Under My Tree, an Audi and a Z
Holiday cars, fantasy and reality
(As we're all fully aware, the holiday season is now in full swing. To celebrate, Exhaust Notes is running the automotive holiday wish lists of four of our writers: Josh Condon, Chuck Tannert, James Tate and Lawrence Ulrich. Each has picked two cars -- one where price is no limit, the other a more realistic ride with a price cap at $35,000 -- which in a perfect world would be delivered to each of their driveways with a big bow on top. Lawrence Ulrich talks his top two.)
Far and away, it’s the question I’m most often asked as an auto critic: What car would I drive, if I could have anything? But as someone who critiques cars for a living, I can’t even have a proper Dear-Santa dream without some reality slipping down the chimney, Grinch-style. That’s why this year’s fantasy car isn’t a $2 million Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport, or a museum-worthy vintage Ferrari. For a mere $160,000, I’ll trade Santa his cookies for an Audi R8 5.2 V10. (Though I’d still feel a twinge for passing on the bodacious Aston Martin DBS, Ferrari 458 Italia or Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder.)
The Audi, in fact, is the Lamborghini’s less expensive sister car; they share a chassis, midengine V10, quattro all-wheel drive, even their audio and navigation system. But while the Lamborghini has an edge in power (556 horses to 525) and sheer, car-from-another-planet outlandishness, the Audi is the car I’d rather live with. The Audi snaps your neck, and onlookers’ heads, as effectively as the Lambo. But it’s also a car that you -- or your significant other -- could drive and love every day. It’s as comfortable and approachable as a Porsche 911 or Corvette. And the Audi doesn’t draw as many dirty looks as the Lamborghini from people (jealous, mostly) who assume you’re some nouveau-riche jerk.
I had assumed that the R8 was just about perfect in its original, 420-horsepower V8 version -- except for its mediocre automatic transmission, which I’d switch for the manual anyway. But it turned out I was wrong. The V10 version elevates the Audi into true fantasy territory, as I learned during whoop-it-up laps at Infineon Raceway in California's Napa Valley, and again during killer drives up New York’s Hudson River Valley. That engine and retuned suspension make the Audi a genuine 200-mph exotic and boost the sound, speed and sensation to where the R8 wanted to be all along. And since we’re fantasizing, the extra $35,000 for the V10 model will be nestled in my stocking come Christmas morning.
Of course, I could also spend that 35 grand on a whole other car. This one’s easy: Make mine the Nissan 370Z. The venerable Z is the poor man’s Porsche of this era, delivering 90 percent of the 911’s performance for less than half its price. Particulars include a 332-horsepower, 3.7-liter V6 engine; a zero-to-60 mph explosion in the low 4-second range; and a quarter-mile squirt in just over 13 seconds. Where many performance cars keep getting fatter, the Z is blessedly smaller and lighter than the outgoing 350Z model. Styling and interior are markedly improved, and the chassis is as stout as a Niagara Falls barrel. And the driving experience is as delightful (and repeatable) as your 100th viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The Z starts at a hair over 30 grand, which means a smartly equipped model is yours for $35,000. That also makes the Z a bargain versus its stable mate, the Nissan GT-R, which starts at more than $80,000. The GT-R goes slightly faster, looks tougher and adds AWD handling. But its real-world edge isn’t enough in my book to merit paying double the Z’s price.
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