roads around London make a strong argument for autonomous driving (or self driving), as major highways like the A3 are clogged with traffic and lesser roads are assigned speed limits of 30 miles per hour or less and are so narrow it’s not uncommon to get stuck behind a bicycle. We departed the city’s highly recommendable Rosewood Hotel (252 High Holborn; 44-20/7781-8888; rosewoodhotels.com) and managed to find a few spots on the way to Goodwood where we could let the horses out, so to speak.

The CLS Coupe is an excellent car, and a new 9-speed transmission, married to a 577 horsepower V-8 engine, performs admirably. But our eyes wandered toward a sexy shape we hadn’t seen before: the CLS 63 AMG Shooting Brake, sister of the CLS Coupe, which was also on hand for testing. “Shooting brake” is simply a more romantic term for what Americans call a wagon. AMG, the performance arm of Mercedes-Benz, elevates it to 585 horsepower of V-8 muscle-car strength in an all-wheel-drive vehicle featuring a large cargo area with teak flooring.

It’s as beautiful inside as it is out. It roared. It purred. It seduced us so thoroughly we didn’t even ask about the price. It also broke our hearts. The Shooting Brake will not be coming to America; the Germans believe that Americans aren’t interested in high-performance wagons. They’re right, but it’s so wrong. mercedes-benz.com.

December 20, 2013
By Frank Vizard | Automobiles

Test Drive: The 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith
Courtesy of Rolls Royce

Rolls-Royce has a reputation for excellence, and its new two-door 2014 Wraith (as driven, $281,880) lives up to it in every way. There are few other cars that look as natural parked in front of the Palais Coburg (Coburgbastei 4; palais-coburg.com), the sumptuous 19th-century palace in Vienna that is now a five-star hotel and was our point of departure for our test-drive.

But after a 230-mile loop from the tram-filled city streets to rustic Mariazell, a vacation and Catholic-pilgrimage site in the Austrian Alps, the biggest takeaway was the effortless ride, made possible by satellite-aided transmission (SAT), which processes GPS navigation data to anticipate changes in the road ahead and shift among the eight gears accordingly. The system is spooky smooth on sweeping mountain curves and quickens acceleration out of corners. The 12-cylinder, twin-turbo, 624-horsepower engine helps enormously, spurring the Wraith from zero to 60 miles per hour in 4.4 seconds. That kind of power isn’t in everyone’s future, but SAT may very well be.

Inside, notable highlights include Canadel wood paneling, fine-grain leather, lambswool floor mats, massage seats and a starlight headliner comprised of thousands of tiny fiber-optic lights woven into the roof lining. A ten-inch screen and a touch pad anchor the electronics suite, which also utilizes voice-activated navigation, and radar- and camera-linked safety systems keep things in check. A selection of exterior colors is available, including a two-tone mix, but if you want to draw smiles, go with the purple-metallic paint job of our test car (pictured here).

There is a lot to love. (So much, in fact, that we included it on The Departures 100 list.) But perhaps best of all is that the Wraith is a driver’s car, easy to maneuver thanks to 590 pound-feet of torque. Take into account the tucked-in Pantheon grille and iconic Spirit of Ecstasy figure on the hood (leaning forward even more than normal), and the Wraith, with its fastback lines, is going places. rollsroycemotorcars.com.

October 24, 2013
By Frank Vizard | Automobiles

Test Drive: The 2014 Audi R8 V10 Plus
Courtesy of Audi

Drive the new 2014 Audi R8 V-10 Plus ($179,645) on the Pacific Coast Highway around Malibu, California, and the authorities will appear in your rearview mirror like they have an appointment. You might be tempted to test how they react to a car that goes from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.3 seconds and hits a top speed of 196 miles per hour, but resist the urge. A discreet move into the right lane is enough to convince them that no laws will be broken.

Still, a 50-mile-per-hour speed limit is frustrating when behind the wheel of this newest, slimmed-down iteration of the vaunted R8. Since track time was not on the itinerary, we turned east to get a real feel for the car. Surf shacks gave way to canyon ranches perched atop roads so steep (and deliciously curvy) that the locals keep a four-wheel-drive vehicle at the bottom of driveways for the final ascent.

The R8 V-10 Plus is the kind of two-seater sports car you could commute to work in; the normal driving mode is very smooth, thanks in large measure to a seven-speed S tronic transmission. Though the interior is comfortable, it would be only a slight exaggeration to say that anything bigger than an iPad would challenge its cargo-carrying capacity.

But shift into sport mode for some canyon-carving and the true character of the car reveals itself. (The 550 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque hint at the transformation.) The R8 V-10 Plus spits like a mad beast on a chain with a tap of the brake, and springs forward like a freed demon when the accelerator is toed. It handles a curve like a straight line and is a car that doesn’t like to stand idle. In fact, you can’t even shift into park. The only way to stop is to turn the engine off. audiusa.com.

September 19, 2013
By Frank Vizard | Automobiles

Test-Drive: The New Range Rover Sport
Couretsy of Range Rover

In a remote, mountainous spot in Wales called the Brecon Beacons, a miles-long stretch of public road runs through a military training ground. At its gate you are advised to stay on the asphalt at all times due to the risk of unexploded ordnance. Behind the wheel of the new 2014 Range Rover Sport ($63,495–$93,295; landroverusa.com)—a vehicle capable of handling any challenging terrain, Welsh or otherwise—the admonition is a bit frustrating. (All the more so since the hundreds of sheep that dot the surrounding landscape seem heedless of any danger.) Testament to the Range Rover’s quiet cabin interior, we didn’t hear the rifle shots from the firing range until we rolled down the windows.

Our foray into Wales began across the English border in Cheltenham—in the center of the Cotswolds—at the charming Ellenborough Park hotel and spa (Southern Rd.; 44-12/4254-5454; ellenboroughpark.com), a centuries-old estate that opened as a hotel in 2011. While Cheltenham is a busy town, our crossing into central Wales revealed a remote and rural landscape. The 2014 Sport, which seats five (plus two more in third-row seating if in a pinch), turned the daylong drive into a comfortable excursion. We climbed hills and gently descended the steepest grades thanks to a Terrain Response 2 system that automatically adjusts to varying road conditions, even when the track is submerged. Once in Wales, we fortified with tea and delicious Welsh cakes at The Bell at Skenfrith (Monmouthshire; 44-16/0075-0235; skenfrith.co.uk), a lovely inn where all the food is locally sourced.

You can choose from a supercharged V-6 or V-8 engine, but in general the bold-looking Sport is faster and more agile than its predecessor, due in large part to an all-aluminum chassis that shaves 813 pounds from the total weight. It made for a quick ride back to Cheltenham and the superb Montpellier Chapter hotel (Bayshill Rd., Montpellier; 44-12/4252-7788; themontpellierchapterhotel.com), where some ground-floor rooms have a “00” designation—fitting since actor Daniel Craig (aka James Bond in last year’s Skyfall) was employed to help introduce the car at its New York debut earlier this year.

August 07, 2013
By Ingrid Skjong | Automobiles

Vintage and Rare Cars in California
Kevin C. Hulsey

No matter one’s interest level in cars, there is something unmistakably magnetic about a rare vehicle. On August 16 in Carmel, California, The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering—held in conjunction with Monterey Car Week (August 12–18; montereycarweek.com)—offers an exclusive atmosphere in which to see more than 200 of them.

“What makes the groupings of cars so captivating at the Quail is the sheer range of diversity present among our various classes,” says Gordon McCall, director of Motorsports. “We strive each year to bring a fresh mix of all tastes, further ensuring the notion that you really don't know what you are going to see here until you experience it firsthand.”

Sports cars, racing vehicles, supercars and even motorcycles make the cut. Two rare Ferraris—the 2009 Ferrari P 4/5 Competizione and the 2006 Ferrari P 4/5 by Pininfarina—will appear together for the first time. (The cars, owned by investment manager and Ferrari collector James Glickenhaus, were custom built.) Aston Martin gets a nod for its 100 years. A meticulously restored 1964 Porsche 911 warrants a look (just 62 of the first-year models exist intact today). And a retrospective of Automobile Lamborghini traces the trajectory of the storied manufacturer.

To get the full effect, McCall suggests a strategic approach to navigating the Quail Lodge & Golf Club grounds, where the gathering takes place: Make a lap of the proceedings, stop for food and local wines at the six culinary pavilions and take a second loop of the links in the opposite direction. A final awards ceremony crowns the best in show. But for those who aren’t content to simply view the autos of the hour, Bonhams Quail Lodge Auction (August 15–16; bonhams.com/quail) lets guests bid on cars like a Bugatti Type 35, with this year’s sales expected to reach nearly $3 million. Tickets, $550; 8205 Valley Greens Dr.; 831-620-8879; signatureevents.peninsula.com.

December 21, 2012
By Susan Michals | Automobiles

201212-b-audi-ice-driving.jpg

Courtesy of Audi USA

Many of us consider skidding across a frozen pond on a cold winter’s day one of the greatest joys of childhood, and Audi has now recreated a similar thrill for adults. Its Ice Experience takes place on a wintertime course—usually a frozen lake in Sweden or Finland—against the backdrop of some of the most awe-inspiring settings on earth.

Audi hired a team of experts to teach intrepid drivers the ins and outs of handling an S5 Sportback, testing their abilities to navigate a slalom course or perfect handling skills while negotiating the frozen tundra. Uwe Fricker, a top driving instructor, says the experience isn’t just for thrill-seekers—there is a practical side, too. “Participants are learning how to maneuver their vehicles to avoid dangerous situations,” he says. “While driving against a stunning European landscape, they are also learning how to perfectly control a drift. Winter conditions are generally dangerous because people tend to lose control of their vehicles. When people participate in this program, we show them how to maintain control in even the most extreme conditions.” Fur coat not included. From $4,000; audiusa.com.

July 27, 2011
By Sarah Smith | Automobiles

20110728-dd-auto.jpg

It's not just the added ponies that set Porsche's new Cayman S Black Edition apart from a standard Cayman S. Unlike other Cayman S models, this mid-engine sports car doesn't have contrasting trim—its body, Boxster Spyder wheels, side air grills, tailpipe and leather interior are all black. But don't judge this car by its exterior. Under the hood is a 3.4-liter six-cylinder engine with increased horsepower, up to 330 from 320. As a result, zero-to-62 acceleration is 5.1 seconds (a tenth of a second quicker than a regular Cayman S), and speed can reach 172 mph (a whole 1.24 mph faster than your neighbor's ride). You'll need that extra oomph to race to your nearest Porsche dealer—only 500 of these limited-edition suckers are available. From $67,500; porsche.com.

Photo Courtesy Porsche

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