The Best of Tokyo Auto Salon 2022

To really appreciate a car’s styling and market impact, you really have to see it—in the flesh. I mean, online car launches and briefings are good, but they cannot hope to substitute for the real thing. Seeing is believing, as they say, right? That’s why I made a beeline for the Tokyo Auto Salon last weekend— with my vaccinations, face mask, and hand sanitizer under my belt—to check out the latest offerings from the car industry.

But before we look at the highlights from the three-day Tokyo Auto Salon, we should first note that Japan’s biggest car customizing show has gained significant importance over the past few years thanks to the dwindling reputation of the more traditional Tokyo Motor Show as major foreign brands reallocate marketing budgets away from traditional motor shows, preferring to spend advertising money on brand-centric launches.

Tokyo Auto Salon is 70% customized cars and 30% new cars

On the global stage, the Auto Salon is one of the top customizing events behind America’s SEMA and Germany’s Essen shows. In the wake of the Tokyo Motor Show’s demise, the 40-year old Salon has taken on a double role—it’s a 70% world-class customizing and tuning show and 30% new car launch venue.

Spread across four cavernous halls at the massive Makuhari Messe complex some 30 minutes east of Tokyo, the 3-day Salon saw new cars and concepts debut from Toyota, Lexus, Nissan, Honda, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Daihatsu as well as Japan premieres of the Lotus Emira and the Alpine A110 S.

As for the customizing specialists, all of Japan’s biggest names were there including HKS, Top Secret, Greddy, TOM’s, Blitz, Endless, Liberty Walk, Cusco, Autobacs, Varis, Rays and RE Amemiya among others.

To give you a flavor of what was on the salon floor, we’ve decided to focus on the highlights—so we chose our 3 best new car and concept debuts plus our 3 best-customized cars.

Three Best New Cars and Concepts

1. Nissan Z

By far the most anticipated unveiling at this year’s Auto Salon was the domestic premiere of the all-new Nissan Z, or the ‘Fairlady Z’ as it’s called in Japan. Expressing just how much this launch means to Nissan, the company’s CEO, Makoto Uchida joined champion Nissan Super GT500 racer Tsugio Matsuda, who collaborated with the car’s cockpit design, and pop star and race team principal Masahiko Kondo to give the Z the unveiling it deserved.

First launched in New York City in August last year, the Z boasts a silhouette that harks back to the original 240Z of 1969 while the tail light design draws inspiration from the rear combination lamps of the 300ZX of three decades ago. The huge rectangular grille first generated controversy when it debuted last year, but after seeing it in real life, I must say that the shape and size of the grille complement the dramatic exterior styling. However, to seemingly appease potential buyers wanting a slightly more subtle traditional front end, Nissan also unveiled the world premiere of the ‘Z Customized Proto’ concept.

Painted in bright orange, and fitted with orange 4-piston brake calipers and Dunlop tires adorned with bespoke ‘Nissan Z’ white lettering this Z was one of my personal favorites at the Salon.

Speaking with Nissan’s chief product specialist for the new Z (and the GT-R for that matter!), Hiroshi Tamura, I could quickly tell that this next-generation sports car was a labor of love for him and his team. As he explained its ‘retro-modern design’ and how the design team had leaned heavily on Z styling from the past 50 years, he also stressed that the car is a traditional rear-drive sports car that incorporates the latest state-of-the-art technologies.

Apart from its impressive 400-hp 3.0-liter V6 twin-turbo matched to a 6-speed manual transmission (9-speed auto optional), the cockpit gets a new interpretation of the traditional Z-style three analog pod gauges set up on top of the instrument panel while the race car style shift-up indicator located directly above the tachometer will no doubt become a much talked about the feature when the car lands in showrooms later this year.

2. Toyota GR GT3 Concept

At the Toyota Gazoo Racing (GR) stand, the covers came off another Salon highlight. Arguably one of the most aggressive manufacturer concept cars to ever feature at Makuhari Messe, the GR GT3 Concept interestingly borrows nothing from the brand’s huge range of road-going vehicles, but instead, offers a driver-focused, track-only coupe concept at first, with, perhaps, production car aspirations further down the road. Whether the car is destined for Japan’s Super GT series is yet to be confirmed, but with that “GT3” reference, you’d expect as much.

With its extra-long nose, long wheelbase, straight beltline, sharp sleek front end, huge rear wing, and a rear brake light design that resembles that of the Porsche Taycan, the GR GT3 looks more than ready for the race track as is. One aspect of the car that stood out when viewed from the side is that its proportions almost mirror those of the gorgeous Mazda RX Vision concept of 2017.

Details are slim at present. Toyota officials made no reference to a powertrain in any way, but given the fact that the car has exhaust pipes, we can expect it to pack a hybrid powertrain, most probably a V6 married to a turbo and a plug-in hybrid system that would develop upwards of 600-hp.

According to Toyota, the GT3 concept follows a pattern initiated by the multiple award-winning GR Yaris hatchback. The company plans to commercialize motorsport models first, instead of taking road-going cars and modifying them for racing. Even if Toyota does not make a road-going version of the GT3 concept, we hope that signature design elements of this awesome-looking machine make their way into production cars.

Like Mazda’s RX Vision concept, which appeared in Gran Turismo, one definite possibility is that we will see this car feature in Polyphony Digital’s best-selling driving game in the not too distant future.




3. Subaru STI E-RA Concept

As I roamed the Subaru STI stand, I noticed a BRZ STI concept and a WRX concept, but then, plonked in an obscure corner of the stand, behind the fully electric Solterra STI Concept was one of the most radical Japanese cars I’ve ever seen—the Subaru STI E-RA Concept.

While the Nissan Z was the most anticipated car of the Salon, the STI E-RA Concept was the biggest surprise. It literally appeared out of nowhere. “We told no one about it, not even Subaru of America,” said a Subaru staffer. In the world of social media and instant news and leaked teaser images, it’s extremely refreshing to see something that you did not know existed suddenly appear.

Subaru Tecnica International developed this low-slung 1,072-hp electric race car for one purpose—to set a new lap record around Germany’s famed 13-mile long Nurburgring Nordschleife race track. Propelled by 4 powerful 200kW electric motors, one on each wheel, the E-RA (short for ‘Electric Record Attempt’) is hellbent on setting a time of ‘400 seconds,’ or 6 minutes 40 seconds, according to Hiroshi Mori, STI’s general manager who green-lighted the project.

So why attempt such a radical move now? “We are a little behind with our introduction of EVs, so we decided to up the ante and create an extreme study model, and set a lap time that will help us develop fast, efficient EV race and road cars for the future,” answers Mori.

As Mori so aptly pointed out, the record STI is chasing is not the 6:05 time set by the single-seater Volkswagen ID R, but a slightly more leisurely 6:40 time for twin-seater electric cars. That ‘400 second’ that STI is however targeting a time that would outperform the two-seat Chinese NIO EP9 electric supercar that posted a 6:45 in 2017. Everything about the E-RA, from its 197-inch long frame to its 79-inch wide carbon fiber body to its perfect aerodynamic profile, huge chin spoiler, massive rear wing, roof air intake and race car tuned diffuser, all scream ultra-performance.

According to Mori, the 60kWh battery powering the E-RA should last just one lap, providing just enough juice to set one lap time. “Hopefully a record lap time,” says Mori. STI will test the car in Japan this year before heading to Germany sometime in 2023 for the record-breaking attempt.

Honorable Mentions For New Cars and Concepts

Honda revealed its next-generation Civic Type R wearing a rare camouflage. From a distance, it just looks like a generic red, back, and white covering, but up close this camouflage is a tapestry of Type R logo designs from all of the past Civic and Integra Type R models. As for engine specs, Honda was remaining tight-lipped but we can expect it to generate over 320-hp and offer a manual transmission.

Over at Mitsubishi’s stand, it was great to see their motorsport and tuning arm ‘Ralliart’ making a comeback through their ‘Vision Ralliart Concept.’ Based on the latest Outlander, the modified SUV is finished in a matte black paint job and employs a bold, muscular body kit and rear diffuser, 22-inch wheels, and 6-piston calipers.

And who could ignore the domestic launch of the Lotus Emira First Edition? Distributed by LCI in Japan, this sexy-looking coupe is powered by a 400-hp, 3.5-liter supercharged V6 with either 6-speed manual or automatic transmissions.

Three Best Customized Cars

1. Liberty Walk Aventador SVJ Carbon Fiber Body

Housed inside a high chain-link fence-enclosed stand that seemed inspired by a Mixed Martial Arts arena, the star of internationally-known customizer Liberty Walk’s display was a dark grey Lamborghini Aventador SVJ. And the customizing had nothing to do with its 770-hp V12 engine, which incidentally is how the car comes from the factory.

Arguably one of the most extreme customized cars at this year’s Auto Salon, this Aventador SVJ’s claim to fame is that it is covered in a totally new body kit made out of dry carbon fiber. Looking like a modern-day Batmobile, Liberty Walk engineers removed the car’s body, made bespoke carbon fiber molds of every part, and then replaced the standard body parts with the newly created lightweight carbon fiber pieces.

And the cost of this car? According to a spokesman, if you take a fully optioned SVJ’s costing around $700,000 and add the full dry carbon fiber (which is more expensive than wet carbon fiber) body kit fee of just over $200,000, and then add on a few extra options, you end up with a total price tag of just over $1 million. Given the quality of the work, I was not surprised to hear that Liberty Walk has customers in the U.S., Europe, and Brazil. The specialist customizer says that it will make around 20 of these body kits and nearly half have already been sold.

2. HKS Driving Performance GR86

As we’ve seen, the Tokyo Auto Salon does double as a stage to launch new manufacturer models and concepts. But it is still basically a customizing show and a big one at that. Without a doubt, the main base car for the vast majority of customizers and tuners is the recently launched second-generation Toyota GR86. At this year’s show, I counted no less than 30 heavily customized GR86s, but the one that stood out the most was the HKS GR86 which is no surprise given that HKS is one of the best known—domestically and internationally—customizers in Japan.

In Japan, customizing, racing and racecourse time attacks at the well-known Tsukuba Circuit go hand in hand, and this time was no different. Donning a startling triple color livery, the HKS GR86 has basically been race-prepped to challenge a sub-minute lap time around Tsukuba.

While the standard GR86 is fitted with a 230-hp 2.4-liter boxer engine, the HKS GR86 has a supercharger fitted that lifts power to a rumored 300-hp although HKS did not release this detail. But that’s not all. Fitted with a full battery of bespoke HKS modified parts that include a special lightweight body kit, HKS sports muffler, and exhaust system, a HKS heavy-duty clutch, an HKS oil cooler, and air filter, HKS Hipermax S sports suspension, Endless branded brakes, and Yokohama 18-inch wheels and Advan tires, the HKS GR86 knocked out a rather quick lap time of 1:01 making it the fastest GR86 around Tsukuba so far.




3. Pandem Widebody V8 GT-R ‘Hakosuka’

Saving the best till last. This heavily modified Nissan Skyline GT-R could just be our favorite customized car at this year’s salon. Notable customizer Trail Motor Apex Racing displayed a one-off ‘Pandem Widebody V8 Hakosuka’ (with ‘hako’ meaning boxy and ‘suka’ refers to Skyline) based on a 1970 Nissan Skyline GT-R. Now while the ultra-wide blacked-out, flared fenders look totally bonkers, those fenders house oversized tires that are more than necessary for this orange beast. Why? As if those 8 suspicious pipes poking out of the hood don’t give the game away. That’s right, this first generation GT-R packs a thumping NASCAR-spec 5.7-liter V8 engine pumping out an incredible 1,145-hp through the rear wheels.

While the car cannot be driven on public roads, TMAR says they will be doing some testing in the near future with the goal of ‘racing it.’ However, exactly where and when they will race it is still under wraps.

Nissan only made 1,945 so-called ‘Hakosuka’ GT-Rs and word on the street is that around one-third of them survive today. Compared to the Pandem Widebody V8’s 1,145-hp, the original GT-R C10, which won multiple touring car races, was powered by a 2.0-liter straight-6 engine generating just 160-hp, but still considerable power for those days. Race versions of these cars today can fetch upwards of $300,000 due to their rarity and race-winning history. Just how much this one-off V8-fitted GT-R would cost is anyone’s guess.




Honorable Mentions For Customized Cars

Okay, so we’ve featured our three best new cars and three best-customized cars. But of the hundreds of other tuned models on display, these ones also impressed no end.

One of the long-time heroes of the Auto Salon is the legendary rotary engine tuner RE Amemiya. These guys normally modify Mazda rotary-powered RX-7s and RX-8s, but this year, the highlight of their stand was a specially prepared Ferrari Testarossa powered by a 4-rotor rotary engine, which incidentally is the same number of rotors that powered the Mazda 787B race car to victory in the 1991 Le Mans 24-hour race.

My jaw dropped when I saw the gold-colored ‘Rocky 3000GT’, which is actually a replica of a 1967 Toyota 2000GT, arguably Japan’s most beautiful sports car. However, in place of the original 2.0-liter straight-6, this 3000GT is powered by an inline-6 3.0-liter Toyota engine. The price on the 3000GT was unclear, but for reference, stock 2000GT’s have fetched auction prices of over $1 million recently.

We also liked the sensational-looking Impulse AE86, which is a tuned 1986 Toyota Sprinter Trueno Corolla AE86 that has huge flared fenders, a carbon fiber body kit, and a modified engine developing 200-hp. Finished in a stand-out red, white, and black paint combination, this is the model of car that hardcore drifters all over the world use for sliding sideways around race tracks.

Speaking of 86s, well-known customizers GReddy and Blitz also outdid themselves with customized versions of the new GR86 that would cause a real stir in the U.S., a place that has been screaming for more powerful turbocharged models. Tuned with bespoke turbochargers, intercoolers, aeroparts, and sports suspension, these cars would be generating over 300-hp.




And who could ignore the other three bright yellow concept cars on display at the Liberty Walk stand. The canary yellow Lamborghini Aventador, Chevrolet Corvette C8, and McLaren P1 all benefited from bespoke carbon-fiber bodywork and were the best-looking threesome of the show.

Meanwhile, the ‘Bad Taste Award’ went to a bright pink Toyota Crown with dark green seats, pink steering wheel, pink seatbelts, and Swarovski crystal beads pasted all over the Crown and Athlete G badges.

Conclusion

One reason for the continued success of the 40-year-old Tokyo Auto Salon is that it has a little of something for everyone. With its new car launches and over-the-top customized machines, it’s a smorgasbord of automotive titillation that never gets old. Bring on TAS 2023.

The post The Best of Tokyo Auto Salon 2022 first appeared on Yanko Design.

FluidStance Level Balance Board Review

PROS:


  • 360-degree freedom of motion

  • Eco-friendly materials and production process

  • First-ever balance board with NEAT Certification

CONS:


  • Wooden deck can be slippery and tough

  • Metal base can be easily scratched

  • Expensive (especially with mats)

RATINGS:

AESTHETICS
ERGONOMICS
SUSTAINABILITY / REPAIRABILITY
VALUE FOR MONEY

EDITOR'S QUOTE:

The FluidStance Level may not be the most affordable option in the market, but you'd be hard-pressed to find one that strikes a good balance between design, ergonomics, and sustainability. Its handsome looks, 360-degree range of motion, and focus on protecting the environment make the price tag feel like a long-term investment rather than an expensive one-off purchase.

Working at home in the past two years has brought to light the poor habits and postures we develop while in the office. Standing desks have long been a fad among more health-conscious knowledge workers, but that is really only half the equation. Constant or regular movement is the other part, but that has been more difficult to observe if you’re you’re the type that’s glued to the computer for hours on end. Balance boards, although not completely new, are gaining more traction lately, and we put the FluidStance’s Level balance board under our feet to check out if its promises are worth its price.

Aesthetics

People would be forgiven for thinking you’re skating dangerously close to insane levels of fitness obsession when they see you seemingly hovering on a skateboard while standing by your desk. The FluidStance Level is indeed designed to resemble the familiar shape of a skateboard precisely because it is a familiar and well-tested design. And like a skateboard, you might feel proud of yourself after you’ve learned the tricks of the trade, perhaps forgetting how odd one might look.

Fortunately, the Level is actually a thing of beauty, which might sound odd for something that is meant to always be at your feet. You at least won’t be embarrassed when seeing the premium maple wood that makes up the top deck of the board. Available in Natural (Light) and Walnut (Dark) finishes, it almost feels like a shame to mar its surface with dirt from your shoes. In practice, you might not always see that natural wood stain if you prefer to always use the board with some foam.

Even the Level’s metal bottom isn’t something to be ashamed of. Made from military-grade die-cast aluminum, the concave form of that base provides the freedom of motion that many balance boards lack. The webbed structure, on the other hand, delivers the flexibility and strength to support people weighing 300 lbs or lighter. It also makes for an interesting visual design when you prop up the board against the wall when not in use.

All-in-all, the Level weighs only 7 lbs, which FluidStance amusingly compares to a small cat. You won’t be carrying it around a lot, of course, and will most likely place it near your desk most of the time. Still, that’s a good thing to note, in case you’ve set up standing desks at home and in your private office.

FluidStance’s choice of materials and manufacturing processes, however, does have some consequences when it comes to the product’s longevity. Wood, of course, ages and scratches over time, which can both be a source of distinctive design marks as well as damages. More worrying, perhaps, is the powder coating on the aluminum base that could wear off or be scratched more easily, depending on the floor’s surface. Fortunately, FluidStance does have solutions for both problems.

Ergonomics

As a balance board, the Level solves two problems that plain standing desks don’t sufficiently address. Simply standing at your desk all day, while an improvement over sitting all the time, doesn’t exactly heap on the benefits of being active. The famed Mayo Clinic developed a new Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis or NEAT Certification to indicate products or activities that keep the body active without going into a formal state of exercise. The Level is one of the first few of its kind to be awarded this new marketing metric, promising to help you burn calories while you’re standing.

Standing all day at your desk can also be unhealthy for your legs and feet, and other options like walking treadmills or even exercise bikes might be over the top. A balance board helps provide that natural movement needed by our bodies without taxing our lower limbs. The Level’s advantage over other boards is that its design allows users to pivot a full 360 degrees rather than being limited to rolling motions in one direction only. Its range of motion or ROM has been measured to be equivalent to normal walking motions.

These benefits do come with some learning curve, especially if you’re not used to standing while working in the first place. The constant motion feels anything but natural but also becomes familiar and almost second nature after a few days of continuous use. Even while constantly being in motion, it’s still advised to take breaks in between to give your legs and feet a well-deserved rest.

There are also some usability side-effects of the Level’s materials. The wooden board makes using it with just socks or bare feet a big no-no for safety reasons. At the same time, the hard flat surface can still wear out your heels even when wearing footwear. FluidStance sells a UPmat made from 100% recyclable “PLUSfoam” to provide some cushion, but that’s an extra purchase.

There will also be concerns about the metal base coming in contact with whatever material the floor is made of. Unsurprisingly, the company also sells a separate Base Mat to protect both the floor and the board’s base.

Sustainability

Although its core focus is health and fitness, FluidStance is proud to be part of the new breed of designers and companies that make sure they have as little impact on the environment as much as possible. The company, however, doesn’t simply stop at the choice of materials but also in the processes used to craft them. The powder-coating process for the aluminum base, for example, has a considerably lower footprint, almost zero emissions, when compared to typical painting and anodizing processes.

It’s also more easily repairable, too, to some extent. The wooden deck can be unscrewed if it needs to be replaced, though you might have to find ways to get your hands on a new one. If there’s any shortcoming with FluidStance’s strong sustainability efforts, it’s that it doesn’t make it non-trivial to buy replacement wooden decks. You will definitely want that UPmat to keep the top in usable shape for as long as possible.

Fortunately, FluidStance’s accessories are just as environment-friendly as the Level itself, or at least the company promises. That Base Mat may be made of 100% virgin polycarbonate to make it as strong as bulletproof glass, but it is also advertised to be fully recyclable.

Value

The Level already sets itself apart from other balance boards with its design and commitment to sustainability. Unfortunately, it also sets itself apart with its price, and not in a good way. At $249, it’s easily one of the more expensive balance boards in the market, and that’s just for the board itself.

The UPmat provides comfort and support to your feet and legs while protecting the surface of the wooden top. The Base Mat makes sure that the Level is usable on any floor surface or material you have, While keeping the wear and tear on the powder-coated die-cast aluminum to a minimum. At $69 and $99, respectively, these items look like accessories, but they might actually be necessities, bringing the total package up to $417.

The big question, however, is whether it’s actually worth that much. Fortunately for FluidStance, there isn’t much competition in the market yet, at least with its combination of design, ergonomics, and environment focus. There are definitely other alternatives, but few manage to check all those marks equally. Even better, FluidStance actually has a more affordable “The Plane” option, though that ditches the wood and metal materials and is designed for lighter people 250 lbs and below.

Verdict

When health experts preached the good news of standing desks, they seemed to have forgotten the impact those would have on our feet and legs. They also didn’t dwell much on the fact that you don’t really burn calories while simply standing and that you actually require more movement to gain the benefits of a non-sedentary work lifestyle. Balance boards are becoming the next and more viable trend after desk treadmills and bikes, and, naturally, not all of them were made equal.

The FluidStance Level brings balance in more ways than one. It doesn’t immediately strike one as an exercise product, unlike other balance boards, and is designed to be environment-friendly right from the start of the production process. The price tag might be a bit shocking, especially when you consider you might really want to get the two mats the company sells. Thankfully, it’s built to last, too, making it an investment that will keep you moving even while standing in place in front of your computer.

The post FluidStance Level Balance Board Review first appeared on Yanko Design.

2022 Mazda CX-5 Facelift Review

For Mazda, the CX-5 is its bread and butter model. It’s the hit crossover that put the brand on the SUV map a decade ago boasting multiple assets that offered families the best of all worlds. When the CX-5 first entered the market in 2012, Mazda’s marketing types claimed it offered buyers the fun of a sports car, the economy of a small car, the go-anywhere capability of an off-roader, and the practicality of an SUV. And it delivered on all counts. The revised version we see here offers even better handling and ride quality and a fresh new look.

In a recent critique of the CX-5, Car and Driver wrote glowingly that, “More than any mainstream compact crossover, the 2022 CX-5 makes its driver feel special. With a price tag that’s much closer to a Honda CR-V than a Porsche Macan’s, the Mazda is accessible to the same demographic group as the former but is also able to impress those who drive the Macan.”

CX-5 accounts for half of Mazda’s U.S. sales

It’s the model by which every other mid-sized SUV is measured nowadays in terms of design, technology, and body color excellence. Accounting for half of Mazda’s U.S. sales in 2021, the CX-5 is by far the brand’s biggest selling model. Year to date, the CX-5 accounted for 50.2% of all sales that amounted to 137,343 units.

In Europe, the model is currently selling around 8,000 units per month, in Australia, some 2,000 are finding new homes each month while in its home country of Japan, some 2,200 CX-5s are sold each month.

That’s not surprising really when you realize that this SUV was the brand’s game-changing vehicle back in 2012. It was the first model to employ all of Mazda’s new technologies at once—that included the new Kodo Design language, Mazda’s new suite of evolutionary Skyactiv technologies, and of course the brand’s now signature Soul Red body color. The CX-5 range welcomed its second-generation model in 2017, and now in late 2021, Mazda has just unveiled a facelift that we got to test drive in mid-December. In the U.S., buyers will be offered standard all-wheel-drive with a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter and a 2.5-liter turbo that was not available for our Japan test. More on the upgraded tech a little later, but first, let’s check out Mazda’s recent history in the area of design.

According to Ikuo Maeda, head of Mazda design who was responsible for creating Kodo Design and Soul Red back in 2012, the ‘Kodo – Soul of Motion’ design theme refers to an expression of the ‘dynamic beauty of life’ and can be simply defined as ‘Beauty Through Subtraction.’ The unique proportions, lines, subtle contours, and colors you see on the CX-5 and other Mazda models originate from highly sophisticated aesthetic sensibilities rooted in a unique set of Japanese values.

Making the most beautiful cars in Japan

All this colorful design language may sound a bit over the top and perhaps even a little eccentric, but this philosophy is exactly why Mazda makes the most beautiful cars in Japan. And that’s also why the brand has been recognized on the international stage with awards like the ‘Most Beautiful Concept Car’ at the 31st Festival Automobile International in 2016 in Paris for the RX Vision Concept, the ‘Red Dot: Best of the Best’ prize at the 2019 product design awards for the Mazda3, the 2020 World Car Design of the Year for the Mazda3, the 2013 Auto Color Designer’s Selection award for Soul Red, while the CX-5 ranked in Car and Driver’s 10Best winners for 2021 and won the 2012 Japan Car of the Year.

As for the third innovation launched in 2012, ‘Skyactiv’ is an in-house name for a series of technologies that re-invented and re-enhanced current chassis, body, engine, transmission, and suspension systems to increase fuel efficiency and engine output. A critical part of the Skyactiv menu was a selection of heavily revised gasoline and diesel engines and transmissions that delivered the seemingly impossible combination of improved performance and fuel economy.

So when Mazda bosses decide to tweak the popular CX-5 in any way, they must do it with the utmost care and understanding of what the market wants. Firstly, customers seemed happy with the exterior design, an exquisitely contoured body that appeals equally to both male and female buyers. But stylists still saw the need for a bolder yet simpler look as they tried to further elevate its already highly regarded exterior profile.

While the overall grille area has stayed roughly the same in size as before, designers have added a more three-dimensional black gloss finish mesh effect inside the grille with wider black gloss or chrome accents that extend out to the reshaped headlights. In contrast to the bolder, more complex grille design, Mazda’s stylists opted for a simpler, but more contoured bumper. Molders scraped on their clay models until they’d arrived at a smoother, more sculptured surface that looks cleaner and more elegant at the same time. Check out the photo below to compare the new vs old front end. The rear end also features a newly designed tail light assembly that stretches further around the back corners from the rear end of the wheel arches onto the tailgate proper.

Mazda’s always have fantastic driving positions and there is no exception here in the CX-5. There’s lots of adjustment available on the steering wheel with telescopic and tilt features, plus the seats have 6-away adjustment which means you can find your ideal driving position relatively easily. Speaking of visibility, the CX-5 is one of the best in class with great clear views all around. You also get Bluetooth for your Apple and Android devices, and parking sensors which is handy for a car of this size and height.

Every model is fitted with a non-touch 10.3-inch infotainment system that is operated from a rotary dial and volume control on the center console. The system does work well with voice-activated commands and buttons of the steering wheel, and it does boast high-quality graphics and a quick responsive menu, but I have a feeling that many potential buyers might enjoy a slightly larger display with touchscreen functions in line with many rival SUVs.

On the Japanese spec Sports Appearance version (translates to the U.S.-spec S Premium) drivers will be impressed with the first-rate materials, elegant yet subtle colors and tones, and the quality feel. The black leather seats with dark red stitching are sumptuous and new internal structural enhancements mean the seats are more supportive and comfortable than ever before, especially on long trips.

The Driving Experience

For the U.S. market, buyers will be able to choose from a 187-hp 2.5-liter naturally aspirated, four-cylinder Skyactiv-G gasoline engine or an enhanced 256-hp 2.5-liter gasoline turbo powerplant mated to quick-shifting 6-speed automatic transmissions. As the turbo is not available in Japan, we opted for the 2.5-liter non-turbo. While power and torque have not been altered for this facelift, Mazda engineers have tweaked throttle response which is noticeable as it helps to get the SUV off the line faster and is welcome when merging or overtaking on highways. The refreshed CX-5 delivers the herbs sufficiently at low to medium speeds but on the highway, with a full passenger load and luggage, you may be huffing for enough power to make that quick overtake or merge.

The areas identified by Mazda that needed attention were on and off-road handling, ride quality, and sound isolation. A few moments behind the wheel of this facelift version and the modifications are immediately apparent. Revisions to damper and spring rates and body reinforcements mean that internal noise and vibration is down significantly while the ride quality is surprisingly better. The Mazda also absorbs road imperfections without raising a sweat and the ride quality is as good as more expensive German rivals. The revised suspension isolates noise and vibrations well and the damping is stiff without being harsh. Thanks to these updates, the rear end sits firmer on the tarmac with less vibration and more stability in the corners.

The steering is sharp with loads of feedback and the brakes are progressive and grippy. The standard 187-hp four cylinder engine is punchy around town thanks to its smooth shifting 6-speed automatic transmission, but when trying to overtake on highways, it can feel a touch underpowered. One thing that makes the CX-5 such a blast to drive is that you don’t have to push it hard to enjoy it. The Mazda might be an SUV and have a relatively high ride height, compared to a sports car, but the CX-5’s chassis and body rigidity and suspension setup allow the car to stay flat in the corners and reveal very little understeer.

But perhaps the biggest, most significant addition to the car we tested was the ‘Mi-Drive’ mode dial on the center console. Mazda bosses identified that while the CX-5 more than catered to all of its customer expectations, it lacked most in off-road grip and stability. At first glance, it may seem like a switch that sat on the dash in the previous CX-5. It did to be sure, and it offered two modes—normal and sport. Now, to enhance the car’s off-road capabilities, a third mode—off-road mode—has been newly added. To enable us to test this new feature, Mazda set up a synthetic rocky outcrop in their Yokohama R&D Center that allowed us to test the new feature.

Engage the sport mode, drive up onto the makeshift hill and you lose grip instantly when your front tire catches air and spins violently. Sitting next to me offering calm advice, a Mazda staffer suggests I flick the switch to “off-road mode” which I quickly do. I re-apply the throttle to the same depth a moment ago, and within a second or two, the front tire that was spinning stops as that torque is re-directed to one of the rear tires to increase grip and allow you to escape from this ‘stuck’ position. Interestingly, when you switch the dial from sport mode to off-road mode, the revs increase automatically as you turn the steering wheel to enable the car the find enough grip to effect an escape. For the record, this feature is only available on gasoline powered models as the diesel version we get in Japan has enough bottom-end torque to enable a successful escape even if one of your front tires is spinning in mid-air.

Prices and Options

We know that every new U.S. spec model will be fitted with all-wheel-drive and that buyers will be offered a choice of either a 2.5-liter gasoline or a 2.5-liter gasoline turbo. Prices for the CX-5 will start from the ’S’ version at $27,125 to the ‘S Premium’ at $33,535 to the new ‘Turbo’ trim at $37,625 to the top-of-the-range ‘Turbo Signature’ at $39,875. Whether the newly fitted Mi-Drive mode selector will appear on U.S. spec models is yet to be confirmed, but if it does, we humbly suggest you opt for this feature.

While the entry-level ’S’ spec with the 2.0-liter naturally aspirated engine that we tested here, offers excellent cost performance, we feel that the new Turbo trim best represents what the CX-5 is all about—style, fun, practicality, and handling.

The CX-5 will come up against some strong rivals like the Nissan X-Trail, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tuscon, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester, but we feel the CX-5 legacy plus the extra upgrades mentioned here will help the Mazda to stay near the top of the pile, especially appealing to those buyers wanting something with a more premium ambience and sporty feel.

As Car and Driver said, “more than any mainstream compact crossover, the 2022 CX-5 makes its driver feel special.” And now with these handling upgrades and the subtle, stylish new look, the CX-5 just goes from strength to strength.

The post 2022 Mazda CX-5 Facelift Review first appeared on Yanko Design.

LEXUS NX 450h+ Plug-in Hybrid Review

The all-new NX450h+ joins the Lexus lineup by making some pretty big claims. Firstly, and most critically, this flagship model of the new NX range is the luxury brand’s first-ever plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) which is surprising given that Lexus has offered electrification through hybrids for so long. It also gets Lexus’ first-ever interface boasting a huge 14-inch touchscreen that totally dominates the dashboard. According to Lexus, this electrified SUV also just happens to be the first of 20 new products slated to appear in the range over the next four years.

The model we’re testing today is the 450h+ F Sport all-wheel-drive which is the top-of-the-range model and is new from top to bottom.

According to Lexus, this second-generation NX is the most comprehensive redesign in their 32-year history. And it needs to be after the brand was caught napping in the electrification and tech arenas. While rival brands such as Mercedes Benz, BMW, and Audi forged ahead with PHEVs, Lexus was content just to offer basic hybrids. Now, however, as we will see, it offers one of the best in its class.

New NX gets more mature, subtle refined look

The NX’s exterior design is a result of an evolutionary process but you will find new parts wherever you look. Firstly I do like the beautifully styled optional triple beam LED headlights with the integrated daytime running lamps which kind of remind you of a Nike swoosh. I retain the same positive feedback for that humungous signature ‘spindle grille,’ a shape that often has me grimacing. The reason? I’m not normally a huge fan of that grille shape, but I do think the stylists did a great job in finishing it with a gloss black treatment which tones down the impact of the grille and gives it a more subtle, mature and refined look.

After all this time, it would seem as though Lexus designers have finally found a happy medium between seeking a strong identity—through that grille—while giving it the subtlety it desperately needed. I also give the thumbs up to the brake ducts, once again finished in gloss black, which are functional and actually work to suck air in and cool the brake assemblies. The LED fog lamps and the silver front splitter work superbly to contrast with the black accents on the front of the vehicles.

The gloss black treatment on the 20-inch wheels is chic, especially when set off nicely by those bright orange brake calipers. And one design feature I especially like is the reluctance of designers to use black wheel arch surrounds that seem too common on many SUVs today. On our test car, the wheel arch surrounds are a deep blue, the same color as the rest of the body. This feature, in my opinion, makes the NX look classier and more luxurious.

Between the A and C pillars Lexus has fitted some subtle dark chrome finished window surrounds and gloss black-capped door mirrors that employ new 360 degree full surround camera technology. As for the door handles, they too are totally new. On the second generation NX, you do not pull on the door handles to open the door. Instead, you insert your fingers inside the handle and push the switch on the inside to open the doors. Along the side of the SUV, you have a character line that flows from just below the A-pillar backwards through the front door handles and then, from around the middle of the rear doors, heads north towards the angled C-pillar.

At the rear of the car, you have some very stylish lines that match the front end. The wrap-around brake light assemblies stretch from just aft of the fuel filler caps to one-third of the way across the rear door, connected by a full-width red LED bar that gives the NX a futuristic look. It’s just a shame that stylists did not hide the rear wiper under the roof spoiler as it would have cleaned up the tail end look no end.

Below the wiper, designers have done away with the Lexus logo and replaced it with the new Lexus font. And below that you have the model badging — NX450h+ AWD, which is what every 450h+ offers. Then at the lower extremity of the rear bumper you have a silver accent on the bumper flanked on either side with fake exhaust outlets, just for show.

The new 14-inch touchscreen redefines Lexus interiors

Inside the car is as innovative as it is on the outside and under the hood. The dashboard is luxurious and futuristic, highlighted by a massive 14-inch infotainment touchscreen. Gone is the fiddly touchpad, replaced by an easy to use screen that offers wireless updates, and wireless Apple and Android compatibility. It also boasts Lexus’ new ‘Hey Lexus’ voice activated feature that allows you to do everything from asking your car—while not taking your hands off the steering wheel— to turn on the wipers, change radio stations, switch on seat heaters and turn the air-con up.

Notably, this system is intuitive and as smart and responsive if not smarter than most of its rivals. I also like the way that designers have decluttered the dash and halved the number of switches and dials making the interior look more luxurious and classier. The Mark Levinson audio system is also specially designed and fitted for Lexus and delivers a truly excellent sound experience.

Before you take off, you can also push a button on the dash that will give you a quick 360-degree scan of the environment around your vehicle, to allow you to check for any stray kids or pets or obstacles that might be lurking just out of view. And of course, when you select reverse, your rear view appears on the monitor in full HD quality with trajectory lines that allow easy reversing.

Just below the touchscreen, the NX offers a USB port, a USB-C port, and a wireless charging tray that is actually a lid hiding a secret compartment. Around the gear shifter, you will also find some luxurious gloss black treatment with aluminum accents around the two centrally located cupholders.

The two-toned seats offer excellent lumbar and back support and are artistically contoured and sexy, featuring some subtle F Sport badging. Drivers also have a choice of using the standard rearview mirror or a newly fitted digital mirror, which is high definition and clear but does take some getting used to. What is pleasing to the eye and to the touch however are the stitched dual leather steering wheel, full digital display, and aluminum paddle shifters and pedals. I really liked the super clean graphics inside the driver’s instrumentation showing power readout, digital speedometer, fuel and battery gauges, and level of charge. It also offers different gauges depending on what mode you use.

In the back, you have plenty of headroom and legroom and the seats are supportive and comfortable. The floor is flat meaning that three people can enter and exit easily while rear seat passengers get their own air-con vents as well as two USB-C ports for charging smartphones. In the luggage area, you have 22.7 cubic feet of space with the rear seats up. Fold them down, and you’ll create 46.9 cubic feet which is comparable with German rivals.

In keeping with the vehicle’s innovative underpinnings and features, the new NX now gets bespoke door handles that require finger pressure to open them. On the inside, you have a choice of either pushing a button that automatically opens the door or if you need to get out quickly or your battery fails you can open the door manually with a handle as well.

The exterior might get a choice of 11 colors, including the heat blue contrast on our test vehicle, but inside buyers will have a choice of no less than seven trim color combinations. These include the ‘F Sport bespoke white’ and black trim on our test car in addition to an F Sport flair red, a hazel, black and rich cream, dark rose, and a black. I also liked the contrasting white stitching on black leather and the soft materials throughout the cockpit. This NX is also fitted with the Lexus’ new safety system 3.0 which offers features such as automatic steering corrections when needed and emergency braking.

The Driving Experience

So the 450h+ might be the brand’s first PHEV, but it actually shares its TNGA-platform with the Toyota RAV4 as well as its 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and CVT. The 450h+ gets two electric motors, an 18.1kWh battery pack, and up to 40 miles or EV driving range. One feature the NX450h+ does not have is a quick charging port. Lexus explains that its strategists decided that this PHEV did not need a quick charging port and that a standard 200V port would suffice. I beg to differ as many owners, I’m sure, would like to have the option to quick charge their car when a quick charger is available.

Boasting a total power output of 302hp, the 450h+ can jump from zero to 60mph in just 6.0 seconds which is more than quick enough in this segment. Given that the NX is based on the RAV4’s underpinnings, the throttle response and steering feel are almost identical, which is no bad thing given the RAV4 has sharper steering than many rivals. But, as expected of a Lexus, the NX is more refined, comfortable, and rides better and quieter without sacrificing body control. It will easily cruise on the electric motor only up to 83mph for zero-emissions driving. In hybrid mode, the NX delivers strong battery-assisted driving as it works hard to manage how the battery is efficiently deployed.

The 450h+ is fitted with the F Sport suspension set-up that adds performance damping and a two-step variable adaptive suspension system to the MacPherson strut front-end and double-wishbone rear, and the resulting high levels of grip and comfort are what you expect from Lexus. It also uses a different braking system, with the traditional booster set-up replaced in our test car for an electrically-boosted system, complete with larger orange front brake calipers offering 340x38mm front discs in contrast to the 328x34mm rotors in the non-plug-in hybrid.

Of course, below the 450h+ you have the 350h model which employs a hybrid system in contrast to the more hi-tech, more efficient, heavier PHEV system. The 450h+ raises the weight of the car from the 350h’s 1790kg to 1990kgs, which comes from the larger battery pack, power electronics, and cooling system for the batteries. On the road, the NX is smooth and quiet and handles surprisingly well for a heavy SUV. The ride quality is far better and organized than its predecessor, but the biggest improvement is that the electrical power running through the e-motors means the 2.5-liter engine can rest more often, and exert itself less whenever it’s forced to stir into action.

Flick the drive mode switch on the dash from S to S-sharp and you will notice your instrumentation changing instantly as your dampers stiffen, your throttle response quickens and your steering gets sharper. While the NX tries to stay in EV mode as much as possible, once in S-sharp, you are needing more responsiveness from your powertrain so the engine will cut in more often with a slight buzz from the engine bay to let you know that you are running with the engine and motor together.

Price and Options

Starting at around $55,900, the 450h+ F Sport qualifies for the $7,500 tax credit which means that you can purchase the car for under $50,000, making this SUV a very desirable car.

Compared to its main rivals in the BMW X3, the Audi Q5, and the Volvo XC60, we feel the new NX is a more current and better-looking SUV overall with higher levels of interior quality and stronger street cred. Meanwhile, in terms of PHEV credentials, we also think this particular NX outperforms the Range Rover Evoque PHEV, BMW X1, and the Volvo XC40 Recharge and delivers quieter, smoother running in EV mode and even when the gasoline engine fires up to charge the batteries. Potential buyers will have the option of the lower-spec (9.8-inch touchscreen) and cheaper 350h priced at $41,000. But we feel that the 450h+ driven here, given its performance, luxury levels,
interior features and that huge 14-inch touchscreen, plus the 450h+’s prestige value and $7,500 tax credit, make the 450h+ F Sport the better buy.

Lexus successfully identified where the new NX needed to improve and in what areas it had to catch up to its rivals. The NX450h+ is efficient, quick when it needs to be, comfortable, practical, refined, and relaxing to drive in EV mode or not. It will redefine the Lexus brand and give it that much needed plug-in hybrid status.

The post LEXUS NX 450h+ Plug-in Hybrid Review first appeared on Yanko Design.

Braun Series 9 Pro Foil Electric Shaver Review

Technology is meant to make our lives simpler, easier, and more convenient. That is true for the complex computers in our pockets to the mundane electrical products scattered around our homes. Electric shavers are probably some of the last things you’d consider to be technological innovations, but every new generation does try to add a little something new that tries to help us free up time for the more important things in life. Braun’s new Series 9 Pro electric shaver is one such example, and we give it a few tries to see if those incremental improvements do add up.

Aesthetics

As the name suggests, the Braun Series 9 Pro builds upon an older base model, one that was launched six years ago. The electric shaver company hasn’t exactly been sitting on its during that period but had released other incremental upgrades to the Series 9 foil shavers. The Braun Series 9 Pro may sound like the culmination of those improvements, but it’s easy enough to mistake it for its predecessors because of how they all look eerily similar.

Granted, electric shavers of this type tend to share the same basic design, and the Series 9 Pro is definitely not an outlier. Like many of its kind, its design is utilitarian rather than aesthetic, putting a heavier emphasis on handling and ergonomics rather than looks. Since a shaver is something you’ll hold for minutes on end, often a few times a week, comfort is definitely near the top of the list, with safety and performance being the greatest concern.

To that extent, it’s not really surprising that the majority of the Braun Series 9 Pro is made of plastic that’s painted to look like polished metal. Although definitely not environment-friendly nor sustainable, aluminum would have made the shaver too heavy. The plastic coating, however, is a fingerprint magnet, and you might lose a lot of time trying to make it look pristine after every use. Unlike the chrome finish on the front, the Series 9 Pro’s back is covered with a dimpled rubber material that is clearly more for ergonomics than looks.

The electric shaver doesn’t have many design elements to distract the user from its intended purpose. Aside from the large shaver head, the only other part that really calls your attention is the textured thumb rest in the middle, with a “PrecisionLock” switch and the power button below it. There’s also an LED screen for the battery and travel lock indicators, but don’t expect a high-quality display. In fact, you might even notice a bit of backlight bleeding around the icons.

The Braun Series 9 Pro comes with a 5-in-1 SmartCare Center “dock” and, depending on the actual model, a PowerCase with a built-in battery. The latter makes this travel case less conducive for travel, making the mostly plastic case heavier than it looks. The SmartCare station follows the Series 9 Pro’s very basic design, with a single power button as its only user interface.

Ergonomics

As a product that’s meant to be held with one hand for slightly longer periods of time and multiple days a week, Braun designed its Series 9 shavers to be comfortable to use. The choice of lightweight plastic materials and the rubber cover on the back work towards that end, but they thankfully don’t cheapen the feel of the device. The Series 9 Pro feels solid and durable, designed to face the wear and tear of semi-daily use.

The contours of the electric shaver let most hands grasp the body firmly, but it’s the rubber back and the textured thumb rest that really gives you a grip on it. The lack of a cord dangling out of the shaver’s body definitely adds to its usability. In fact, you can’t even use it while it’s plugged in, so you have to be sure there’s enough charge remaining for your use.

While the head can only move back and forth, the four cutting foils can each move independently, depending on the pressure applied and the surface they’re moving on. Together, this range of motions allows the Braun Series 9 Pro to smoothly move on almost any surface of your head, including your scalp. But in case you prefer having more direct control over the head’s movement, the PrecisionLock below the thumb rest can keep the head still while still letting the foils move on their own.

The Braun Series 9 Pro, just like its predecessors, is clearly designed for ease of use, but one particular part of it seems to stick out like a sore thumb, almost literally. The shaver hides a “precision trimmer” that slides out from its bottom that’s meant to be used for trimming beards. Unfortunately, its location makes it a bit awkward to use in its default position, forcing you to turn the shaver upside-down instead. It doesn’t work that well, either, so it might be the most underutilized part of the shaver anyway.

Sustainability

There is a growing trend among some consumer electronics manufacturers, including smartphone makers, where sustainability or at least eco-friendliness has become an advertising point. Although they can’t completely do away with some materials, they try to at least reduce their use, especially in packaging. Braun, unfortunately, isn’t there yet, and the Series 9 Pro definitely won’t score marks in this department.

The use of plastics and rubber might be understandable, at least given the limits of today’s materials, but the company could have still taken small steps towards reducing waste. One example is the charging cable, which uses Braun’s two-pronged connector. Given the aim of portability, it could have taken the opportunity to adopt USB-C since many people today have phones that charge over that standard. That said, it does have the advantage that you can use new accessories like the PowerCase with older Series 9 shaver models that use the same proprietary connector, saving you the expense and hassle of buying a new cord if you already have one.

Like traditional consumer electronics, Braun didn’t build its shavers with self-repair in mind. None of its shavers are easily repairable, and the only replaceable parts are the cassette holding the cutting elements and the head itself. Once broken or worn down, there is no room for repairs, and these have to be thrown out. Braun doesn’t have any guidance or system for recycling these parts either, which could have gone a long way in getting the company started in a more sustainable direction.

Performance

The Braun Series 9 Pro closely resembles the rest of its family in both design and function, but the biggest upgrade it got is one you can only see and feel after using it regularly for a while. Braun is advertising a new 4+1 Shaving Elements and a “ProLift Trimmer” that’s meant to catch long and hard-to-reach hairs, or at least that’s the theory. In practice, it gets close but not close enough.

The Series 9 Pro generally works well and gives a close shave, managing longer hairs that have grown for as long as seven days. It’s no magic wand that will make your facial hair disappear with one flick, though. You might have to do a few passes in areas like the neck. And despite the flexibility of motion, getting to those hairs under the nose can get a bit tricky, too.

Part of the Series 9 Pro’s trick is its powerful motors, but that increased power does come at some price. Although not unbearably loud, the shaver still produces enough audible noise to call attention to it or, worse, wake someone up. The shaver could also sometimes feel a bit rougher on your skin, though not enough to produce discomfort or irritation unless you have extremely sensitive skin. There’s a tendency, unfortunately, to have the occasional pinched skin or get a long hair snagged.

Braun advertises about 60 minutes of use with a full battery, and it’s pretty much on point in that estimate. Charging the shaver, on the other hand, takes a good 50 minutes to full. And that’s when the Series 9 Pro is plugged directly. The PowerCase almost doubles its battery life but naturally charges a lot slower. The SmartCare Center also charges the shaver, but only when it’s not cleaning it.

That “dock” is actually one of the biggest highlights of the Series 9 shavers and is what makes this particular family easy to use and maintain. Simply plopping the Series 9 Pro in its “cradle” and pressing the power button initiates not only a cleaning process but also a lubrication session. Of course, you can clean the shaver manually and might want to do a thorough cleaning from time to time, but this worry-free maintenance definitely takes some burden off owners’ shoulders.

Value

At $349.99, the Braun Series 9 Pro is one of the more expensive electric shaves in the market; there’s just no escaping that fact. It doesn’t have one killer feature that easily makes it stand out, but it’s the sum of its parts that can justify its price. Fortunately, there are also other aspects that help soften the blow, but it’s still a bitter pill to swallow in the end.

There is, for example, an option to buy one without the PowerCase, but that only saves you $20. Braun’s Series 9 accessories and parts are also mostly interchangeable and backward compatible, so you can at least stop worrying about your shaver being obsolete when the next Series 9 model appears. It definitely feels more like a long-term investment rather than a regular purchase, and hopefully, the shaver will last as long as you need it, at least until Braun launches the Series 10 in a few years.

Verdict

Electric shavers are almost a dime a dozen these days, but not many have been able to really deliver on the promise of a quick but close shave. Braun has been at it for years, especially with the Series 9, and the Series 9 Pro, in particular, tries to combine all those lessons learned into a single package. It definitely comes close but also comes up short in a few places as well.

Its powerful motor and new head design definitely get close and personal with longer hair, but you’ll still need more than just a few passes to weed out the more stubborn ones. Its power comes with a bit of roughness, but the real cost is in the literal price. Even Braun’s older Series 9 shavers could offer close to the same performance for less.

As far as product design goes, however, the Series 9 Pro doesn’t exactly offer anything innovative or exciting. Its use of light but durable plastic and grippy rubber is a standard among electric shavers, though it tries to add a bit of glamor with some silver coating, a few gold accents, and an ergonomic shape. It’s durable to boot, and its SmartCare Center dock helps make sure it will last longer, which is for the best since there’s very little in the Braun Series 9 Pro that’s built to last or be easily replaced and recycled.

The post Braun Series 9 Pro Foil Electric Shaver Review first appeared on Yanko Design.

Mercedes Benz A250e plug-in Hybrid Review

PROS:


  • Boasts 44 miles of electric-only driving

  • MBUX infotainment system is talented and fun to use

  • Has the best cabin in its class

CONS:


  • Gasoline engine lacks refinement

  • Brakes are spongy

  • Smaller than normal gas tank means limited overall range

RATINGS:

AESTHETICS
ERGONOMICS
PERFORMANCE
VALUE FOR MONEY

EDITOR'S QUOTE:

Boasting a 0-60 mph sprint of 6.6 seconds, drive the A250e in electric-only mode, and you will have one of the smoothest, most responsive compact sedans on the market today.

Without anyone paying too much attention, Mercedes Benz has taken a significant lead over its main rivals in the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) genre. In contrast to BMW and Audi’s four model lines of PHEVs, Mercedes has double that amount of models and is also the only brand to offer both gasoline and diesel-powered PHEVs.

Today, I’m going to review the baby of the company’s so-called electrified EQ Power family, the A250e sedan. This is a front-wheel-drive four-door with a 1.3-liter turbo engine mated to an electric motor and an 8-speed dual-clutch transmission. Just to recap, a plug-in hybrid offers electric-only drive, gasoline engine power, or a combination of both depending on what mode you choose. This car may be a PHEV but specs such as maximum power of 215-hp, a 0-60mph in 6.6 seconds, and a 15.6kWh lithium-ion battery suggest that the A250e performs more like a sports sedan than a traditional plug-in hybrid. More on that later, but yes, it does.

The truth about plug-in hybrids

You hear a lot about plug-in hybrid vehicles these days but just how popular are they? They are becoming increasingly popular among drivers who want to go electric but are still bothered by range anxiety and so feel comfortable with the added ‘insurance’ of a gasoline engine that can act as a generator to charge batteries. So what share of the market do PHEVs hold? Try 1.9% in the U.S. in 2019 which translates to around one-fifth of the total amount of plug-in electric vehicles on the road today. In 2020, the American PHEV stock represented 20% of the global plug-in hybrids making the U.S. the world’s third-largest stock behind China with 47% and Europe with 25%.

The $64,000 question: how do you go about turning a gasoline-powered A-Class into a plug-in hybrid. The first task is to remove the gasoline tank, and in its place under the rear seats, you need to install a large battery pack. But what do you do with the fuel tank? Mercedes designers had to shrink the tank to 35-liters and then squeeze it in next to the rear axle, which acts to compromise a small amount of trunk space. On the positive side, rear seat space remains unchanged with decent leg and headroom.

The overall exterior design is elegant and sporty with a high belt line and short front and rear overhangs. Even for an A-Class, the smallest sedan in Mercedes’ range, the grille is bold and by stretching right across the car’s nose from one headlight to the other, it delivers significant street presence for a small car. Boasting an overly large three-pointed star emblem (let’s face it, carmakers are growing their emblems with every new generation to further solidify brand identity) and chrome bar that splits the grille in half horizontally, hundreds of beautifully-crafted tiny hexagonal chrome shapes appear to float on a black background as they drift away from the central emblem in a wave ripple effect. The black brake ducts located under the sharp upslanting headlights are very sporty and seem influenced by the firm’s luxurious AMG arm. Up the back of the car, the chrome exhaust tips are just for show with the real exhaust pipe sitting under the car hidden from sight.

The dual touchscreens offer brilliant graphics and color

Inside, the cabin is, without doubt, one of the best in its class and is teched up to the hilt. The A250e is offered in only AMG Line trim so all will be well-equipped cars. The highlight of the dashboard is without doubt those twin 10.3-inch digital touchscreens that house highly acclaimed Mercedes MBUX (Mercedes Benz User Experience) infotainment system. A feature now available on all Mercedes models from the S-Class down, MBUX is voice-activated using the phrase “Hey Mercedes.”

Importantly, this feature is cloud-based so it has a lot more computing power than most other digital assistants. It will prompt you with the phrase “How may I help you?” You can ask it about the weather or to change the radio station, turn down the cabin temperature or turn on your seat heater. Ask it “Are you my best friend,” and it will reply, “You bet, buddy.” Ask it, “What do you think about Audis?” And it will reply with some impeccable logic, answering, “The same as you, otherwise you would not be sitting here.” And the piece de resistance of the MBUX’s makeup—ask it to tell you a joke and it will reply, “Sorry but my engineers were German.”

The dual-screen combination delivers the best, most high definition graphics and richest colors in their class. But to get the twin screens as well as the color-adjustable ambient lighting feature, you have to spend extra on AMG Line Premium trim. The screens deliver augmented reality navigation prompts which is cool but takes a little getting used to. While the touchpad on the center console can be a little fiddly to use, the thumbpad scrollers on the steering wheel spokes work well and the navigation system responds to voice commands. The 225W ‘Mercedes Advanced’ sound system is high quality, packs all the power you will need, and offers both Android and Apple compatibility.

Boasting impressive levels of refinement, the aluminum-accented triple circular air vents surrounded by piano black are neat and classy, while all switches and dials offer excellent tactile rigidity and are sharp to the touch. The two-toned red and black seat design on my test car looked luxurious and sporty at the same time and the seats offered good lumbar support.

The Driving Experience

As was briefly mentioned above, the A250e is powered by a turbocharged 4-cylinder, 1.3-liter gasoline engine, an electric motor, and a 15.6kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Married to an 8-speed dual clutch gearbox, this A-Class has a total combined output of 215-hp, in which the engine produces 158-hp and 184 lb-ft of torque while the electric motor generates 100-hp and 221 lb-ft.
Like virtually all PHEVs, the A250e’s role is to use up all its battery power before starting the engine. It defaults to Electric mode when you switch it on, but you can choose to save some charge for later or let the car manage the two power sources as it sees fit. Using a switch on the center console, you can cycle between four drive modes: comfort, sport, EV, and battery level which essentially turns the A250e into a dedicated internal combustion engine vehicle allowing you to save all of your precious battery power for when you actually need it.

Most PHEVs claim 30-35 miles of electric-only range and actually deliver 25-30 miles. Mercedes claims 44 miles and will do a decent 35 miles at speeds of up to 87-mph without needing to fire up its engine to recharge the batteries. That’s good because according to statistics, most commuters drive fewer than 30 miles per day. And even with a totally depleted battery, the engine will shut down when you take your foot off the gas, saving even more fuel.

A full charge takes less than two hours which is not a big ask at the end of your daily drive. So, assuming you have a driveway, you really have no excuse not to keep it charged. And keeping it charged is really what you need to do—and not rely on the engine to recharge the batteries while you drive. The reason? If you start your journey with a full battery, Mercedes say you can get 256 mpg. But if you don’t start with a full battery, because you haven’t bothered to charge it overnight, then the figure drops drastically due to the fact that the gasoline engine is dragging the extra weight of the electrical components without any help. On the day I tested the car, I returned around 80-mpg in a normal city driving in central Tokyo. Using a quick charger, the Mercedes’ battery pack will fill up from 10 percent to 80 percent in under 30 minutes, or if you use your home charger that would take around 7.5 hours.

Interestingly, the electric-only mode is far more enjoyable than the other modes because it’s here that the car shines at its smoothest and quietest. When the gasoline engine kicks in, however, the car is noisier, feels far less refined, and is a telling reminder of just how old-school and unwieldy small gasoline engines feel in comparison to EVs. In a way, it does feel like you’re driving a Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde type of vehicle, a car that has two distinct faces—the clunky noisy gasoline engine of the 20th century and the smooth, quiet, efficient electric motor of the 21st century.

If you can tolerate the noise and vibration coming from the engine, then sport mode is the one to use in terms of performance and handling. With a 0-60 mph sprint time of 6.6 seconds, it’s quick enough off the line to keep up with a hot hatch and will max out at 146-mph, which is quite impressive for a car that tips the scales at 3792 lbs. The 8-speed gearbox is good and lets you shift quickly and effortlessly between gear ratios using paddle shifters located just behind the steering wheel. However, left to its own devices, the dual-clutch transmission does tend to hang on to gears longer than it should sometimes which can lead to slightly jerky driving. In EV mode, these paddles double as a regenerative brake level selector allowing you to dial up the car’s automatic braking when you lift off the throttle.

It’s quite good in the corners too. While negotiating a bend you quickly realize that the A250e’s low center of gravity keeps the car planted as it resists body roll. It also offers plenty of grip with light, accurate steering, and good road information being transferred through the wheel.

The brakes are very hybridized. Translated that means they are a little grabby, with a spongy, springy pedal feel. You won’t want to push it too hard as the car is a lot heavier than the normal A-Class and thus prefers to live life at a slower pace. Be smooth, however, and it will reward you at the pumps.

Pricing and Options

The A250e is an expensive A-Class, with the AMG Line Premium car we tested coming in at almost £36,000 or around $47,600. As a matter of fact, the A250e is sold in Europe, Japan, and Australia but not in the U.S. since the model it’s based on is not sold there. But according to one source, we could potentially see this technology in something like a CLA or a next-generation GLA.

So how do we rate this A250e? It may sit at the entry-level to PHEVs at Mercedes but it does give you the best of both worlds. It gives you all of the features that people like about the A-Class, with the added bonus of driving it in electric mode and with a range that permits a 20-mile daily commute. This compact four-door offers some mighty fine tech, including the talented hilarious MBUX infotainment, good mileage and handling, and decent performance.

In contrast, the car’s gasoline engine is a little rough around the edges, which makes you want to keep it in EV mode even more. If you’re the type of person who wants to dip your feet into the world of electric cars but doesn’t want to get stung by range anxiety, then the A250e is a definite strong option. After all, as we head towards 2030, most carmakers will be switching to a two pillar model lineup strategy—electric and plug-in hybrid. If you want a compact luxury car with good mileage and some worthy earth-friendly credentials, then the A250e might just be a good place to start.

The post Mercedes Benz A250e plug-in Hybrid Review first appeared on Yanko Design.

Holme and Hadfield Watch Deck Review

The advent of smartwatches may have made it feel like we only ever need one timepiece, but not everyone has subscribed to the hi-tech wearable trend. And even with a smartwatch, there will always be a place for more traditional watches, especially those from luxury brands. Some even have two or more of these, and it often becomes a worry and a chore to organize them inside boxes with tiny pillows. Holme and Hadfield has designed a way to keep some of those watches organized while putting them up for display. But are the Watch Deck and its siblings the best way to take care of your luxury timepieces, or are they just pretty faces?

Aesthetics

Watch collectors and serious watch owners are probably familiar with traditional watch boxes. They keep your watches organized and protected, but they aren’t exactly flattering. They are often also cumbersome to use, requiring a multi-step process to remove a watch and then put the cushion back inside the box. The Holme and Hadfield Watch Deck does away with all of that and lets you showcase your favorite watches when not in use.

The majority of the Watch Deck is made of wood, from the box itself to the holders to the drawer. The company describes it as a sturdy “medium-density fiberboard” material that will withstand the test of time, with proper care, of course. The three available finishes of Oak, Walnut, and Black all look elegant and perfectly fit any classic timepiece you choose to put on top.

The transparent cover, however, is almost the complete opposite of the box. Very discerning eyes will be able to tell that it isn’t glass, and that’s actually for better and for worse. The acrylic top removes fears and worries when handling the cover, especially when repeatedly removing it to fetch the watch you’ve chosen to wear for that day. However, it also slightly cheapens the overall impact of the Watch Deck, especially once you realize its true nature, and raises concerns about the product’s sustainability.

There are no metal parts in the Watch Deck or its smaller siblings, at least not that are visible and large enough to affect the quality and operation of the box. No gears or slides to wear and tear over time, and nothing to affect the watches themselves. Even the drawer operates on a simple wooden system, which also has its own set of drawbacks.

Holme and Hadfield’s watch cases blend well with almost any kind of room or furniture thanks to its minimalist design, though there will certainly be instances where its wood and glass motif might clash with some themes. The color option will be a bigger point of consideration when buying a Watch Deck, but one that pleasantly contrasts its surrounding can also work in its favor. After all, what better way to call attention to your watch collection than by having an Oak or Walnut box that visually pops out in the middle of a predominantly black and white shelf?

Ergonomics

The Watch Deck’s simple design is also reflected in its simple use. You really don’t need instructions for this kind of product, and you simply remove the acrylic cover to place or take out a watch for use. Likewise, you pull out the drawer to remove or place a wallet, glasses, and other trinkets inside. What you have to mind, instead, are the physical dimensions of the watch holders and the drawers, which limit what you could place in them.

The wooden watch holder posts themselves were designed with 45mm watches in mind. Watches with smaller or shorter straps might not be able to wrap around the posts properly. Conversely, watches with larger bodies might prevent the case from closing, though some have had luck with 51mm watches inside.

Even with all watches fitting well, there will be some worries that the wooden surface might scratch the watches or that the watches would end up scratching each other. The posts are fortunately spaced apart sufficiently that the watches won’t rub against each other. The smooth finish of the Watch Deck’s surfaces also helps reduce the chances of the watches themselves getting scratched.

The Watch Deck’s drawer is about 12.5 inches wide, 4.4 inches long, and 1.8 inches deep. It’s big enough to fit a regular-sized wallet or eyeglasses and a few other items like a key fob. There are even small compartments inside for rings and coins. The two-piece “Weekender” and single-piece “Daily” naturally have less room inside. The drawer moves smoothly when you pull it but stops completely at a certain point. You don’t have to worry about pulling too far or the draw falling off when transporting the Deck.

As mentioned, these drawers don’t use any metal to stay in place and move, which lessens the number of things that could break or fall apart. Unfortunately, a pure wooden drawer system requires more precision and design to operate smoothly. It is easy for the drawer’s slots to misalign, and, over time, the friction will wear down those wooden points of contact, and it will be difficult to fix this when the time comes.

Sustainability

You would think that a wooden box like the Watch Deck is the ultimate sustainable product, but that’s only half true. Being able to repair or service a product is also part of its longevity. Craftmanship isn’t just about the design but also about the quality of its execution, and Holme and Hadfield’s watch holders raise very important questions.

The lack of metal parts reduces the number of materials required to make the Watch Deck, but it might also make things like the drawer harder to repair when slots misalign, or the wood has worn down. There are even some customer complaints about drawers that weren’t as smooth as they should be right out of the box.

The biggest blemish on the Watch Deck’s face is the one that you might not always see, depending on how clean it is. Hard-quality acrylic is substantially tougher than glass, of course, and it will also last longer. It doesn’t look nor feel premium, though, and it is definitely not one that is easily repairable or replaceable. When it does get deformed, scratched, or broken, there is very little choice but to discard or replace it, and it isn’t the most recyclable material on the market.

To be fair, Holme and Hadfield doesn’t exactly make sustainability an advertising point for its products. Its use of wood is an aesthetic decision rather than one with a mind towards the environment or future generations. At its price point, it’s probably not surprising that the Watch Deck isn’t something that is playing for keeps, but you’d hope that the younger generation of designers would actually try to make a lasting positive impact not just in design but also on the environment.

Value

Assigning value to a product, especially designer products, isn’t exactly straightforward. That said, value shouldn’t be based solely on appearances, something that’s presumed to be the default for these items. Design, after all, isn’t just about looking good, and product design ensures that things also work the way they were intended to, which often means trying to solve a particular problem.

The Holme and Hadfield Watch Deck definitely checks most of the boxes. It looks handsome on top of any room decor. Its minimalist wooden design and clear acrylic case make sure that your watches are the center of attraction. It even has a compartment to hide other possessions from view but still keep them within easy reach.

The clincher is its price tag, which is almost scandalous for something that’s considered a designer item. For less than $100, you get a stylish holder for four of your favorite watches and a chest for everything else. At that price, it’s almost too easy to just buy a new piece if the current one breaks, which is probably why longevity doesn’t seem to be a high priority.

Verdict

While smartwatches are turning age-old wrist-worn timepieces into more hi-tech but utilitarian objects, there is still a great number that sees watches as more than just accessories. Some do treat them as luxury items and symbols of social status, but there are those that see in them the epitome of excellent product design.

The Holme and Hadfield Watch Deck provides a pedestal that shines the spotlight on these timeless tellers of time. Made from sturdy wooden material and fine finishes contrast perfectly with the metallic bodies of the majority of watches, at least the ones you will proudly show off to everyone that pays attention. The choice of acrylic might be a bit questionable from a sustainability standpoint, but it makes the case easier to use and worry-free.

Perhaps more importantly, the Watch Deck is also a testament that great design and great value don’t always have to come with a high price tag. Admittedly, not all watch connoisseurs will be happy with some of the design choices, but Holme and Hadfield clearly wants to deliver the message that living a life by design doesn’t always have to be expensive.

The post Holme and Hadfield Watch Deck Review first appeared on Yanko Design.

2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5 Review

PROS:


  • Striking, fresh and modern design to launch Hyundai’s Ioniq EV era

  • Fastest DC charging among competition

  • New EGMP platform allows for clever reimagining of interior

CONS:


  • Highest 303 mile range only available on RWD models, AWD has 258

  • Digital smartphone key Android-only option for now

RATINGS:

AESTHETICS
ERGONOMICS
PERFORMANCE
VALUE FOR MONEY

EDITOR'S QUOTE:

There’s intrigue at first glance, and your eyes cannot help but linger, wanting more. There’s a lot to take in.

The 2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5 is the closest we’ve felt to driving an iPhone, in a good way. It brings modern, distinctive and sleek design, innovation, ease of use, and allure, things that Apple has so compellingly mastered. What’s immediately clear, this electric car was created with great ambition, with genuine intention, and not out of compliance.

The Ioniq 5 is built on Hyundai’s just-out-of-the-box all-electric platform—called EGMP, or Electric Global Modular Platform—and is the first of many pure-electric vehicles to come. Being built on a dedicated platform allows for reimagined thinking, from the outset.

The Design

There’s intrigue at first glance, and your eyes cannot help but linger, wanting more. There’s a lot to take in. Though classified as a compact crossover, this new electric car has a silhouette more akin to a hatchback, but a futuristic concept, not like anything we’ve seen on the road. Judging by the glances, attention, and chatty inquiries we received during our day with the Ioniq 5 around San Diego, California, the public may agree.

Up front, a clamshell hood allows for fewer panel gaps. An aero-spoiler on the roof helps direct airflow, and give the car a sporty aesthetic. The pixel-inspired signature lighting both front and rear, is unique and exceptionally eye-catching. This signature will be present on all of the automaker’s future electric, and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. 20-inch alloy wheels command presence, the wheel design looks like a 3D-matrix screensaver, completely wild and cool. They would be out of place on a more conventional looking car, but the Ioniq 5 pulls them off marvelously. Automatic door handles that lay flush, and power-folding mirrors aid in the modern, luxurious feel.

In a recent conversations with Hyundai’s global head of design, Sangyup Lee, the storied designer stressed the need to be bold, to take risks. While Lee brings a desirable pedigree of automotive experience, with especially notable stints at GM, and Bentley, he finds himself rethinking his approach.

“We’re in a transition phase in the industry, and the Ioniq Series is the start of our EV approach,” Lee tells me. Without the need for a combustion engine, transmission, and accompanying gear, spacial considerations are different, and Lee believes design will play an increasingly large role. “As I designer, I’ve never been challenged as much as I am now. And I have to question everything I’ve learned in the last 27 years. I see that as an obstacle.”

If the Ioniq 5 demonstrates anything, it’s that there is a considerably fresh approach. And that doesn’t end with the design. There’s true technological innovation at play here, as well. The 5 boasts an ultra-fast DC charging speed, going from 10 percent charge to 80 percent charge in only 18 minutes, no mainstream brand offers a faster charge, you’d have to go up to far pricier sports cars like the Porsche Taycan to have similar levels. There’s also a two-way charging port that allows you to charge appliances, or even another electric car in an emergency. Remote parking assist will allow you to get out of the car, and let it park or un-park itself, perfect for tight spaces. And Hyundai Digital Key allows you to use your smartphone or a key card in lieu of the key fob to lock/unlock your car. You can share your digital key with friends and family if they have an Android-supported device.

While the exterior wows with distinctive, fresh styling, it’s the interior that shows off some of the advantages this new dedicated EV platform. Ioniq 5 boasts a completely flat floor, thanks to the lack of a transmission, and some of the workings of a traditional combustion engine. An airy, light cabin with a single glass pane moonroof lets in all of that California sunshine, and automatic sunshade offers relief when called upon. There’s an exceptional amount of interior room—despite being a compact crossover, it boasts a longer wheelbase than the full-sized Hyundai Palisade SUV—helping immediately differentiate the Ioniq 5, and demonstrating what is possible with this new architecture.

The Interior

The rear seats can slide forward, or recline back, features more commonly found in larger minivans, or ultra-luxe sedans. 120-volt outlet in the rear allows you to plug-in your laptop, allowing for a mobile workspace, all the rage at present, given the state of the world. Not to be outdone, the front seats recline generously, and have leg rests to help you stretch out. The center console can easily slide backwards, a further piece of thoughtful, clever design.

Getting situated behind the wheel, push-button start summons the 12.3-inch digital cluster, and 12.3-inch media touchscreen to life. A stalk acts as your gear shifter, turning the dial to “D” gets you into drive. Having lived in San Diego, I’m familiar with the city, and take Hyundai’s new show-stopper along one of my favorite stretches of road. Heading from Solana beach, south to Del Mar, and onto La Jolla, the glistening Pacific Ocean stretches across on your right hand side. A few thousand miles away Hawaii sits idyll, the only land between us and the Japanese coast, and the wonders of Asia, including South Korea, beyond.

Driving Experience

One of the things that’s interesting about electric cars, is the availability of a blistering amount of power, and how engineers decide to tune that, with considerations of comfort, speed, and battery management. A few times, I press down on the accelerator pedal to varying degrees, to gauge how power is delivered. In all scenarios, there is a common thread: power comes on in a smooth, linear fashion. In one of these scenarios, as I’d later discover, there was a BMW M3 to my right, and quickly it was in my rear-view mirror. When I released off the accelerator, the deceleration immediately began, part of a clever regeneration scheme that both extends driving range, and also makes one pedal driving easy and effortless, with little need for the brake in many scenarios. The M3 quickly caught up and blasted past, and though I didn’t see it, I assume there was some confusion on the part of the driver. What was this stealth UFO on wheels from the future that they had never seen?

The driving experience and dynamics can vary a little as you can choose from rear-wheel, or all-wheel drive models, depending on your needs. An entry-level, RWD model with a single motor generates about 168 hp, while a longer-range option ups the ponies to 225 and 258 pound-feet of torque. The AWD employs an extra electric motor, and brings total output to 325 horsepower, and a generous 446 pound-feet of torque, essentially all the instantaneous power on tap you’d need. Rear-wheel drive models can get up to an EPA-rated 303 miles of range, while AWD models can go 258 miles on a full charge.

Final Thoughts and Pricing

Electric vehicles are not a turnkey solution, and there’s important work yet to be done. Considerations in how battery materials are mined and composed, a more sustainable and greener electric grid in markets where EVs operate, and eventually a true recycling solution will all need to be addressed. These are complicated challenges, but we’re also at the infancy of possibility. We’ve already seen impressive technological advancement in the development of this new era of transportation.

If consumers are truly going to be swayed to give up the familiar for something new, it will have to be exciting, enticing, and desirable. With its fresh, bold design, accessible price range, truly fast charging time, and brimming with allure, the 2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5 loudly ushers in a new era in true style.

Starting prices range from about $41,000 for the entry-level model, up to $55,725 for a feature-rich Limited AWD Ioniq 5. U.S. buyers can receive a federal incentive of $7,500, additionally.

 

The post 2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5 Review first appeared on Yanko Design.

2022 Subaru WRX Review

Few car names invoke as much passion, awe, and anticipation as the WRX. Just say those three letters and car nuts everywhere get sweaty palms as they know you’re talking about the road-going version of Subaru’s legendary World Rally Championship winning all-wheel-drive turbo. And for 2022, a radical new version will land in showrooms keeping that legacy alive.




The WRX outlasted its arch rival

The Impreza WRX (‘Impreza’ preface dropped in 2013) first appeared in 1992, at the same time as its arch rival, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. For the next two decades, with successive generations, these two pocket rockets battled each other in the WRC, on rally stages around the world, and for street kudos like two aging gladiators fighting for the ultimate honor in a colosseum. But the Subaru ended up outlasting the Mitsubishi when the Evo went out of production 5 years ago. Over a span of 9 years from 1995, the WRX won three manufacturer’s championships and three driver titles, putting those three letters—WRX—firmly on the map and giving the car cult-like status in sports car and gaming circles.

The car, however, was not always referred to as just ‘WRX.’ Up until 2014, the Impreza WRX and the base-model Impreza sat on the same platform. When Subaru decided to give the WRX a new platform in 2014 when building the fifth generation of the car, differentiating it from the base Impreza, they dropped the ‘Impreza’ preface, kept those three tell-tale letters, and added ‘S4.’

Now, some 29 years after the original version debuted, the fifth generation WRX export model has just been revealed in its final production form at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November. And I got to test drive the range-topping WRX GT model to the limit at Sodegaura Forest Raceway, one hour southeast of Tokyo. Boasting a totally new body, enhanced 4WD system, all-new platform with stiffer rigidity, totally new interior and a new larger capacity 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-four engine, the new model aims for enhanced performance and handling while delivering better economy and cleaner emissions. More on that new engine in a moment.




WRX concept’s extreme body toned down for final production model

But before I get into the car’s performance and on-road manners, let’s go back a few years and see where this new model came from. First unveiled at the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show, the extreme ‘Subaru Viziv Performance Concept’ (pictured below) gave us a sneak peek at what a new WRX might look like. With its wide and low stance, superb wedge-shaped silhouette, massively flared fenders, rugby ball-sized brake ducts, sharp, aggressive front end and quadruple exhaust pipes, the concept looked like a Scud missile on four wheels. Considered one of the best-looking cars of the show, and arguably Subaru’s most aesthetically appealing concept car ever, hopes were high in motoring circles that Subaru beancounters would retain as much of those sporty, in-your-face lines and edges as possible when the new WRX came to market.

However, while the new car does sit on the brand’s highly acclaimed Subaru Global Platform, shared by the Outback and Forester, the extreme styling traits were watered down. As so often happens when a new model is transformed from concept to road-going version, the new WRX did manage to keep some aspects of the concept like the concept’s sharp hexagonal grille and headlight contours, but saw those awesome flared fenders and over-the-top silhouette toned down for the mass market.

But while the production model now offers more conservative design influences, it does however still feature typically characteristic WRX styling traits like a large hood scoop to feed air to the intercooler, and chunky blacked-out trim on the wheel arches and side skirts is a nod to its off-road potential, according to one Subaru staffer.

Playing the devil’s advocate, however, at first glance these dullish black plastic surrounds take some getting used to and are rather controversial in the motoring world, to say the least. They make the WRX look more like an awkward Forester sedan than a high-performance sedan. On the positive side, these black parts do work aesthetically to give the car a slightly thinner-looking side profile, which in turn, makes the WRX seem as though it means business. The rear wing has also been subtly integrated into the trunk design to help shift the car away from its long-time boy racer image. Although we can expect to see a snow board-sized rear wing on the hot WRX STI model slated for launch in a year or so.

Subaru’s design department also highlights a few functional styling upgrades that help to elevate the new WRX’s dynamic performance. In addition to new functional brake ducts at the front corners of the car that channel air into the wheel arches to cool the brakes, new air outlets behind the front wheels reduce lift on the front tires and improve overall stability at speed. In addition, new air outlets at the rear of the car help to streamline the WRX and stop air from getting trapped under the rear bumper. One designer even pointed to the special aerodynamic texture of the engine under tray that reduces air resistance to improve front-end downforce as a special feature of the aero package. To further reinforce the new WRX’s image into an increasingly discerning market, Subaru has also added a new ‘solar orange pearl’ body color to a range of eight colors.

WRX gets a more driver-focused cockpit with flat-bottomed wheel

It is inside the car where the WRX’s reinvention is most obvious. Aiming to bring the new model into line with more upmarket European sports models, the new cockpit features a driver-focused layout with a flat-bottomed steering wheel and a generous amount of leather, faux-leather, and soft cloth with bright red stitching gracing the seats, steering wheel and dashboard. The idea behind the cloth finish on the seat base is to hold drivers better in their seats when cornering at high speeds.

Carbon-fiber and chrome accents around the air-conditioner outlets, doors, center console, and steering wheel add a touch of class while the huge iPad-sized 11.6 inch HD touchscreen delivers Subaru’s latest Starling infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto built-in. The touchscreen provides high-quality clear graphics and a quick to the touch reaction time when selecting menus.

Two-tone burgundy and dark grey optional seats are made by Recaro and offer excellent lumber and back support. To be honest, however, I feel Subaru could have been more adventurous with their color choices, especially the dull burgundy hue on the seat. Given that Subaru is trying to take the WRX upmarket and appeal to a slightly more mature buyer, it would have been good to see a brighter red used to contrast with the seat’s dark grey and black tones, while a red or signature STI-style dark pink stripe on the seatbelts would have enhanced the interior ambiance no end.

One feature that certainly does enhance the driving experience is the premium Harmon Kardon audio which uses a high performance class-D amplifier pumping out 504 Watts of power that sends your music through its 11-speaker sound system.

The Driving Experience

With the new WRX’s powerplant, don’t expect to find any electric motors or hybrid options. This car packs a new Subaru 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder boxer engine – a format employed by every WRX since the original 1992 model. In this new guise, it pumps out 271-hp (up 3hp over the predecessor) and 258 lb-ft (43-hp and 74 lb-ft more than the naturally aspirated unit in the BRZ) and boasts a twin-scroll turbocharger. The torque curve has been broadened to deliver peak output from 2000 rpm to 5200 rpm and it is clear to see that the extra 400cc of displacement, along with a new electronically controlled turbo wastegate and bypass valves, all combine to improve throttle response and nullify turbo lag. Keep the turbo purring above 3500 rpm and you’ll have a gutsy instant boost of acceleration every time you need it. Off the line, the WRX is noticeable quicker and the extra punch exiting corners is addictive. Power goes to both axles via a 6-speed manual gearbox or a new 8-speed automatic Subaru Performance Transmission (SPT) said to offer 30% faster upshifts and 50% quicker downshifts.

Unfortunately the Japanese spec I drove only offered the SPT as the 6-speed manual is not offered in its home country. This 8-speed gearbox is basically a rehashed continuously variable transmission, but meticulously tuned to offer eight distinct gear ratios, which are surprisingly distinguishable, but with a more aggressive shift logic that provides quicker and beefier throttle response across the entire powerband.

The U.S.-spec model might not get the all-new ‘EyeSight X’ technology fitted to the Japanese spec WRX GT, but it does get a tweaked version of the predecessor’s EyeSight Driver Assist Technology that monitors traffic, optimizes adaptive cruise control, and warns you when you sway outside of your lane. This tech also offers automatic pre-collision braking and automatic emergency steering that can steer away from an oncoming obstacle when there is a clear path and braking alone may not be enough to avoid an accident.

On the road, the WRX can only be described as masterful and gripping. The new WRX GT really does handle superbly and delivers its power effortlessly and seamlessly thanks to its new 2.4-liter turbo boxer that feeds power to the road through a new rapid shifting 8-speed auto transmission. It may not be as quick or convincing as, say, a VW DSG 7-speed gearbox, but it certainly does the job.

The WRX GT is fitted with a bespoke drive-mode select switch which adjusts the car’s powertrain, electronically-controlled dampers, and power steering to suit the driver’s needs. With overhauled front suspension, 18-inch Dunlop SP Sports Maxx tires, quicker steering, and ventilated disc brakes all round, Subaru claims the WRX boasts “the highest levels of dynamic performance and ride comfort in its history”. I might have to agree. This car gets the business of going quick safely with the minimum of fuss. When pushed to the max, the WRX jumps off the line faster than its predecessor, stays flatter in the corners than any WRX before it, and resists understeer more than any other Subaru before it.

Its steering is quick and pinpoints with plenty of feedback from the road while its power delivery is instant and effortless. What will impress more discerning buyers is the top-class ride quality that the WRX offers thanks to its new platform and suspension setup.

Prices and Options

Prices have not been released yet, but in the U.S. we can expect the WRX GT to slot into its flagship role at around $36,000, with the entry-level model starting at around $30,000. Expect the WRX STI to hover around $40,000. Competitors to the WRX include the Volkswagen Golf GTI and the new Hyundai Elantra N which is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter developing 276-hp.

As pressure is being put on automakers to switch to electrification and phase out their gasoline engines over the next decade, I asked an engineer why he and his team went to so much trouble to produce such a thrilling car. “We wanted to go out on a high, extracting everything possible from our decades of continuous development and accumulation of high performance technology and all-wheel-drive handling from our rally program. We wanted to squeeze every drop of passion and pace out of our flagship sports car and honor its WRC successes while paying tribute to our legions of fans around the world that have stuck with us over all these years.” Good way to go out fellas. Can’t wait for the stonking WRX STI in a year or so. That’ll be something really special.




The post 2022 Subaru WRX Review first appeared on Yanko Design.

Lunar Artefacts Pointer Instrument (Lunar Optic) Review – Sports Car Looks

PROS:


  • Eye-catching sports car design with a translucent top cover

  • Offers Bluetooth, wireless (RF), and wired connectivity

  • Can be used on glass or reflective surfaces

  • Easy to repair and replace broken parts

CONS:


  • Ergonomics requires a bit of getting used to

  • Doesn't offer advanced mouse features for its price range

RATING:

AESTHETICS
ERGONOMICS
PERFORMANCE
SUSTAINABILITY / REPAIRABILITY
VALUE FOR MONEY

EDITOR'S QUOTE:

The Lunar Artefacts Pointer Instrument changes the way you think a computer mouse can look like and its easy-to-repair design completely changes the game. The lack of features for its price tag, however, could put off more advanced computer users.

Computers and their peripherals are probably the last consumer products that one would normally associate with beautiful design, especially if you’ve seen how these electronic contraptions looked in the earliest days of personal computing. Apple can perhaps be credited for making consumers not only more conscious of well-designed gadgets but also become more accepting of the price one has to pay for them. There has been a steady stream of designer products that try to add some visual appeal to computers and accessories but focus more on appearances at the expense of actual utility. Lunar Artefacts of London, however, wants to prove you can have beauty, functionality, and longevity, so we take the Pointer Instrument Lunar Optic model for a spin to see if it is really the only mouse you’ll ever need.

Aesthetics

Lunar Artefacts compares its Pointer Instruments, its alternative name for a computer mouse, with the Corvette Stingray, and it’s clear that the device’s design is inspired by sports cars rather than other mice. The contours make it look like it was designed with aerodynamics in mind, and you almost expect it to glide over your desk with very little push. As we’ll see later, it is, in fact, designed to operate smoothly with very minimal effort, at least from your arm.

There are quite a few variations of the Pointer Instrument, depending on the material used for the top cover and the base. The Lunar Optic, for example, combines a translucent top that should delight technophiles and an aluminum base that is designed to be lightweight. Those who prefer a bit of heft can opt for the Solar Optic model that uses brass for its base instead.

The choice of leather for other models might be a bit controversial. Genuine full-grain leather is, of course, known for letting the skin breathe, but hands tend to get sweaty when using computer mice, regardless of the environment. It will also wear and tear over time, but that is something that Lunar Artefacts ironically encourages people to embrace. These materials are promised to age beautifully, and you can always replace them should they become unbearable to look at.

Ergonomics

The Lunar Artefacts Pointer Instrument doesn’t look like your run-of-the-mill mouse, even when compared to some of the more esoteric gaming mice available in the market. That unique visual identity, however, does have consequences for the usability of the product and could feel alien in your hand at first. The company itself admits it will need a bit of getting used to, which could hamper your productivity for a while.

Lunar Artefacts insists that it’s worth the time you put into it, though, as it will supposedly improve your comfort over time. Unlike regular mice, you don’t need to grip the Pointer Instrument, and your hand is supposed to rest comfortably on the surface instead. The ambidextrous design of the mouse will surely be of comfort to left-handed users, but the rest of your fingers might feel at a loss where to rest.

Curiously, Lunar Artefacts sells an optional nylon Accessory Grip that basically mimics the shape of a gaming mouse. Unfortunately, that’s an added expense you might not be aware of, and it would have probably been better if it was included in the box, especially since the company admits that no one size fits all.

The designers did at least concede that different people have different preferences when it comes to how heavy or light they want their mice to be, especially when gaming is involved. The luminous aluminum shell that most closely resembles the dark hues of computer mice weighs in at only 120 grams for those who have more precise motion control and prefer a lighter touch. At 195 grams, the brass shell has slightly more heft, offering a solid feel that isn’t uncomfortably heavy.

Sustainability

Designers today have become more aware of the ecological ramifications of their products, and many have made it their mission to create sustainable designs that are also accessible to regular people. When it comes to consumer electronics, how easily repairable or recyclable products are have become major selling points, and the Pointer Instrument probably gets top marks for it. The box it comes in can even be reused as a photo frame, even though it might not be the best way to show off your face. Fortunately, the packaging uses recyclable materials, so it still scores points even if you decide not to use it as the designers intended.

Many companies and designers boast about products sourced from sustainable or environment-friendly materials, but there are times when the use of plastic is almost unavoidable. Plastic does last a long time, but the problem starts when it begins to show its age or needs to be replaced. Lunar Artefacts does have a Lifetime Repair Service program that could handle the proper disposal of such materials, but it still puts a question mark on the Pointer Instrument’s overall sustainability.

Although there might be some debate about how sustainable the materials are, they are at least meant to last longer than your usual plastic. More importantly, however, almost every critical part of the mouse except for the circuit board can be easily replaced. Lunar Artefacts even has a handy video guide on how to disassemble and reassemble the Pointer Instrument, assuring buyers that almost anyone can do that.

The slight hitch to this proposition is that you will have to know where to buy those replacement parts. Although those components might not be that difficult to find online, it would have been dandy if Lunar Artefacts itself sold those or at least connected customers to shops that sell them.

Performance

The Pointer Instrument has been likened to a sports car in design, but does it behave like a Corvette Stingray as well? It’s definitely not a slouch, offering up to 3000 DPI precision, but that’s just about it. If a mouse’s performance is to be judged by the number of buttons it has, including programmable ones, or the beating it can take from a trigger-happy finger, this designer mouse might fail to impress.

It does have one feature that not all computer mice have, even the more expensive ones. It can be used on any surface, including glass or reflective materials that often throw off optical mice. You can, of course, still buy a leather mouse pad from Lunar Artefacts if you just want a matching set.

While it might lack buttons, the Pointer Instrument definitely doesn’t lack connectivity options. In addition to both Bluetooth and RF Wireless, you can also connect it using the USB-C cable that is also used for charging it. It even supports wireless charging if you have a Qi-compatible wireless charging pad large enough to hold it.

Value

Designer products are often more expensive than their common retail counterparts, and not just because they’re designer products. In addition to the thought and extra care that’s put into them, the materials used also play a part in the overall cost of making the product. The Lunar Artefacts Pointer Instrument clearly has those marks, but the question is whether it’s worth that £155 ($200) price tag.

It’s a difficult question to answer and mostly depends on what you would use a computer mouse for. It will hardly perform as well as a dedicated gaming mouse and would easily wear out the buttons repeatedly, even if you could replace it again and again. There are also other ergonomic mice designed with a plethora of features that cost a lot less, though they definitely have nothing on the Pointer Instrument in terms of dapper looks.

Verdict

Lunar Artefacts of London is challenging the concept of a computer mouse. Often considered expendable except by PC gamers, mice are often bought and discarded at rates higher than any other computer peripheral. While people can get attached to their keyboards and have them repaired as much as possible, mice are often just replaced, their discarded carcasses filling up landfills the world all over.

The Pointer Instrument turns that idea on its head, and the Lunar Optic model gives it a visual flair that could appeal to computer users that fancy transparent or translucent designs. Although the sports car inspiration might not stand the test of time, the Lunar Artefacts Pointer Instrument definitely will, as long as there are replacement parts available. At its price tag, you might want this to really be the last mouse you’ll ever buy, and, fortunately, it was built to be that way.

But even when the Lunar Artefacts Pointer Instrument does age, owners will find that it ages gracefully and beautifully as well. When the leather top develops scuffs, and when the aluminum and brass bodies start to grow patinas over time, the mouse begins to take on a more personalized appearance the differs from owner to owner, depending on how they use the device. This way, the Pointer Instrument becomes more than just a utilitarian mouse that you discard after it has served its purpose. It becomes, instead, a more visible and tangible record of your life, growing old along with its owner in an almost personal way.

The post Lunar Artefacts Pointer Instrument (Lunar Optic) Review – Sports Car Looks first appeared on Yanko Design.