Watch This Plane Fail at Landing, Plow Straight Into a Snow Bank in the French Alps

Pilots, supposedly, have a saying: Take-off is optional. Landing is mandatory. One way or another, sooner or later, your aircraft—be it a fighter jet, a commercial airliner, a helicopter, or a rinky-dink ultra-light—is going to come to rest on terra firma at some point. Convincing it to do so when and where you want, well, that's where the skill comes in. Still, even trained pilots don't always stick the landing like Simone Biles. Variables such as mechanical failure, unexpected wildlife, and especially weather can make quite a bit more difficult.

On the other hand, those same climactic conditions can also make stopping a little easier, as the occupants of a Piper PA-46 propeller plane found out earlier this month, when their plane failed to stop in time on a slippery runway and face-planted into a giant snow bank while landing at Courchevel Airport in the French Alps.

Thankfully, the occupants only sustained minor injuries, according to The Daily Mail. (Kremlin-backed Russian news source RT claimed one person on board was reportedly injured more seriously, but considering the provenance, we're taking that with a grain of salt.) And thankfully for those of us stuck inside far away from the French Alps...the whole incident was caught on video.

...from multiple angles.

It seems obvious that the pilot wasn't trying to jam the Piper straight into the snowbank like Scarface diving into cocaine; in both videos, the sound of screeching tires can clearly be heard in the final seconds before the crash, and the propeller can be seen first stopping, then begin to spin in the opposite direction, suggesting whoever was behind the controls may have reversed the engine's thrust in an attempt to stop the small single-engined plane.

Still, it was all for naught: The impact buried the plane in snow all the way to the A-pillar, as can be seen in the image below.

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Caption competition in comments - - - #altiport #badparking #skiresort #courchevel #mountains #oops #brakehard #snowsnow

A post shared by British Ski School 3 Valleys (@snowlimitsskischool) on Feb 8, 2019 at 5:08am PST

The Courchevel Altiport, as the small Alpine air terminal is formally known, is known to be tricky, having been ranked amongst the most extreme airports on the planet by The History Channel. (Okay, fine, it's not exactly Aviation Week, but who do you really expect to do a ranking called "Most Extreme Airports"?) The airport is located at an altitude of 6,588 feet, which means the air is thin, producing less lift and drag than down at most runways; in addition, said runway is just 1,762 feet long, with a gradient of 18.6 percent. Add in icy conditions—as the video seems to suggest were present on the day of the crash—and it's not hard to see how a plane might slip n' slide straight off the runway...and into Internet fame.

Lyft Driver in Dodge Charger SRT Hits Over 120 MPH, Runs from Cops on Passenger’s Wild Ride

No doubt almost anyone who uses taxis, Uber, or Lyft has, upon occasion, wished their driver would just speed up a little. Apparently, we all just needed to wait until Lyft driver Michael Cranford Jr. of Charlotte, North Carolina picked us up. According to authorities, Cranford hit speeds of more than 120 miles per hour while driving a passenger in Union County, N.C. on Saturday night—and didn't even slow down after blowing past a cop.

Better yet for the Internet—albeit worse for the Lyft driver—the high-speed blast was caught on video.

"I just heard his engine rev up and then, that's when I pulled out my camera," the passenger, who wanted to stay anonymous, said to WSOC-TV.

According to the rider's account, the Lyft trip started out innocuously enough, with he and Crawford chatting about the driver's Dodge Charger SRT. (Based upon the video footage of the instrument panel, we at the Drive are guessing it was a pre-facelift LD-generation SRT8, but if any eagle-eyed readers can offer a correction, please do.) The driver then began showing off what the V-8-powered sedan was capable of, blasting well above the area's 55-mph speed limit.

Then Cranford's Charger blasted past a North Carolina Highway Patrol car.

"[Crawford] said, ‘There's a blue light. I'm going to jail. I've got to go,’" the passenger said.

According to the pursuing trooper, Crawford's Charger proceeded to bob and weave through traffic, going so far as to pass on a double-yellow line. The officer said he tried to keep up with the Hemi-powered sport sedan, but couldn't.

Crawford apparently didn't know that, however, because according to the passenger, the Lyft driver ducked behind a house and doused the lights.

"He straight up told me, ‘You're going to Charlotte with me,’" the passenger said.

Said passenger wasn't having any of that, however. He reportedly told the driver to drop him off at a gas station, at which point he called the police. Authorities were quickly able to track down Crawford, who was charged with speeding and reckless driving. Court records checked by WSOC-TV revealed the Dodge driver had a history of moving violations, having been pulled over at least thrice for speeding; however, all those prior infractions were reduced.

Not surprisingly, since receiving word of the incident, Lyft has reportedly deactivated Cranford's account.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Dreamliner Hits 801 MPH Over Pennsylvania, Thanks to Jet Stream

Who needs the Concorde, anyway? On Monday, somewhere over norther Pennsylvania, a Virgin Atlantic-flown Boeing 787 Dreamliner traveling from Los Angeles to London managed to go where few commercial planes have gone before: to a speed of 801 miles per hour.

As The Washington Post brought to light, pilots and aviation nerds were a-twitter about the Boeing's speed last night, taking to journalism's favorite social medium to broadcast their delight at seeing the giant numbers appear.

There is, of course, a catch: that 801-mph Vmax was the plane's ground speed, or the rate at which it was passing over the chilly landscape of PA below. As far as the 787 was concerned, however, it was still well within the performance envelope it was designed for, zipping along close to its established cruising speed of around 560 miles per hour.

How? It's a matter of airspeed versus groundspeed, of course.

Groundspeed, as it sounds like, is how fast a plane appears to be traveling from the vantage point of an observer on the solid, unmoving ground below. If you were the Flash and wanted to keep pace with the 787 above you yesterday, you'd have to be running along at 801 miles per hour to match it. Airspeed, on the other hand, is how fast a plane is traveling compared to the air around it—for example, how fast it might look to a balloon floating along in the same air. In the case of yesterday's speeding Dreamliner, that wind was a jet stream current flowing from west to east at faster-than-normal speeds; as The Washington Post pointed out, a weather balloon lofted from central Long Island's Upton, New York clocked the jet stream yesterday at a record 231 miles per hour. With wind that strong at the aircraft's back, even a 225-ton 787-9 can pick up a nice speed boost—in this case, enough to push it to speeds never before seen for its type, at least from the ground.

Data captured from the Boeing's moment of glory.

So from the perspective of the FAA's ground-based tracking systems, the Virgin Boeing would seem to be going supersonic over the Northeast, while the passengers and crew would have felt as though their plane was cruising along at a nice happy Mach 0.85 or so. Until, that is, they landed at London Heathrow's Terminal 3 at 8:22am local time Tuesday, 48 minutes ahead of schedule.

2019 GMC Sierra Denali 1500 Review: A Nice Pickup Truck, Sure—But Not $68,000 Nice

Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2019 GMC Sierra Denali 1500 4WD Crew Cab.

The 2019 GMC Sierra Denali, By the Numbers:

  • Base Price (Price as Tested): $59,485 ($67,735)
  • Powertrain: 6.2-liter V-8, 420 horsepower, 460 pound-feet; 10-speed automatic transmission; four-wheel-drive
  • EPA Fuel Economy: 15 mpg city / 20 mpg highway
  • 0-60 MPH: Around five and a half seconds (based on Car and Driver test data from a comparable Chevrolet Silverado High Country)
  • Maximum Trailer Weight: 9,100 pounds
  • Quick Take: The fanciest GMC Sierra you can buy offers a buffet of interesting tech and features, but is it enough to justify the price?

If the GMC brand can seem as though it doesn't need to exist—Chrysler and Ford get by selling a bajillion trucks under one brand, why can't GM?—the Denali sub-brand makes even less sense. Between the plethora of high-end SUVs and pickup trucks spread across the carmaker's other brands, it seems utterly redundant; for just about every GMC Denali, there's a Chevrolet High Country, a Buick, or a Cadillac that's all but identical aside from a front end and slight tweaks in tuning.

Yet like the success of The Big Bang Theory and Long John Silver's, in spite of logic, reason, and intellectual thinking, the Denali brand thrives. The company moved its one-millionth vehicle bearing the name of America's highest peak in 2017, 20 years after its introduction, and sales haven't slowed; almost one-third of GMC sales are Denalis, according to Bloomberg, and with 160,525 GMCs sold in the U.S. last year, that works out to serious money. (It also works out to more sales than Cadillac, for what it's worth.)

2019 GMC Sierra Denali: The Pros

  • It ain't ugly. While I'm not among the legions out there hating on the 2019 Chevy Silverado for its front end, there's no disputing the GMC Sierra is the better-looking of GM's full-size pickup twins. The Denali grille looks less like the business end of a Norelco electric razor than before, and the overall face somewhat resembles an improved version of the awkward-yet-handsome Nissan Titan. The chrome spanglies that come with the Denali trim would probably be a little much on a truck clad in a darker color, but they fit nicely with the bluish-gray Dark Sky Metallic paint of my tester.
  • GMC didn't hold back on lobbing tech features into the pot. The MultiPro Power Steps—a fancy term for "retractible multi-functional running boards"—don't just glide out from the body when you need to step up into the cabin; tap the rear of the step with your foot, and it pivots backwards towards the rear tire, giving you a place to step onto in order to access the front of the bed. The 15-inch head-up display, as always, often comes in handy—doubly so for a vehicle with an outdated instrument panel like this one. And 360-degree camera coverage, parking sensors, and GM's vibrating-alert driver's seat make parking even a vehicle as massive as this one a snap. (Those features, by the way, come as part of the Denali Ultimate Package, which includes the 6.2-liter V-8, the 10-speed automatic, and a litany of active safety features, among other goodies; consider it a must-have if you're going for the truck.)
  • GMC's trick tailgate, which also receives the MultiPro label, is a "pro" in the sense that it adds options to the ways you interact with the truck. Choice is always good, right?
  • And, as always, it bears repeating: It's a four-wheel-drive crew cab pickup truck, which makes it of the most versatile, utilitarian conveyances ever built and sold to the public. It can seat five adults in comfort and safety, play music, charge your electronics, carry hundreds of pounds of cargo, tow thousands of pounds more, scramble through snow, mud, and dirt, and cruise along at 100-plus miles per hour—and often do many of these at once—all without breaking a sweat.

2019 GMC Sierra Denali: The Cons

  • For a truck that's also supposed to be a luxury product, the Sierra Denali doesn't seem particularly good at delivering the driving characteristics of either. Even with a suspension designed to handle a GVWR of 7,100 pounds, with adaptive dampers and three tons of mass, this truck should ride more smoothly than it does. (Part of the blame must go to those chrome-plated 22-inch wheels—city slicker specials ill-suited to the actual big city's cobblestones and broken pavement.) And the throttle is remarkably sensitive, sending the GMC lurching forward with a brush of the foot, which seems like exactly what you don't want when a good percentage of your buyers are likely to wear boots on a regular basis.
  • That MultiPro tailgate, for all its trick features, seems like something of a solution in search of a problem. Sure, the fold-out step is handy, but there's already a toe hold a couple feet away built into the corner of the bumper—and that one comes with the added bonus of letting you grab the bed wall for support. Folding down the top piece might come in handy for that rare occasion where you need to fetch something from the back of the bed without everything else spilling out—but does that really happen so frequently that it's worth adding the complexity of hinges and joints, rather than just stepping on a bucket and leaning in? And what's the point of the wanna-be Gurney flap that can flip up when the tailgate is down?
  • But all those grievances, ultimately, are minor compared to the issues with the Denali's interior. Indeed, it's an even greater letdown than the Silverado's instantly-outdated guts—because it looks all but the same, just at a higher price. The leather feels worthy of a $35,000 car, not one pushing twice as much. There's hard black plastic and textured rubber-like substances everywhere, even where your fingers are likely to fall—a cardinal sin in a luxury car. Even the nicer trim seems intentionally mismatched; there's some pleasant open-pore ash wood on the doors, but the dashboard, wheel, and center console are stuck with cheap-looking aluminum. (I honestly thought it was plastic until I looked it up.) This much plastic is already kind of insulting in a near-luxury vehicle; don't compound the issue by forcing me to stare at clashing materials on top of that.

2019 GMC Sierra Denali: Value

It's not hard for pickup trucks to rack up lofty pricetags these days, even without luxury badges. (Benjamin Preston's recently-tested Sierra AT4 had a price tag almost equal to my rig's, in spite of a lack of a big chrome grille.) Even so, in an era when the average price of a new pickup truck runs around $48,000 (and, simultaneously, millions of Americans are defaulting on auto loans), it's worth examining vehicles like this with an extra-critical eye to see if they're worth the money—both in a vacuum, and compared to other cars and trucks out there.

It's the latter part there where this GMC falls flat. The AT4, at least, attempts to justify its high price with options and features specifically designed to toughen it up for off-road use. The Denali, on the other hand, doesn't really seem to offer anything bougie enough to justify the roughly $10,000-as-tested premium over a similar-spec SLT version. (And that truck has the advantage of thicker sidewalls that are better to soak up potholes with.)

If you want a luxurious truck, look at the Ram 1500 Limited. But with trucks like it and the Ford F-150 Limited floating around, the Denali needs to seriously up its interior in order to battle it out in the priciest pickup realms.

2019 GMC Sierra Denali: The Bottom Line

GMC certainly deserves accolades for being ahead of everyone else when it came to the Denali lineup. In a segment where brand loyalty is pretty much valued above all else and fancy four-door pickups are booming in popularity, being the first to a niche can translate to success—and GMC has been cranking out Denali pickups for 17 years. Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that even by the standards of the truck-and-SUV-happy U.S. auto market, the brand formerly and broadly known as the General Motors Company has been seeing sales of its high-end rigs rise and rise: For a lot of people, when they think of bougie trucks, they think Denali.

But products like the all-new 2019 Sierra Denali also suggest the brand's years of dominance in the space may have made it a bit complacent. Chevrolet made much of its strategy to forgo conquests with the new Silverado in favor of keeping the base happy upon launching that truck, and it seems as though GMC may be trying to do the same. Trouble is, well, there's trouble on all sides and down the road alike, now that the world has woken up to the profits to be found in fancy trucks. The aforementioned Limited-trim Rams and F-Series show how far the needle has moved amongst the Big Three on that count. Lifestyle buyers will soon be temped by the likes of Rivian and Tesla. Hell, those looking for big-buck bragging rights could also be tempted by the heavy-duty Sierra Denali, a truck that offers similar niceties but far more capability for not much more money.

If GMC, like Chevy, just wants to keep the current owners happy, it's likely to see sales hold steady for a little while. But axioms exist because of the truth within—and there's a reason "complacency breeds success" isn't one of them.

The Airbus A380, the World’s Largest Passenger Plane, Is Being Killed Off

France may be associated with romance, but it's a sad Valentine's Day over in Toulouse. Airbus, the European aircraft manufacturer, announced today that it is pulling the plug on the A380—the world's largest passenger plane.

The move to terminate production on the four-engine, two-level jetliner came after Emirates, the Dubai-based airline that has been one of the largest buyers of the A380, said it was truncating its outstanding orders for the plane from 53 copies to just 14. Airbus chief executive officer Tom Enders said the Emirates decision, along with the lack of interest from other parties, meant there was no reason to extend production beyond 2021.

“The response from the market was, to put it frankly, pretty weak,” Airbus chief executive officer Tom Enders said, according to audio from the BBC. "If you have a product that nobody wants anymore, or you can sell only below production cost, you have to stop it, as painful as it is."

Emirates has been one of the largest buyers of the A380, snapping up 109 copies of the $445 million plane out of a total of 234 delivered, according to Aviation Week. Other operators include Air France, Lufthansa, British Airways, Qantas, and Singapore Airlines—though the Australian airline announced earlier this month that it would be cutting its order for eight additional planes, while the Singaporian air carrier decided last year not to keep two of its planes in service.

Still, the sum total of 313 completed and expected sales across the plane's lifetime demonstrates how the massive plane never quite caught on with commercial carriers the way Airbus would have liked. (The company originally hoped to sell around 1,500 copies of what it dubbed the "superjumbo," according to AW.)

While the A380 was introduced to great fanfare when it first flew in 2005 before going into revenue service two years later, the changing economic of air travel meant airlines no longer placed a greater importance on smaller (but often still quite large) twin-engine aircraft like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350—planes that, generally speaking, are more fuel-efficient, cheaper and easier to repair, and easier to fill to the brim with people, the latter being a key means of generating profits for air carriers. (Similar issues have also led some airlines to remove the iconic Boeing 747 from service, as well as caused Boeing to discuss ending assembly of the hump-backed jumbo jet, though production is currently planned to continue through at least 2022.)

Those differing needs—and the new demands of an increasingly climate change-minded global society—means the world may never again see a passenger plane on the scale of the A380. Designed to carry up to 853 passengers on its twin decks, the 239-foot-long plane had a wingspan of 262 feet, with those wings covering 9,100 square feet of real estate—more than three times the area of the average American new home. Four turbofan engines producing up to a combined 160,420 pounds of thrust enabled the plane, which could weigh up to 575 tons at takeoff, to reach a top speed of Mach 0.89, while 85,472 gallons of fuel capacity enabled the plane to cruise for 8,500 nautical miles—enough to fly from Washington, D.C. to Sydney, Australia without so much as a pit stop.

Goodbye, A380. You were no 747, but damn it, we'll still miss you.

This Lamborghini Espada Rat Rod Exists On the Edge of Sanity

Customized Lamborghinis aren’t all that rare. Tap a few letters into Google, and you’ll come up with all sorts of Raging Bulls wearing outrageous body kits, clad in colors bright enough to make Ray Charles take notice, or rolling around on oversized wheels of dubious provenance.

Odds are good, though, that you’ve never seen a custom Lambo quite like this Lamborghini Espada rat rod.

It’s almost as wild as the man responsible for bringing it to America: a 48-year-old man whose passport records his legal name as “XXXX Elo,” according to his personal assistant (slash wife). Colloquially, however, he leaves off the Layer Cake-style affectation at the front.

“I’m known as the Mad Collector. I hate to talk about myself, but when you see my collection, you’ll fall over and die,” Elo says.

The story of Elo, to hear him and others tell it, seems larger than life. He says he was born in London, but grew up around the world—“I speak four language pretty perfectly,” he says—and says he’s racked up a collection of 247 cars, motorcycles, and other vehicles, with machinery dating back to the 1910s. (A 2017 profile of him in the London Evening Standard adds more detail to his story, describing his career as a top 1990s-era fashion model who parlayed the paychecks from his success into his car collection.)

“Each one of them is super-unique,” he says. “I’ve always liked having very unique cars.”

It’s no surprise, then, to see something like this chopped-up classic in his orbit. But Elo isn’t the owner of this Lambo; that honor (feel free to add sarcastic quotes around that word, should you like) belongs to Hervé Castagno, owner of French auto body shop Carrosserie Hervé. The rat rod Espada was a partnership between him, Elo, and French automotive customizer Alexandre Danton of Danton Arts Kustoms. (You might remember the shop, and the wild Lambo, from our post on this dating to last November.)

The custom Espada, seen here with an Alexandre Danton-made Porsche 911 rat rod.

Elo, owner and head of the Miami Supercar Rooms art gallery and event space in Miami’s hip Wynwood neighborhood and creator of the (allegedly closed, according to Trip Advisor) London Motor Museum, met Danton in England several years back, when he says he started helping Danton get his wild rides titled in the U.K. to avoid Francophile bias against customized cars. (As seen above, Elo owns a ’76 Porsche 911 Targa rat rod made by the French customizer—one outfitted with a turbocharged 6.8-liter Bentley motor in it.)

The project, according to a statement issued by Hervé, was kick-started last year after he bought a 1968 Lamborghini Espada and decided to turn it over to Danton, giving the craftsman “free reign” to design something to celebrate the car’s 50 years on Earth. The resulting vehicle sits roughly eight feet wide—“Alexander Danton’s trademark is, all the wheels come out,” Elo says—and boasts an angular matte black body that brings to mind the likes of the Sesto Elemento concept car. Like the original, however, it still boasts a V-12 up front—and still has four seats.

Another details that sets the rat rod Espada apart from your garden variety custom Lambo: This particular car was crafted with input from Fabio Lamborghini, Ferrucio’s nephew.

“I’m very close with the Lamborghini family. I’ve known them for more than 16 years,” Elo says, adding that he met them at an event around the Milan Auto Show, then went on to help them clean out the company’s old factory. (“I would have paid to do it!” he says.)

According to Elo, Fabio says the fabled tinkerer and builder Ferrucio would have been very much into the wild work done to his five-decade-old gran turismo. “First thing he said was, if [my uncle] was here, he would have approved,” Elo says.

Not that Signore Lamborghini was always keen on the artist’s plan for his uncle’s four-seater.

“It was not an easy build. Especially with having to get Mister Lamborghini’s input into it,” Elo says. According to Elo, the elderly Lamborghini was unfamiliar with the rat rot mentality, leading to the occasional round of contention like the one the

Lamborghini: “Why don’t you have windows?”

Elo: “Rat rods don’t have windows.”

Lamborghini: “The lights are too modern!”

Elo: “With all due respect, the Lucas lights from 1968 do not work with this car.”

Nevertheless, according to Elo, Fabio came around on the car in time—as the U.K.-born Florida resident expects other Europeans will, should the style become more popular in the customization-friendly United States. But the car will stay in Miami for the next couple months, Elo says, where even locals attuned to exotics and custom cars have taken notice.

“The one time I took it out here to give it some exercise, boy oh boy,” he says, “I had a queue of people following me like a snake.”

Tips? Comments? Questions? Contact the author: will@thedrive.com

Meet the Vandal One, an American-Made, 1,200-LB Track Car With a 560-HP Civic Type R Heart

Don't feel bad if you've never heard of Vandal Cars. Most people haven't. And with good reason.

“You probably aren’t familiar because we just covertly launched the brand,” Jeremy Sutton, chairman of Vandal Cars, says. The company's been operating with the secrecy of a Lockheed Martin Skunk Works program for the last couple years, chasing down a dream of building what Sutton describes as “stunning, purposeful performance cars” for "a track enthusiast lifestyle." In other words: cars for people who like to drive really, really fast.

“We just wanted to give every enthusiast a chance to drive a car with world beating performance at a price that won’t break the bank,” Sutton says. "This is probably the closest thing someone will experience to being in an F1 car.”

A rendering of the Vandal One.

Just because the team is new doesn't mean the players are rookies. Vandal's employees are alumni of such notable companies as McLaren, Lola, and Ford Racing, according to Sutton; Jeremy himself spent time at Ford's famed SVT division, as well as across the Pond working on the likes of the TVR Speed 12 and Cerebra. ("I was probably one of the only Americans working at TVR," Sutton says.) As such, the company—an enterprise that the chairman says has largely been boot-strapped by a handful of private investors—has the advantage of being able to lean on industry connections to help source the parts: Honda Performance Development, Sadev, Pirelli, and other well-known OEM suppliers all contributed to the project.

For their first project, the Vandal Cars team set out to build a vehicle designed for track-day fun, one that could battle against the Ariels, Radicals, and BACs of the world—in Sutton's words, a car "to scratch the itch that we’ve always had" as enthusiasts.

The Vandal One chassis mule, seen without its carbon fiber body panels.

No monster can thrive without a mighty heart, of course. In the case of the Vandal One, that thumping powerplant comes straight from a car that needs no introduction to gearheads around the globe: the Honda Civic Type R.

"That engine was the perfect fit for our first product," Sutton says. Dialed up to around 340 horsepower thanks to revised tuning, the turbocharged inline-four known as the K20C1—which also sees duty in the Ariel Atom 4, a car with a similar mission brief to the Vandal One—might not seem like a lot of power in this Hellcat-all-the-things era. Stop to consider that the car weighs in around 1,220 pounds wet, however—a mere 39 percent of the Type R's curb weight—and those 340 ponies start to seem a little more intimidating. In fact, that combination of horses and poundage means the Vandal One has a power-to-weight ratio of 3.59 pounds per hp. A Lamborghini Aventador SVJ, by comparison, sits at 4.37 pounds per pony—and that's based on its dry weight.

“Because the car is track-focused, having the car be as lightweight as possible was one of the main criteria,” Sutton says.

The Vandal One chassis mule

As if that weren't mad enough...that's just the base version. Opt for what Sutton describes as the "R Engine Package," and the Civic Type R engine is rebuilt from soup to nuts with forged internals, a BorgWarner EFR 7163 turbo, port and direct injectors, and other enhancements, delivering both more boost and the ability to rev to 9,100 rpm. Maximum output? Figure 550 to 560 horsepower.

"Its 60-130 [mile-per-hour] time is gonna be world-beating," says Sutton.

Normally, the mightier engine will be limited to around 480 horses, Sutton says, with the rest of the power available using a push-to-pass system that monitors the chassis via yaw sensors and the external environment via GPS and determines if the car is in a good place to handle the full wallop before freeing the extra power.

The Vandal One chassis mule

No matter how many horses on draft, the power flows to the rear axle through a Sadev-made six-speed pneumatically-controlled sequential transmission that only needs the clutch when taking off from a stop. The base engine does without traction control, but the beefier motor comes with it as standard.

"At 560 horses and 555 kilograms," Sutton says, "you need traction control.”

If power were all it took to make a track car, however, John Force would be in the Formula 1 hall of fame. Rounding a road course with speed and style requires a world-class chassis—so Vandal turned to HP Composites, a little-known Italian supplier that happens to be the largest carbon fiber manufacturer for the motorsports world, to build the carbon fiber monocoque.

“All of the carbon on the car is pre-preg autoclave carbon fiber,” Sutton says, a note of pride in his voice. Such "dry" carbon fiber is pre-impregnated with resin before going into an autoclave—as opposed to "wet" carbon fiber, where the material is dipped in resin in the mold before being vacuum-sealed to infuse the sticky substance into it.

"It gives you a more structurally reliable part, and also a lighter part," Sutton says.

Going with carbon fiber construction for both the monocoque and the body panels brings other benefits beyond Sutton's oft-touted lightness. It also enables owners to tailor the carbon weave to include different colors, or even to thread metallic elements through it.

The chassis's structural elements utilizes pair of flat-plane full carbon floor members; towards the stern, the inline-four lies in a stressed engine configuration in which the gearbox and engine hold up the entire rear suspension, much like in a Le Mans prototype or Formula One car. Unlike both those types of cars and the car's tube-frame construction rivals like the Radical SR8 and BAC Mono, however, the Vandal One was built to accommodate even plus-sized builds. Sutton claims even people weighing 280 pounds and standing six-foot-six can fit inside the car. (Having been shoehorned into the occasional track car in my life, the latter is the sort of claim this writer desperately hopes is true.)

The Vandal One chassis mule

The suspension, likewise, has been designed for the needs of the gentleman (and gentlewoman) racers and the compromises they struggle with. In order to keep the driver from scraping the nose too much, the suspension is designed to rise and fall when needed. While it rides with the nose a mere inch and a half off the ground and the tail two inches above the pavement in Race mode, the pushrods can be hydraulically lifted to provide a street-worthy five inches of clearance up front and 5.75 inches astern. The sway bars are also adjustable, as are the JRi dampers, enabling owners to play with the bump and rebound settings.

The Vandal One chassis mule

Building the car the way the company has, around its carbon fiber endoskeleton, also enables Vandal to change the body without affecting the car's suspension or powertrain. “We have a philosophy called 'obsolescence obsolete',” Sutton says. Putting it simply, it's a way of future-proofing the design; new body panels can be affixed to the chassis in the future, changing the look of the car in ways drastic or subtle.

“We didn’t want a car the owner wouldn’t still be proud of 10 years down the road,” he says. “This way, you can have that track car for life.”

The Vandal One chassis mule

Keeping well-heeled, easily-distracted track car owners interested over that time takes more than just new sheetmetal (so to speak) every so often. In order to help drivers gamify their track days, the Vandal One will pack a telematics system that scoops up data from the car's on-board sensors via two control units and dumps it to a cloud-based server via an integrated 4G modem. That enables real-time engine and chassis data to be viewed from the pits in real time; the data, Sutton says, could also be used for remote driver coaching. It can also play into owners' competitive natures, allowing them to share lap times as part of a friendly community of rivals—and, ideally, building buzz around the brand.

“We wanted owners to band together to take down track records across the US,” Sutton says.

Concept art of the Vandal Cloud-based telemetry app. Concept art of the Vandal Cloud-based telemetry app.

After around six months and 1,600 miles of chassis mule testing, the company is on the verge of bringing the car into the public eye. As of this article's publication, chassis development is almost complete; Sutton says pre-orders currently number in the single digits, but that's before much in the way of publicity, let alone a finished car. (The latter should show up in mid-April, Sutton says.)

If the Vandal One is your cup of tea, well, you'd better be prepared to fork over Porsche 911 money. The car starts at $119,700 before taxes; go wild with the options list, Sutton says, and you can push it close to $190,000. The order process starts with a $1,000 refundable deposit, just like Elon Musk did with the Tesla Model 3; once the order is locked in, the buyer makes periodic payments before they take delivery at the company's Detroit-area headquarters, where final assembly takes place.

The Vandal One chassis mule

Once Vandal Cars is over the hump of launching its first car, the carmaker doesn't seem to plan on sitting on its hands. Eventually, Sutton says, the company intends to sell the car as "turnkey-minus," much as Ariel does—complete except for an engine. (The HPD-tweaked version of the engine found in the read-to-roll car isn't road-legal...but we can think of a street-legal car with a very similar powerplant.) And, as the species name kind of gives away, the Vandal One will be just the first in a series of vehicles if all goes according to plan. Future cars, Sutton says, will likely have more than one seat, meaning the presumptive's Vandal Two moniker could refer to more than its spot in the company's history.

Tips? Comments? Questions? Contact the author: will@thedrive.com

2019 Nissan Maxima Platinum Review: A Surprisingly Nice Front-Wheel-Drive, 4-Door Gran Turismo

The 2019 Nissan Maxima Platinum, By the Numbers

  • Base Price (Price as Tested): $42,335 ($43,835)
  • Powertrain: 3.5-liter V-6, 300 horsepower, 261 pound-feet of torque; continuously-variable automatic; front-wheel-drive
  • EPA Fuel Economy: 20 mpg city, 30 mpg highway
  • 0-60 MPH: 5.8 seconds (Car and Driver testing)
  • Highway Range: 540 miles (based on 18-gallon fuel tank and 30 mpg highway fuel economy estimate)
  • Quick Take: Nissan's full-size sedan may be saddled with front-wheel-drive and a CVT, but it also delivers style (and a naturally-aspirated V-6) not often found in the segment anymore.

Back when it first appeared on the scene as a full-sized sedan in 1988, Nissan made a stink about calling the Maxima a "Four Door Sports Car"—even going so far as to slap stickers reading "4DSC" on the windows. Admittedly, even by the post-Malaise Era standards of the late Eighties, that was more marketing hype than factual statement. Front-wheel-drive has never been part of the sports car recipe, after all, and the Maxima has been routing power to the front axle for all but the first four years of its life—an era that started in Jimmy Carter's presidency, and concluded before Ronald Reagan's re-election.

Still, while it may not be the four-door Z Nissan wishes you thought it was, the Maxima's blend of size and sportiness has always helped it stand apart from the family car crowd. The Altima was the sedan for boring family folks; the Maxima was the fun one, with a bit more oomph under the hood and more joy in the suspension. It was the car you bought when your soul said M5, but your budget said Buick. (It was also the beneficiary of what your humble author still insists was the most rockin’ ad campaign of all time in fifth-gen form.)

That drift, tho

But in 2007, the front-drive handicap was joined by a second anchor weighing the car down: the dreaded continuously variable transmission, which replaced both the torque-converter slushbox and the stick shift that had been available on the car. Combine that with blobby, mid-Aughts styling, and the Maxima's appeal seemed to ebb by the day.

The 2016 model year, however, brought with it an all-new Maxima that seemed unashamed to embrace the more outgoing design cues in Nissan's DNA. The grille looked barely a generation removed from the GT-R's maw; the headlights and tail lamps wouldn't have looked out of place on a future Z; and the interior, in higher trims, looked every bit as put-together as the fashion plate Murano. Still, with full-size sedans at near-luxury price points no longer setting the world on fire, the Maxima has spent the last few years in relative exile in the corner of the Nissan dealership, waiting for those rare souls willing to drop roughly $40,000 on a car without a fancy badge, towering ride height, or all-wheel-drive. And when those folks wander by, will they wonder: Is there even a hint of sports car soul left in this big, cog-free car?

2018 Maxima pictured

The 2019 Nissan Maxima Platinum: Exterior

For the 2019 model year, the Maxima scored a mid-life facelift. Trouble is, you'd be hard-pressed to notice; the changes are basically impossible to spot, except perhaps to Maxima connoisseurs. (and do any of those exist anymore, now that the stick shift is gone?) It's a busy look, admittedly, but the general effect is pleasing to the eye. It's certainly aggressive, with an angry beak and a narrow gaze; think of a cartoon parrot saying, “Shit just got real,” and you’re there. It’s distinctive from the rest of the Nissan lineup while still being clearly part of the family—a trait more carmakers should shoot to master.

It's not without its issues, mind you. The awkward blacked-out trim on the C pillar— is harder to notice on a black car like my tester, though the thin strip of trim running along the bottoms of the doors still has an awkward kink downwards. Regardless, however, the flowing lines and angular details do a good job of cloaking the car's size. While it's even longer than a Honda Accord, the wide hips and big, eye-grabbing face make it seem more tightly wired and well-proportioned. You might even say it makes it look a little like a four-door sports car.

The 2019 Nissan Maxima Platinum: Interior

Step inside, and the Maxima reveals a cabin that's a bit dated, but still plenty functional. Between the the control surfaces and the way the panels all seem to curl around the left-front seat, the driver's area does a good job establishing that “cockpit-esque” feeling many automakers aim for without feeling claustrophobic. The driver-canted dashboard and center console place everything within easy view and reach—except for the control knob for the infotainment system, which seems to have been designed for a species that has an extra hand where humans have elbows. (Luckily, the infotainment screen is both touch-sensitive and located at the ideal distance for tapping, making the knob redundant.) Special mention should be reserved for the steering wheel that sits front and center in the driver's world: It's a delight to hold, with perfect nests for your thumbs at 9 and 3 and a satisfying thickness to the rim. (Paddle shifters would have been nice, giving the car's sporting affectation, but they're reserved for the SR trim.)

The black-and-tan interior trim, which Nissan formally calls "Rakuda Tan Semi-Aniline Leather with Leather Inserts" but Mike Spinelli described appreciatively as “peanut butter and chocolate guts,” look really good, especially with Platinum’s quilted leather on the seats. Those seats are part of what Nissan describes as its "Zero Gravity" line of thrones, and they live up to the NASA-inspired hype; between the soft leather and the supportive padding, they feel comfortable enough to make your bladder, not your butt, the deciding factor on when to stop on a long road trip.

Look a little harder, and some of the interior choices start to reveal weaknesses—mostly related to cost. Much of the "metal" trim is plastic, as is the shiny "piano black" surround framing the infotainment area and center console. The buttons scattered off out of sight to the left of the steering wheel by the driver's knee are cheap to the touch, not that you'll be touching them very much, considering the only way to reliably hit them is by either groping blindly or trying to bend your head awkwardly around the wheel. (Which wouldn't be much of an issue if they controlled features most people rarely use, but instead, they're in charge of frequently-accessed functions like the heated steering wheel and trunk opener.)

It's reasonably roomy inside, as well. The back seat might not be Rolls-Royce roomy, but there was enough room behind my long legs to fit an average-sized adult. And should you slide four people into the cabin simultaneously, 14.3 cubic feet of cargo space in the aft compartment works out to a 100-liter duffel bag for each occupant in the trunk with a little room to spare.

2019 Nissan Maxima Platinum: The Drive

In spite of what would seem to be the myriad compromises baked into its construction—not just the aforementioned drivetrain issues, but also the fact that it's based on a Renault-Nissan architecture dating back more than a decade and shared with the likes of the Pathfinder and Infiniti QX60—the Maxima comports itself well in enthusiast hands on public roads. The gearbox transmission proves itself surprisingly responsive; it never feels laggy, and rarely suffers from the elastic throttle response common to many cars stuck with the belt-driven interface between engine and wheels. That's not to say a well-calibrated six- or eight-speed automatic wouldn't be superior, but this Nissan's driveline is certainly one of the least-objectionable CVT setups out there.

The transmission's reasonable nature is, no doubt, in part a result of the engine it's connected to: the venerable Nissan VQ35DE, a naturally-aspirated V-6 that's been kicking around in various states of tune for years. The power delivery is nowhere near brutal or surprising, the way downsized forced induction motors often are; instead, it doles out the power in a steady climb, every few hundred rpm adding a bit more urgency to the acceleration. Not only do the 300 ponies only arrive at 6,400 rpm—just a couple hundred shy of the fuel cutoff—but the 261 pound-feet don't all show up until 4,400 rpm. It may not make for afterburner-like acceleration, but it certainly makes it easier for the driver to dial in just as much go-fast as he or she wants, even in spite of the variable transmission.

While the front-wheel-drive layout means it probably wouldn't be the sort of car you'd have much fun pushing to 10/10ths on a track, it works just fine elsewhere. At the sorts of speeds and levels of engagement you're apt to encounter in the real world—even on the highways of the Tri-State Area late at night, when the broken heroes on their last-chance power drives often drive close to double the speed limit—it’s pleasant to drive; it's nimble and fast enough to get out of other cars’ way with ease, whether it's the one doing the passing or diving out the way of faster traffic.

In Conclusion

If nothing else, Nissan deserves credit for keeping the Maxima around in the face of declining sedan sales and internal competition, both from crossovers and other sedans. (Not only does the new 2019 Altima offer its own luxurious Platinum trim at a lower price point, but it actually has more passenger volume, more cargo capacity, and its turbocharged inline-four delivers more torque.) As such, sales have slipped; last year's tally of 42,337 units moved in America was down 37 percent over 2017, coming in at roughly 50 percent the sales of the slightly more expensive Murano that occupies a similar style-over-substance role on the SUV side of the carmaker's lineup.

Yet it endures—not as a sport sedan, but as a surprisingly engaging road tripper for drivers who want a little more character than average from their ride. Those 4DSC decals are long gone, but should Nissan ever feel compelled to slap an abbreviation on the Maxima's windows again, 4DGT ones wouldn't be a bad replacement.

We Talked to the Insane Ohio Ford Dealership Now Selling 725-HP F-150s for $39,995

It's not hard to argue that the F-150 and Mustang, respectively, are the heart and soul of Ford's lineup. The Mustang serves the latter, a manifestation of the spirit of the Detroit-based carmaker's 100-plus years of bringing freedom and speed to the masses; the F-150 is the former, its colossal sales serving as the pump that keeps life-giving money flowing even as it serves the needs and desires of millions of Americans, earning FoMoCo a place of honor in the owners' own hearts.

But the Mustang and F-150 share a few other characteristics beyond the cursive-script badge on their noses. Both come with two doors and rear-wheel-drive—at least, in the case of cheaper F-Series trucks. As of the 2019 model year, they both offer a 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V-8 and a 10-speed automatic transmission on the options list. And, as of the 2019 calendar year, you can buy supercharged versions of both packing north of 700 horsepower from Lebanon Ford Performance of Lebanon, Ohio. More specifically: You can now buy a supercharged F-150 packing as much as 725 horsepower for as little as $39,995.

“We’ve built a handful of supercharged trucks in the past,” Josh Hipp, performance director at Lebanon Ford Performance, told The Drive. “[But] this will be the first time we’re targeting people who want to buy a supercharged truck...and take it home.”

As with LFP's bargain blown Mustangs, that eye-catching price applies under very specific circumstances. In the case of the F-150s, Hipp said, that $39,995 pricetag applies to a two-wheel-drive 2019 Ford F-150 XL with a regular cab, the shorter 6.5-foot bed, and the XL Sport Appearance package. Should you want your supercharged F-Series with some of the options that make today's pickup trucks so versatile (and expensive), you'll have to pay a little more. That said, Hipp said the shop will be more than happy to throw your choice of blower under the hood of any 5.0-liter-powered F-150 you buy or bring in.

“I fully expect most people to go to a four-wheel-drive, or a crew cab,” he said.

Buyers can choose from a trio of different superchargers for their money: a Roush R2650 that dials up power at the crank to a claimed 650 hp and 610 pound-feet of torque; a ProCharger Stage II with P1X head unit upgrade that makes 650 ponies; and a 2.9-liter monster of a Whipple that cranks out the headline-making 725 hp, along with 675 lb-ft. (Those seeking security from their supercharged truck builds, take note—the Roush unit comes with a three-year/36,000-mile warranty as standard, while the same warranty will cost you an extra $995 on the other two units.)

And, like LFP's Mustangs, that's it. The five-bucks-less-than-$40K figure is for a straightforward power grab; no added performance mods, just a whole bunch of forced-induction power. Should you want more from your F-150, though, the dealership says it'll be happy to work with you to add on other go-fast goodies—from a performance suspension to sticky drag-ready radials. And that's not as uncommon as some might think.

“I’ve seen trucks already into the nines on the track,” Hipp said.

According to Hipp, Lebanon Ford opened the order books for its supercharged F-150s on February 1st, and the company already has multiple orders in the works. Between the work and the line, buyers should expect it to take about four to six weeks for LFP to turn the truck around. Should you want the $39,995 model, however, Hipp says you can expect to wait a little longer; considering the rarity of 2WD regular cab XL F-150s with the Sport Appearance Package floating around dealer lots, any of those bargain-basement models will likely need to be special-ordered from Ford, adding another eight to 10 weeks to the wait.

Oh, and one more thing: Don't call it a Lightning. While other dealerships and custom shops have been slapping together sport trucks designed as homages and tributes to Ford's 360-hp sport truck of the late Nineties (and its less-beloved 240-hp predecessor), Hipp says LFP is explicitly avoiding attempts to cash in on the nostalgia for the supercharged Stepside. If you want to slap SVT decals on the bed of your 725-hp F-150, you'll have to do that yourself.

Texas Lawmaker Wants to Get Rid of Front License Plates—But Only for Fancy Cars

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others" might be a thinly veiled stab at the hypocrisy of Stalinism, but it also does a halfway decent job of describing Texas state representative Ken King's recently-introduced bill seeking to modify the Lone Star state's vehicular registration requirements. All passenger cars are equal, it argues, but when it comes to having to wear front license plates, some are more equal than others.

Texas House Bill 673, which was filed on January 7th, 2019 by Rep. King of Canada, Texas and recently brought to light via Reddit, seeks to amend the state's transportation code to the following: "A person commits an offense if the person operates on a public highway during a registration period a road tractor, a motorcycle, a trailer, a semitrailer, or a luxury passenger car that does not display a license plate [in front]." (Emphasis added by The Drive for effect.)

The bill goes on to add that, for the purposes of the law, "luxury passenger car" refers to "a passenger car that has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of at least $60,000 for a baseline model."

Currently, Texas is one of 31 states that require license plates on both the front and rear of passenger vehicles. The state briefly had no penalty for driving without a front plate due to the accidental removal of a portion, but as of September 2013, the law imposes a fine of up to $200 on anyone caught without a plate on the front of their vehicle.

Now, if you're like your humble author, you might immediately ask, "What sort of Corvette do you think this Texas state representative drives?" But you, like me, would be jumping to conclusions based on unfair stereotypes. King, it seems, is merely concerned with Corvette owners.

"People who purchase cars like a Corvette, for instance, a Corvette doesn’t come with a front license plate bracket," King told Ken Herman of The Austin American-Statesman. "And, you know, when people buy those cars, they don’t particularly want to drill a hole in their brand new car’s bumper.”

It took far less time than you'd think to find a picture of Rep. King in a Corvette.

King told Herman that HB 673 was inspired by "one of my constituents and a supporter...(who) has a number of cars, and he frankly doesn’t want to have to put a front license plate on."

When Herman asked King the obvious question—"Why not exempt everybody? Why just rich people?"—the Texas legislator, whose website also describes him as president of an oil rig product supplier called Black Gold Pump and Supply, Inc, proceeded to demonstrate an astounding lack of understanding about how much new vehicles cost.

"It's not a rich people bill. Almost every car costs $60,000 anymore," King said, "particularly a sports car."

(The average U.S. new car transaction price in January 2019 was $37,149, according to Kelley Blue Book, while the average new sports car price was $34,996.)

According to a 2012 study conducted, slightly ironically, by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, having both front and rear license plates is a boon to many governmental needs surrounding cars, including traffic enforcement, tolling, and policing. Among the examples cited: 23 percent of toll violations in Virginia had to be thrown out because a lack of a front plate made identifying the vehicle impossible; vehicle identification directly based on front plates was responsible for approximately $45,000 of parking revenue at Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport; and field studies found that license plate reading was 21 percent more effective with parked cars and approximately 49 percent more effective with moving vehicles in two-plate states.

We'll leave the opinions about whether cars should be saddled with front license plates to the comments section—that said but we would like to to conclude by pointing something out to Representative King. The Chevrolet Corvette you cite as the sort of car that should be from the blemish of a Lone Star plate? It has a starting MSRP of $55,900. Which means, by your own bill's definition, your 'Vette-driving voters will still have to screw a rectangle onto the front of their cars.