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EV Dreams: Lexus Electrified Sport

December 17, 2021 by Matt

Lexus Electrified Sport LFA EV Sports Car

I hate that I love the way this looks.

To me, speed isn’t an end in itself. It’s a nice-to-have, but a car’s ability to engage me as a driver will always top my list of priorities when assessing its desirability. Axiomatically, then, a car that engages more of my body—whether appendages through the necessity of rowing my own gears or my senses through hearing and feeling the engine’s internal combustion—will always trump the sterile, inert driving experience delivered by an electric vehicle (EV).

So no EV has sparked any desire whatsoever, whether the vehicle/appliance in question is a lowly Nissan Leaf or a multi-million dollar Rimac Nevera, or anything in between.

Until now.

Toyota and Lexus recently unveiled a whole slew of EV concepts, form factors ranging from pickups and economy cars to crossovers and sports cars. Topping the range is a kind of LFA successor called the Lexus Electrified Sport.

And I can’t get enough of it. The classic long-nose, short-deck proportions have more than a hint of Mercedes-AMG GT—an excellent source of inspiration—and the concept touts other Toyota/Lexus cues, like a nose that plays like a 21st-century remix of the Mark 3 Supra’s, and upswept haunches borrowed from the latest sports car in that storied line.

There’s just one problem. While it looks fantastic, sucked to the ground, visual masses distributed like an old-school sports car’s, but with up-to-the-minute modern detailing, the inevitable question arises: Why? Why does the nose need to be so long if there’s no big engine underneath? Why is it shaped that way if it doesn’t have to be?

I have a feeling lack of underlying justification for otherwise familiar shapes is going to be a fairly recurring theme as EVs become more commonplace. Some (most?) designers see that as a net positive, freeing them from packaging constraints and liberating them to redefine the idea of what a car should look like in ways they’ve always wanted to. But for those of us, like myself, who like a little function underpinning the form, it’s a step backward.

Either way, Lexus has a visual winner on their hands. Hopefully they’ll bring it to market in some way.

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The New Toyota Supra: A Styling Analysis

January 20, 2019 by Matt

I have thoughts about this.

So many thoughts.

As a former Mark 3 (’86-’92) Supra owner, I feel like I have some purchase here, a little more skin in the game, so to speak, with respect to the new (A90) Supra’s design. So here goes:

1) The nose is aggressive and beautiful. The grille-less treatment reminds me of two cars: The facelift (’89-’92) “Klingon nose” Mark 3 Supra, and, weirdly, the first-generation Lexus SC—one of the loveliest cars to come out of Japan.

2) The headlights are distinctively-shaped (more on that later) and have the potential to become a Supra trademark should the lineage continue.

3) The large center grille opening is just begging for an intercooler to show behind the black mesh.

4) These cuts atop the fenders are a little fussy, but they take some visual weight out of the area and carry hints of the Ferrari F12’s “aero bridge” in the same region.

5) Overall the car looks much smaller than it is. Credit the relatively high fender line and tucked-in fastback shape for that.

6) The car’s signature styling element is the way the fastback is pulled in to expose the rear wheel arches. Brilliantly, the S-line from the base of the front wheels, through the cut on the door and up over the rear fenders is echoed in the shape of the DRLs and tops of the headlights. It’s a perfect way to make the car’s design more cohesive.

7) The greenhouse, with its double-bubble roof, blacked-out A-pillars and quarterlights that taper to a point, is pure Toyota 2000GT.

8) I’m surprised but glad Toyota decided against bringing back the Mark 4 Supra’s four “pool ball” taillight treatment. It wouldn’t jive with the A90’s themes and I’m happy they moved on with a more understated look.

9) The ducktail hints at the shape of the Mark 4’s hoop spoiler without being nearly so tacky. I’m sure special editions of the A90 and tuners will stack an additional spoiler on top.

10) Bonus points for wheels that aren’t totally black, even if the alternating black-silver spoke pattern is a little strange.

11) Really wish Toyota had put a some effort into distinguishing the engine cover from that of its corporate cousin, the BMW Z4. A little more homage to the 2JZ (the Mark 4’s legendary mill) would have gone a long way here…

12) In contrast to the exterior, the interior appears a rather dour and conservative place, like Toyota ran out of styling capital with the car’s inside incomplete, so they just tweaked and dressed up the Z4’s cabin (which is probably close to the truth). That said, the Mark 4’s interior always struck me as plasticky and haphazard, so at least the A90 improves on its predecessor a little.

13) The Toyota emblem looks lost in the middle of a giant round airbag cover, like a “shoebox airbag” from the ’90s.

14) This element is on the wrong side of the console; it actually separates the driver from the console’s controls in favor of the passenger. Very odd. Both the A70 and A80 Supra’s consoles swoop around the driver and create a “cockpit” environment—the opposite of what’s going on with the A90. One thing’s for sure: If Toyota ever decides to fit the new car with a manual (here’s hoping), that little buttress is going to get in the way when shifting. A statement of intent perhaps?

Overall, I love the A90’s design; it’s forward-looking while drawing on Toyota’s styling heritage. I still think the exterior styling is more resolved than the interior, but in any case, I can’t wait to see them out on the road.

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Transcending Badge Appeal: Kia Stinger

January 2, 2019 by Matt

I want one. I don’t even care that it’s a Kia.

It’s almost like a latter-day Pontiac G8 or Chevy SS: A good-looking, well-executed sports sedan with the ingredients in all the right places (longitudinal engine, RWD or AWD, great proportions and distinctive details) but doomed to irrelevancy because of the market’s enduring obsession with SUVs and crossovers.

As usual, it’s a shame, since Kia deserves to be rewarded for their daring attempt to take on the upmarket cadre of established sports sedan players. It’s a smarter move than meets the eye, also; instead of copying to a tee something like the BMW 3-series (see: Cadillac ATS), Kia went for a more classically American feel, like a hybrid of the larger BMW 5-series and a Dodge Charger. With the latter at the bitter end of its life cycle, assuming buyers are willing to consider the Kia (and that’s a big assumption), the Stinger would seem to be well-poised to capture a chunk of that market niche.

Sadly, what with the aforementioned fixation on Sitting Up High™ (read: SUVs and crossovers), I just don’t see the Stinger gaining any appreciable traction in the market. It certainly doesn’t help that sister brand Genesis has just released the G70, built on the same platform, but more dynamically polished and available with a manual transmission (though not with the twin-turbo V6 engine option). The Stinger is much nicer to look at than the G70, but the latter has landed not only a spot on Car and Driver‘s annual 10Best list, but also been named Motor Trend‘s Car of the Year. The automotive world just isn’t fair.

The upshot for an enthusiast like myself is that depreciation will probably be very high, especially considering the lack of badge cachet, so a used purchase in a few years could be a realistic proposition. I’d love a slate gray RWD GT model with the twin-turbo V6. The lack of a manual option is a debit, but the compelling design makes up for it. Add the inevitable rarity caused by its position as the black sheep of the sports sedan marketplace, and the potential exists for the Stinger to remain a special car.

For a great review, check out Doug DeMuro’s thorough rundown on the car and all its quirks and features:

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No Stickshift for New Z4:
What is BMW thinking?

December 23, 2018 by Matt

Buried in Car and Driver‘s report on the new BMW Z4 is this little gem of a statement:

Sadly, there is no manual-transmission option; a ZF eight-speed automatic will be the only transmission…

It’s not entirely unexpected given that the upcoming BMW 3-series, the G20, is equally bereft of a manual transmission option, but the fact that it isn’t even an option for the Z4 is utterly baffling to me. The new BMW roadster is positioned as the most driver-focused, most “compromised” car in the automaker’s lineup, so why shouldn’t every option that fosters driver engagement be at least available? Especially if the car’s primary targets—the Porsche 718 Boxster/Cayman twins—practically flaunt their third pedals by comparison…

What if tomorrow Mazda announced it was discontinuing the manual option on the MX-5 Miata? Or Toyota decided to pull the plug on the 86’s stickshift? I understand rowing your own gears is a dying art, and completely void of any kind of performance advantage the way it used to be. Still—if an automaker positions itself as the enthusiast’s choice; offers a model purporting to carry the top-down, classic roadster torch; and wants to maintain any kind of enthusiast cred whatsoever, it should develop a manual option for that model, even if the take rate is too low to make sense economically. Sell a few more X5s and you’ll break even, BMW.

The other thing that confuses the hell out of me is the fact that BMW offers a manual option with all 2-series models—an arguably less driver-focused and certainly more practical car than the Z4. But that could just be a “legacy transmission” BMW keeps on the option sheet until the next-generation 2-series bows a year or two from now…

The new Z4’s performance is irrelevant. I don’t care if it laps the ‘Ring five minutes faster than the old car, the steering brings back the classic BMW feel and the (admittedly turbocharged) I6 under the hood sings from the classic BMW engine hymnal—without a manual transmission option, it’s nothing more than a boulevardier, a car for retirees to cruise along the A1A at sunset with the top down. It’s a shame.

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What is BMW thinking?

An Update on E46 Life

May 2, 2017 by Matt

BMW E46 330i 2002 Orient Blue

Well into my 16th month of BMW 330i ownership, and things are as rosy as ever.

Over the past year and a bit and 17K miles, the car’s thrown a bunch of issues at me, but nothing too difficult to diagnose or solve. And it drives as well as ever—better in fact, since a number of parts such as cracked intake boots were replaced, and they were likely in the process of failing when I purchased the car.

The two biggest game-changers when respect to diagnosis and repair are the OBD2 app I purchased for my iPod, along with a transmitter interface that connects to the car’s OBD2 port; and the smoke tester I used to locate the vacuum leaks that were the source of a number of issues a month ago. The E46’s M54 engine is very sensitive to vacuum leaks, and if one is present, it can throw a variety of lean and misfire codes that make no sense as the DME (ECU) tries to adjust various parameters to compensate for the unmetered air. Hence the first course of action once the “check engine” light illuminates is usually to hook up the smoke tester and try to suss out a leak. I bought the $90 model from this site and couldn’t be happier. The only alternatives are the cheap YouTube method using a cigar and a hand pump, or shelling out many hundreds of dollars for a shop-quality smoke tester. The Stinger unit is very easy to use and does exactly what I need it to do. Highly recommended for anyone who drives a car with a mass airflow sensor or air flow meter and depends on a leak-free intake.

There are still a number of outstanding issues to tackle in the coming months, as time and finances allow:

  • I put a nice little crease in the driver’s rocker panel when the car slipped off the jack cradle when I was replacing the shift bushings last year. So that’ll need to be replaced.
  • The cowl piece surrounding the base of windshield wipers is crumbling. No leaks; just an eyesore.
  • The whole car could use a good detail. Finding time to do it properly is probably my biggest challenge.
  • Another E46 owner very generously gifted me an adapter to connect an AUX input to the factory wiring for a CD changer. Need to install.
  • The AM (and FM) radio reception is marginal. Need to diagnose and fix.
  • The passenger-side front inner fender liner is still missing. It’s tough to find a replacement compatible with the rare-ish MTech1 bodykit.
  • Long-term, I’d like to replace the shift pin detents inside the transmission in order to cure a persistent notchy shifting issue, but that will require dropping the trans. Maybe when the clutch goes…
  • Would like to install an M3 steering wheel. This is a direct replacement, is more attractive than the Sport wheel, and it has molded-in hand grips, which I like.
  • There’s a small A/C leak somewhere. I recharged the system last summer, and when the weather turned warm again this spring, I discovered the A/C was warm again. A couple of cans of R134a later and it’s ice-cold, but it still means I have a leak somewhere.

I still love driving it, even if it’s my daily driver. It still turns my head when I’m walking away; the proportions are dead-nuts perfect. My automotive promiscuity still rears its ugly head from time to time, but a quick reminder of what I’m driving and the desire to acquire something else subsides. On that last point, one mental technique that works especially well is to remind myself of how much I miss various car’s I’ve owned and sold, and then to extrapolate that to imagine how much I would miss the E46 if I sold it. It’s a safe bet that the feeling of regret associated with unloading the 330i would trump that of any other car I’ve sold. She’s still a keeper.

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Boring or Brilliant? Ferrari 456

November 20, 2016 by Matt

Ferrari 456

Is it an understated study in minimalism and proportion, or an overly-timid effort by a design house whose visual currency is Italian passion? The Ferrari 456, produced from 1992-1997, and from 1998 to 2003 in upgraded 456M guise, was the automaker’s top-of-the-line grand tourer, designed to convey two occupants (and their small children in the occasional rear seats) across continents in peerless style at breathtaking speed. Capable of cruising effortlessly for hours at triple-digit speeds, Ferrari equipped the 456 with its most powerful non-supercar mill, a 5.5l, 442-hp V12, and the car could be specified with either a 6-speed gated manual or a 4-speed automatic. The cabin is supremely comfortable and the chassis brilliantly capable, especially considering the car’s two-ton curb weight.

Ferrari 456

All that said, is it exciting enough to warrant a place alongside Ferrari’s greatest? There’s little dispute the car the 456 replaced in the automaker’s lineup, the unlamented yet underrated 412, is generally considered a sub-par effort, so the 456 arrived unburdened by the expectations inherent in following a truly outstanding Ferrari. Also, the market niche the 456 occupies is slightly different than that targeted by Ferrari’s bread-and-butter models like the contemporary F355, with a prospective buyer a bit more reserved, perhaps less interested in a hair-raising joyride than drivers of the smaller Ferraris.

Ferrari 456

Still, the idea of a Ferrari means something to enthusiast community, and given the strength of the brand, to the wider public as well: Speed, passion, excitement and a touch of flamboyance. Does the 456 live up to that preconception? I think it does, but it takes patience to extract those qualities from its shape and demeanor. The dramatic side cuts on the flanks of the car, for instance, and the way the character lines on its flanks change from concave to convex as they move back toward the rear—these elements admirably bridge the design gap between Ferrari’s outré ’80s and more restrained ’90s visual vocabulary. I love the way the 456’s proportions are allowed to come to the fore, accented with touches like the fender-top vents (sadly eliminated for the 456M) and the very obviously staggered 5-spoke wheels.

Ferrari 456

Above all, the 456 looks timeless and tailored, like an Armani suit, a shape with far more longevity than either the 412 that preceded it or its successor, the truly awful 612 Scaglietti. Would it look out of place in Ferrari’s current lineup? Perhaps—but the 456’s owners can rest easy knowing they have the pleasure of driving one of Ferrari’s truly classic shapes. And given my penchant for big GTs, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more than a bit jealous.

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Movie Stars: The McLaren P1

October 22, 2016 by Matt

Editor’s note: Content advisory (language) in the clip above.

McLaren’s P1 hypercar is featured in the music video for The Weeknd’s new single, but it’s not the only piece of high-dollar machinery name-dropped by the Canadian R&B artist.

Overlaying the insistent beat, the singer seems to simultaneously flaunt and lament his fortune and what it’s turned him into. The video mirrors this concept, showing The Weeknd at first reveling in the tokens of his fame before systematically trashing them after the first chorus. The cars escape the carnage, and it’s a good thing, too, since the singer shows excellent automotive taste. He mentions his Lamborghini Aventador SV Roadster, Bentley Mulsanne and of course, the aforementioned P1 in the song, and gives us a glimpse of the first two before a lovely nighttime montage of the McLaren driving down Mulholland Drive with The Weeknd at the wheel. The nighttime setting gives the P1 an opportunity to display its quasi-alien lines and driving light arrangement to good effect, and nicely compliments the surreal tone of the video. Billboard reports the British carmaker was unaware the singer would include the car in his video, but was pleasantly surprised at the free publicity. All-in-all, it’s a worthwhile fusion of visuals and music, with some very heavy-hitting automotive iron thrown in.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series discussing cars which featured prominently on film or television. Read the other installments here:

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I Hate Black Wheels on Cars

October 10, 2016 by Matt


It’s over. Done. Played. The party’s over. The fad has reached its tipping point, its 15 minute of fame are up, etc etc.

Black wheels, I mean. Cannot stand them. I maintain that they were never attractive to begin with, but even allowing for the ebb and flow of popular taste, the trend is decidedly far past its expiration date.

Why the hate? Simple: When the wheels are painted black, the wheel design does not stand out and does not complement the car’s lines. Might as well be running steelies with no hubcaps. Especially complicated wheel shapes, which otherwise would harmonize with the styling of the vehicle to which they’re fitted simply disappear in a mass of black nothingness.


This epidemic is present everywhere, from expected places like wheel-and-tire ads in magazines to muscle cars even to factory fitment on $100K luxury SUVs like Jaguar’s new F-Pace (above). Visually, it does not work and has never worked. The design intent may be to make the car seem more badass and muscular, but the effect is to erase any visual gains by making the car seem like it has an egregious brake dust problem on all 4 wheels.

It’s time for a de-escalation of the wheel size arms race anyway, and a side effect of black wheels is to camouflage its true diameter. Perhaps if a car’s wheels flaunted a brighter finish, people would recoil in horror at their vehicle’s stonking rollers and demand a bit more tire sidewall. One can only hope…

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Local Finds: 1974 Opel Manta Rallye

October 7, 2016 by Matt

1974 Opel Manta Rallye

It’s always nice to see an example that’s obviously received some care and feeding during its lifetime. Most Spannerhead readers know I have a real soft spot for the Opel Manta, so I was pleased when this ad popped up.

1974 Opel Manta Rallye

The seller is asking $4,200, an entirely reasonable price for a Manta in the condition shown, especially since—by the seller’s description—there’s very little rust, and none of it structural. The color doesn’t really appeal, but the paint appears to be in good nick. If I bought it, I would consider painting the hood to match; the black hood was part of the “Rallye” trim package and doesn’t really jive with the brown.

1974 Opel Manta Rallye

The above really represents the Manta’s best view. The mini-pony car proportions are shown to good effect and the simple, cohesive lines draw together nicely at the rear. I don’t even mind the federally-mandated crash bumpers. Are they big? Sure. Would I prefer the thin chrome bumpers fitted to the 1970-1972 cars? Yes I would. But they’re not a dealbreaker.

1974 Opel Manta Rallye

I believe the seats are aftermarket pieces, or at least not original to the Manta, although they look period and quite comfortable to boot. The aformentioned Rallye trim package includes a tachometer and additional auxiliary gauges.

1974 Opel Manta Rallye

The car is equipped with a 1.9l CIH 4-cylinder engine and a 3-speed automatic transmission. As much a fan as I am of rowing my own gears, I’d gladly make an exception for the Manta, since the whole point of ownership isn’t about performance so much as style and presence. When it was first released, the Manta boasted very competent handling, but nowadays an average modern family sedan could wipe the asphalt with it in the corners. Owning and driving one, then, would be about cruising and enjoying the elemental feel of a little gem of a car from the 1970s.

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