Ferrari 612 Scaglietti Review

Four-Seater Ferrari

This large and luxurious four-seat coupe is one of the fastest, most exclusive four-seaters around.
by Jim Gorzelany and Matthew de Paula

Ferrari 612 Scaglietti

Larger and lighter than the 456M it replaced, the four-seat 612 Scaglietti is Ferrari’s most expensive model and the first to boast a chassis and body made entirely of aluminum. This is said to cut the vehicle’s weight by about 40 percent — versus a standard steel setup — and allow exceptional rigidity for a more refined ride and improved handling over the model it replaced.

The 612 Scaglietti carries over unchanged for 2006. Its engine and drivetrain are in the tradition of classic Ferraris: a large, twelve-cylinder up front driving the rear wheels. A version of the 5.7-liter V12 engine that is in the two-seat 575M Marinello puts out a landscape-blurring 540 hp and enables the 612 Scaglietti to reach 62 mph in 4.2 seconds with the standard six-speed manual transmission. The car can reach a top speed of 199 mph.

With a fuel-economy rating of just 10 mpg city/17 mpg highway, the car is subject to a federal gas-guzzler tax.

The understated styling is courtesy of famed Italian design house Pininfarina, which has a long history of designing Ferraris.

The engine is mounted entirely behind the front axle, and the transmission is in the rear of the car for optimum weight distribution (46/54 percent weight distribution front-to-rear with a driver onboard). This allows superior handling.

An optional sequential-manual “F1” six-speed transmission offers manual gear changes with paddles mounted behind the steering wheel — right paddle for upshifts, left paddle for downshifts — or can be left in automatic mode. A sport mode allows better acceleration by holding gears longer so that the engine can rev all the way to redline.

An adaptive suspension varies its calibration according to road conditions, firming up during spirited driving and softening over rough roads. A sport setting stiffens the suspension for the most spirited driving. Likewise, the car’s stability and traction control systems have a sport mode that allows more freedom to drive aggressively before intervening.

As befits its lightweight underpinnings, the 612 Scaglietti’s 2+2 interior is trimmed in aluminum, with impeccably handcrafted leather upholstery throughout. The contoured front sport seats are power-adjustable with a unique headrest design that can be raised and lowered electrically in conjunction with the seatbelt. The rear seat is large enough for two adults to be comfortable on short trips, and the trunk will fit several pieces of luggage.

The instrument panel features large, legible dials and a small screen to the left that displays ancillary information such as engine and oil temperature, or trip information like the number of miles driven. A head unit by Becker is clunky and slow and spoils an otherwise good sound system featuring Bose speakers. Even more odd, though, is the fact that the optional navigation system doesn't come with a color screen. Rudimentary line drawings of roads and intersections — no maps — are displayed on the small dot-matrix screen of the Becker head-unit. Fortunately, directions can be announced by a computerized voice.

Like most exotic cars, the 612 Scaglietti can be customized with any exterior color and interior trim of a client's choosing. Options include a full-size spare tire, special 19-inch wheels, run-flat tires, parking sensors and custom-fitted, six-piece leather luggage designed by Pininfarina. Pricing for these was not available.

Cadillac CTS-V Review

The wickedly fast Cadillac CTS-V is easily one of the best Cadillacs ever. In an effort to take advantage of its recent vogue, Cadillac decided to build high-performance versions of several of its cars. Collectively called the V-Series, they are meant to be high-powered, tight-handling, all-around track-tuned performers in the vein of the European performance marques, such as BMW's M series and Mercedes-Benz's AMG lineup.

2006 Cadillac CTS-V 4dr Sedan Shown

The CTS-V was the first Cadillac to get the V treatment, and it's no exaggeration to call it an enthusiast's dream. Based on the CTS entry-level luxury sedan, the CTS-V has exclusivity stamped all over it. The throaty V8 may get all the publicity, but the CTS-V looks, sounds and drives like a very special car.

As you'd expect, though, the Cadillac CTS-V does share a few inherent flaws with the regular CTS, including an awkward interior design and mediocre interior materials. These attributes will likely be addressed with the second-generation CTS-V, which is expected to follow the launch of the new '08 CTS.

Current Cadillac CTS-V

The Cadillac CTS-V comes in one body style and trim. It is a powerful, rear-wheel-drive midsize luxury sedan. The V6 engine from the standard CTS has been swapped out for a 400-hp 6.0-liter V8, which is the same engine found under the Corvette's hood. A six-speed manual gearbox and limited-slip differential are standard. There is no automatic transmission option. Put the pedal down hard and you can expect to move from zero to 60 mph in 5 seconds.

But the performance upgrades go far beyond the bigger engine. Additional highlights include a tightened suspension, massive Brembo performance brakes and 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels with performance tires. Antilock brakes and a driver-adjustable stability control system (StabiliTrak) are standard. More subtle adjustments include a strengthened engine cradle and hydraulic engine mounts.

There is a level of sophistication that extends from the performance construction down to the interior features. You get all of the CTS upscale features as standard, including HID headlights, climate control, sport seats and a premium Bose audio system with an in-dash six-CD changer. Even navigation comes standard. Options are limited to paint colors and run-flat tires.

Cadillac has done its best to gussy up the CTS's normally dull interior to make the V-Series sedan feel special. The original instrument cluster has been replaced by more upscale dials and computer readouts, which even spit out real-time driving dynamics, such as lateral G-forces. There are also aluminum and satin chrome accents on the dash. The more heavily bolstered front seats are comfortable and supportive during aggressive driving. As in the regular CTS, the backseat is spacious, which makes the CTS-V more useful on an everyday basis than similarly priced compact rivals from Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

In road tests, our editors found the Cadillac CTS-V to be the automotive equivalent of a Fourth of July fireworks celebration. It just oozes enthusiasm and begs to be driven hard. Whether you're pushing hard in a straight line, around long curves or sharp corners, the CTS-V does everything you want from a high-level sport sedan and then some, though its drivetrain exhibits the sort of raggedness that sets it slightly below the standards of its European rivals. But no excuses need to be made for the handling, which is precise and predictable in all conditions.

Cadillac XLR Review

Yet another entry from Cadillac to show the world it's serious about competing with the top European and Japanese luxury brands, the two-seat Cadillac XLR roadster is the company's flagship vehicle. Though it shares the same platform as the current Corvette, the XLR variant is not a simple case of corporate badge engineering. It's more of a grand touring machine than a hard-edged sports car, as the Caddy's responses are softer and comfortably refined. It also uses a more subdued 4.6-liter, 320-horsepower V8 engine rather than the Vette's edgier 6.0-liter, 400-hp V8 power plant.

2008 Cadillac XLR Convertible

The use of lightweight components like aluminum suspension pieces and composite body panels keeps the Cadillac XLR from being a bloated luxury two-seater. In addition, the standard Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension system automatically firms up or softens the suspension based on driving conditions, ensuring generally smooth and responsive maneuvers. The combination of bold, angular styling outside and distinctive eucalyptus-wood cockpit accents gives the XLR a sophisticated presence. Further, the XLR's power retractable hardtop roof allows the comfort and security of a coupe when the top is raised.

As impressive as it is, the Cadillac XLR roadster is not quite the "standard of the world" just yet. Though its styling and Cadillac badge will appeal to those looking to roll up to the valet in something different from the status quo, the XLR comes up short in terms of maximum performance and interior detailing when compared to its German rivals. But if those qualities aren't your top priority, and you're not overly impressed with the rest of the XLR's competition, this Cadillac convertible is worth considering.

Current Cadillac XLR

The Cadillac XLR is a two-seat luxury roadster featuring a retractable hardtop roof. The standard XLR comes with just about all of the luxury features you'd expect, including 18-inch alloy wheels with run-flat tires, adaptive xenon HID headlights, heated leather seats with plenty of power adjustments, dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless startup, a head-up display, a navigation system and a Bose audio system with satellite radio and a CD changer. There are also a couple special variants, the Passion Red Limited Edition XLR and the Platinum Edition XLR, that feature unique exterior paint and other minor trim enhancements.

A refined yet muscular 4.6-liter V8 powers the XLR, and a six-speed automanual transmission transmits the Northstar V8's 320 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels. We've found the XLR to be a spirited performer, with 0-60-mph sprints taking less than 6 seconds and high-speed cruising that's generally hushed and effortless. Full-throttle shifts result in little hesitation, and the sound of the engine at speed is as good as or better than any V8 in its class. Antilock disc brakes are standard safety items, as are run-flat tires, a tire-pressure monitor, stability control, head/torso side-impact airbags and rear parking sensors.

Inside, the Cadillac XLR boasts an upscale cabin complete with rich eucalyptus wood trim and aluminum accents in addition to comfortable leather seating -- altogether clean-looking, modern and warm. State-of-the-art technologies abound, too: A head-up display shows vital information such as speed, fuel level and audio status on the windshield, adaptive cruise control automatically maintains a preset distance between the XLR and the car in front, and a large touchscreen mounted high in the center stack helps keep the dash free of numerous single-use buttons. Our editors found fit and finish to be excellent, save for a few pieces of metallic trim that seem tacked-on rather than cleanly integrated.

As fast as the XLR is when pushed, those expecting a true Cadillac sports car will be disappointed. Acceleration, though certainly quick, is not as forceful as its corporate cousin, and the XLR's softer suspension tuning results in noticeable body roll during hard cornering and plenty of nosedive under heavy braking. Even with its adaptive suspension's split-second response, the Cadillac XLR still feels less willing to tackle turns than the more athletic European contenders. On the open highway, the roadster hits its stride, delivering an undisturbed ride with effortless tracking.

Ferrari 599 Review

2007 Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano 2dr Coupe

Somewhere in America I know there’s someone grinning like an idiot as they hold their phone to their ear. I’ve no idea who they are, but they’ve just received the metallic, shrieking blare of the 599 GTB Fiorano’s 6.0-litre V12 repeatedly ripping up to 7,000rpm.

All via mobile technology and a quick flex of my right ankle. Only Ferrari can do this. Only Ferrari can make someone ask their friend hold their phone to the tailpipe of a car and get them to ask me to give it some. I’m more than happy to oblige. Whoever you might be, I hope you enjoyed it.

But the rasping, metallic cacophony of the V12 is only the half of it, and truth be told it’s actually quite quiet inside the 599 GTB Fiorano on the road. It’s the performance that’s so sensational. The 599 can reach 62mph in the time it’s taken you to read this sentence. Impressive, but if the driver had kept it pinned they’d be doing 124mph, wait... Now. Depending on how quickly you read, that’s 3.7 and 11.0 seconds respectively. That’s scarcely believable performance. That’s pace that’s no longer merely supercar quick, but up in the heady realms of cars like the Carrera GT, the SLR and McLaren F1. It’s hardly surprising then to find that under the Ferrari’s long bonnet nestles an engine that, save for a few alterations, is

Sure, nobody needs a 6.0-litre, V12 with 620bhp and 608Nm of torque. But Ferrari’s development goals for the 599 GTB Fiorano were simple: create a car that’s able to provide the sort of performance and excitement of the F40. That’s messing with supercar royalty, and on paper, it’s right up there. The 599 GTB’s 0-62mph time betters it, as does its 205+mph top speed. Not that I’ve ever driven an F40, but I know several people who have and they all say the same thing; it’s an animal. The 599 GTB Fiorano couldn’t be more different then. Never has so much power been so civilised, so utterly exploitable. I can say with absolutely certainty that I’ll never drive a 599 GTB again with as much conviction as I did on the SS62 from Fornovo di Taro to Berceto.

It’s the road where Enzo Ferrari took part in his very first road race. And it’s sensational. An early start means it’s completely clear, the winding, bucking stretch of tarmac a tough adversary to any car, let alone such a wide one with such a surfeit of power. But Ferrari has ensured the 599 GTB has the measure of this challenge. A combination of elements allows it to monster this road, and any others you might consider. Firstly the 599 GTB’s all aluminium structure means its both light and strong, that Enzo derived engine sitting low and far back behind the front axle along. Some 85% of the 599’s mass is located within the wheelbase ensuring excellent weight distribution.

For the record it’s split 47% front 53% rear, the bias slightly rearward over its 575M Maranello predecessor’s 50/50 distribution. The styling, beautiful but resolute in the deep Rosso Monza of my car, is honed to produce downforce at speed. Even the flying buttresses at the rear have purpose, that being to channel air over the rear. The flat underfloor assists too, sucking the 599 GTB onto the road. Most significant though is the Fiorano’s suspension, the ‘SCM’ Magnetoreological damping key to the 599’s incredible agility. Linked to the Manettino steering wheel dial you to choose your preferred setting for the Fiorano’s electronic control systems.

They’re numerous, including the settings altering the thresholds for the CST and F1 Trac traction and stability systems. It also controls the speed of the shifts on the F1-SuperFast paddle shift six-speed transmission. Sport is suggested as the best compromise for the road. But Race feels right on these roads. Despite the challenging surface the 599 GTB’s body control is extraordinary, those trick dampers managing to contain roll in the corners while soaking up vertical movements caused by the less than perfect undulating road surface. Bumps that should push the 599 off line, or have it bucking are shrugged off, the 599 flowing on these difficult roads with quite astonishing deftness. It’s difficult to comprehend at first, the 599 goading you to try to unsettle it. You’ll not.

The quick incisive steering turns in with determination. The first few inches of the wheel’s movement faithfully placing the 599’s nose exactly where you want it. There’s plenty of feel at the rim too, though it could do with a bit more meatiness to the weighting. Once turned in it remains neutral through even hairpin tight bends, its beautiful balance clear whatever the radius of corner. Winding off the lock it’s easy to steer through the remainder of the bend with the rear wheels and power, the CST and F1 Trac allowing a degree of oversteer. In ‘Race’ it allows quite a lot. It also speeds up the shifts of the F1-SuperFast transmission. Slamming through the gears at 100 milliseconds it’s Ferrari’s fastest paddleshift transmission aside from Schumacher and Massa’s weekend playthings.

Keep the accelerator buried, tug back on the right paddle and before it’s even really registered you’re reaching for it again as the gear is devoured by the V12 ripping up to its heady 8,400rpm redline. For smoothness changing gears it’s best to momentarily lift, but there’s something gratifyingly feral about letting it register your shifts with a quick jerk, the downshifts smoothed and announced by a sharp, shrill blip from the throttle. The optional carbon ceramic brakes never fade, though the pedal needs a good shove to get them working. The pedal movement initially proves unexpectedly long, unlike the rest of the 599 the brakes take some learning, lacking the precision feedback of the rest of the controls. A bit more bite at the top of the pedals movement would instil more confidence.

While I’m on the 599’s few negatives the F1 paddles either need to reach further around the wheel’s circumference, or move with it. As they are you’re often tugging mid air exiting a corner taking off steering lock. There’s a bit of wind noise at speed too, and the carbon fibre and leather trim creaks like an old rope swing. The digital display and rev lights on the steering wheel are too much, the shrieking engine and rev counter doing the job better than any disco lights. Small complaints on what’s perhaps the most accomplished Ferrari ever. Prices have yet to be announced, but a two-year waiting list in the UK suggests buyers simply don’t care.

Jaguar XK-Series Review

The Jaguar E-Type or XKE is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful, iconic cars of all time. Introduced in 1961, it has been lusted after ever since, appearing on teenage boys' bedroom walls, grown men's garages and in movies like the "Austin Powers" series, where it served as the international man of mystery's Shaguar. More than three decades since the XKE went to cat heaven, its spirit lives on in a new breed of sleek Jaguar coupes and convertibles. The latest Jaguar XK-Series maintains classic design cues like the oval grille, but adds a thoroughly modern all-aluminum body and high-tech features designed to better defend Britain against German competition.

2008 Jaguar XK-Series XK Convertible

After 22 years of the unloved Jaguar XJS, the XK name and spirit were revived in the late '90s with the stunning XK8 coupe and convertible. Powered by an all-new 290-horsepower V8, it was quick and capable of keeping up with the best of the sub-$100,000 luxury coupe rivals of the time. As its 10-year life wore on, however, the competition predictably began to surpass the XK8 and the high-performance XKR in terms of refinement and comfort.

For 2007, the Jaguar XK ditched the "8" in its name and dusted off several layers of old-school Jaguar heritage to reveal an all-new, more modern coupe and convertible. Sharing components with the XJ sedan's aluminum structure, the XK is lighter and more rigid -- actually 50 percent stiffer -- than the old XK8, Jag says. Its interior is a drastic departure from the typical Jaguar look, with a modern dashboard design featuring a more intuitive control layout. The biggest interior change is the availability of alloy trim in lieu of wood – although some may argue that a Jag without wood is like Tom Selleck without the mustache.

Current Jaguar XK-Series

The new Jaguar XK and supercharged XKR are available as a two-door coupe and convertible. The standard XK comes with a 4.2-liter V8 churning out 300 hp and 310 pound-feet of torque, while the XKR's supercharged version of the same engine pumps out 420 hp and 418 lb-ft of torque. Both models come standard with a six-speed automatic with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for automanual control. Jaguar's old "J-gate" shifter has finally been replaced with a new design that could perhaps be called a Backwards L Gate or Upside-Down 7 Gate.

The XKR adds sportier interior trim, 19-inch wheels (versus 18s), a firmer suspension, retuned steering, larger front brakes and exterior modifications like an aluminum mesh grille. The XK's standard stability control program is reprogrammed for the XKR to allow the driver more leeway and the option of shutting it off completely.

In road tests and reviews, we've found the regular Jaguar XK to be a little disappointing in terms of acceleration; the coupe's 0-60-mph time of 6.4 seconds is about a second slower than some competitors' times. Both XKR models are expectedly much quicker, going from zero to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds. When driving calls for something other than a straight line, both XKs display impressive composure through high-speed sweeping turns. On tighter roads, though, they lack a nimble feel. One final aspect to consider before a purchase would be reliability. In the three XKs we drove, we discovered electrical gremlins involving the touchscreen interface that operates navigation, stereo and climate functions.

Past Jaguar XK models

They say cats have nine lives and quite appropriately, it takes a long time for Jaguar coupes and roadsters to die. The XKE survived from 1961-'74 before being replaced by the very different XJS, which languished in mediocrity for 22 years before being mercifully put out of its misery. By comparison, the 10-year-old XK8 was practically a kitten when it was replaced by today's XK.

The 1997 Jaguar XK8 debuted in coupe and convertible body styles, with the XKR arriving in 2000. The standard 290-hp 4.0-liter engine was Jaguar's first-ever V8 and only the fourth all-new engine in its history. We were impressed with its low-end torque and found that it accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds. We also thought it was "a hoot to drive" with effortless acceleration, precise steering and a supple suspension.

Inside, the XK8 featured a classic Jaguar look with lots of Connolly leather and walnut trim. Although it began to look antiquated later in life with unintuitive controls and subpar materials, in the retro-crazed late '90s, it was certifiably chic. The car's cramped interior dimensions and small trunk were never in style, however.

In 2003, the Jaguar XK-Series engine was upgraded to 294 hp and 303 lb-ft of torque (from 284 lb-ft), sending the coupe from zero to 60 in 6.1 seconds – which is better than the current model. That year also saw a new six-speed automatic and more than 900 other mostly minor changes, none of which touched the still-attractive sheet metal. After that, the XK8 prowled about through 2006 without any significant updates.

The high-performance XKR featured a supercharged version of the 4.0-liter V8, making 370 hp and 387 lb-ft of torque. Zero to 60 mph in the coupe was accomplished in 5.1 seconds. The 2003 revisions also applied to the XKR, including a power boost to 390 hp and 399 lb-ft of torque.

Prior to the XK8, Jaguar offered the XJS coupe and convertible. The latter appeared in 1989, replacing the odd "Cabriolet" model, which featured a Jeep Wrangler-esque retractable roof that maintained the window frames. By 1990, a 262-hp 5.3-liter V12 was the standard engine. It was briefly replaced in 1993 by a 4.0-liter inline-6 making only 219 hp, but a new 278-hp, 6.0-liter V12 emerged in 1994 to complement the standard six-cylinder. A four-speed automatic replaced the ancient GM TH400 three-speed auto in 1993. In 1992, a new head- and taillight design debuted.

The XJS was actually heavier than today's XK, making it all the more slow, ponderous to drive and generally undesirable. Also, with its 1970s-era interior and Jaguar's notoriously poor reliability from this era, used-car shoppers should avoid the XJS as if it were a rabid cat in heat.

Chevrolet Monte Carlo Review

2007 Chevrolet Monte Carlo LT Coupe

The Chevrolet Monte Carlo traces its roots back several decades to the height of the muscle car era, when Chevy sought to entice customers with a sporty, upscale rear-drive V8 coupe that provided a balance of performance and comfort in a stylish package. From those early years -- which included big-block SS (Super Sport) editions -- the Monte Carlo evolved toward a more luxury-oriented persona, saw significant downsizing (to optimize fuel efficiency) and soldiered on as a popular rear-drive sport coupe until 1988, when it was replaced by the Lumina coupe.

Following a lengthy hiatus, the Chevy Monte Carlo emerged once again in 1995. However, by then it had been softened and saddled with a carryover front-wheel-drive platform and V6 engines that barely hinted at the performance of years gone by. It was, in essence, a Lumina coupe.

The current-generation Chevrolet Monte Carlo coupe debuted in 2000 with more distinctive styling and updated underpinnings from the Impala sedan to better meet the needs of today's buyers. Significant changes in 2006 have helped the Monte Carlo come nearly full circle back to its original mission with sportier chassis tuning, improved driving dynamics and more power in SS models, while freshened interior and exterior styling offer a sculpted and pleasing contemporary appearance.

Although much improved in the past few years -- including a return to available V8 power in SS trim -- we feel that other performance sport coupe competitors like the Mustang offer a more satisfying choice as long as you don't mind giving up some interior room. In reviews, our editors say the Monte Carlo is primarily a comfortable cruiser that's more at home in the fast lane than on twisty mountain roads. If the latter is your preferred driving environment, you may want to consider other brighter, more focused alternatives.

The current-generation Chevrolet Monte Carlo, which received a major update for the 2006 model year, is a midsize two-door coupe that comes in three trim levels: the base but reasonably well-equipped LS, the more upscale LT and the performance-oriented SS. Under the hood of LS and LT models is a 3.5-liter V6 with 211 horsepower, while the SS boasts a responsive 5.3-liter V8 with 303 hp. Impressive numbers, yes. But we'd like them even better if they powered the rear wheels like Monte Carlos of years ago, especially in the case of the SS. A front-engine/rear-drive layout is typically preferable for optimum weight distribution and balanced handling, especially when that engine is a heavy V8.

Overall, this Chevy Monte Carlo is a spacious sport coupe that offers buyers a reasonably good comfort/performance trade-off for a relatively low sticker price. The V8-equipped Monte Carlo SS suffers from a nose-heavy feel, however. If quick reflexes are on your wish list instead and you don't mind tighter quarters, we suggest you consider one of its smaller but more nimble sport coupe competitors.

Used-car shoppers interested in a late-model Monte Carlo will likely encounter the previous-generation model, which was available from the 2000-'05 model years. Based on the then-new Impala platform and wearing distinctive, fresh sheet metal with heritage styling cues, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo was originally offered as an LS with a 3.4-liter V6 engine making 180 hp, or an SS with a 200-hp 3.8-liter V6. A driver-side airbag -- as well as traction control and OnStar on SS models -- was added as standard safety equipment in 2001, and all models received four-wheel disc brakes, traction control and remote keyless entry in 2003. In a bid to boost its performance image, Chevrolet added a 240-hp supercharged engine option for the SS in 2004.

Previous to this model, there was the Lumina-based Monte Carlo, which became available for the 1995 model year in LS or Z34 sport trim levels. Those wishing to hit the fast lane are advised to stick with the 210-hp 3.4-liter twincam V6 in the Z34. Detail improvements carried the Chevrolet Monte Carlo through the next several years, though only the most eagle-eyed used-car shoppers are likely to appreciate the differences.

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