Through Ian's Lens: McLaren MP4-12C

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Almost 20 years after McLaren launched its first car, the elusive F1, the British automotive company that's best known for its racing technology is ready to release a second car, the MP4-12C. In 1993, the F1 was a stunning vehicle that turned heads with its center-mounted driver’s seat (flanked by recessed two passenger seats), gold-foil exhaust heat shield and carbon fiber monocoque chassis. With just over 100 vehicles built and only 64 vehicles sold, the F1 wasn't only a technological and engineering feat, it truly was a sight to see in real life. A few weeks ago, we were allowed a few minutes alone with the MP4-12C, and I just couldn’t pass up a chance to capture it.

By Ian Merritt | October 7, 2010 | Comments (5)

Through Ian's Lens: 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG vs. 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing

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What do you do when you're given access to the new 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG supercar for an afternoon of photography in Chicago? Well, I decided to pair it with one of the prettiest cars ever built, the 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing. How does the new SLS AMG compare to the classic Benz racecar design from the '50s? It holds its own. Barely.

Designed to be visually subtle, the SLS AMG can go unnoticed when parked or rolling by. The long hood and small gill-like vents are understated, and the car's rear design is quite unimpressive. Swooping taillights and remarkably small badges on the backside seem to almost be an afterthought, but they're small for a reason. The SLS doesn’t want to grab your attention until it’s ready. When you open the modern gull-wing doors, the interior's red leather and carbon fiber dash gleams in the sunlight; start the engine, and only then will everyone on the block want to know your name.

Aesthetically, the SLS AMG is a subtle tip of the cap to the 300 SL, and for the most part, the SLS stands on its own design merits. Those merits just happen to be inside the car, under the hood and bellowing out the exhaust pipes when you lay on the gas.

Click on any photo below to bring up a larger photo gallery you can browse.
By Ian Merritt | September 15, 2010 | Comments (33)

2010 Audi R8 Spyder: Through Ian's Lens

If you were an automobile manufacturer and you wanted to restyle your most outstanding, most head-snapping sports coupe supercar, where would you start?
 
If you're Audi and you're talking about the R8 sports coupe, you would start by offering a different engine to enhance the driving and performance of the car, and then you would chop off the top and make it a roadster. Sigh … making pretty cars prettier is a tough job, but someone has to do it.
 
At the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show, the 2010 Audi R8 Spyder was on display, and after day two, journalists were still lined up to gawk and take a seat in it. Although the car looks almost identical (sans metal roof) to the coupe, gone are the gaudy carbon fiber-esque "blades" (Audi's word for the body panels, not mine) from around the rear tire intake vents. I may have praised the carbon fiber panels when the R8 was revealed a few years back, but as a design element, the look has grown sour after repeated viewing. The R8 Spyder now feels and looks more fluid from nose to tail, as uninterrupted painted body panels complete the profile between the two axles.
 
Even if you remove the show lighting and the paid model, the R8 Spyder shines with class, and its wide low stance screams "winding road destroyer." The car does have one flaw: By removing the roof, Audi has put a deck cover on the back of the car that is not see-through. Gone is the view of the gorgeous engine in all its carbon fiber splendor. But hey, one negative in a sea of positives can't be that bad, right?
 
As one might suspect, I have an affinity for red cars on show floors under bright white lights. If anyone needs me, I'll be here in Chicago chewing on my fingernails waiting for the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January. Not many people would admit to that. Check out the full-screen player below.
By Ian Merritt | December 18, 2009 | Comments (11)

2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG: Through Ian's Lens

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The design team at Mercedes-Benz might have some of the most challenging jobs in the car industry. Imagine working in an environment where materials, ideas and money are no object, and add to that the weight of working for a company with more than 100 years of innovative car designs. That's a lot of pressure. With the new 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, Mercedes’ designers have overcome that pressure to create one of the sleekest, most stylized cars on the road.
 
The SLS AMG is a nod to the Mercedes supercars of yore, specifically the 300SL gull-wing coupe. While the 300 SL’s shark-like intakes and front grille have been re-envisioned for 2010, Mercedes has also updated the curviness of the 1950s’ coupe with aerodynamic front fenders, a low rear diffuser and a somewhat rounded rear end.

The highlight of the new SLS has to be the updated inclusion of the iconic gull-wing doors. It's a stunning “tip-of-the-cap” design element that shows Mercedes is pushing the envelope without losing what’s truly cool about the historic car company's past.
 
With such an attention-attracting exterior, I expected the SLS's interior to be more extravagant. In all honesty, the interior is comfortable and quite plain but with high-end materials. Mercedes doesn't want you to forget that this car should really be driven on the racetrack and not used for picking your kids up at the mall. However you slice it, there is nothing about the SLS that would make me want to return it to the dealer.
 
The photos are from the 2009 L.A. Auto Show where I wish I’d spent some time driving the SLS, not just drooling on it. Check out the full-screen player below.
By Ian Merritt | December 10, 2009 | Comments (4)

2010 Lincoln MKT EcoBoost: Through Ian's Lens

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The 2010 Lincoln MKT is the most unique-looking vehicle rolling off dealer lots this year. I base this on its defining feature: the grille. There’s not another car — excluding trucks, exotics and kit cars — on the road today with this distinctive grille. From the front, the MKT looks like it’s out to get you. It’s going to swallow you like a whale swallows seawater, and then it will strain you through its baleen-styled grille vents. The MKT will swallow every car on the road. At least that's what I think the MKT's intentions are when I see one on the streets.

In reality, the MKT is Lincoln’s version of the Ford Flex. From the exterior, the two vehicles could not be more different. While the Flex resembles a creased, flattened top hat, the MKT looks like an angry hearse (in a good way). The front fenders are slightly curved and sleek-looking against the wide, multi-slotted grille. Just above the grille, eye-shaped headlights complete the ferocious expression. In the back, a sloped hatch gives the MKT a distinct rear end, while the taillights stretch the crossover’s width to meet at the Lincoln crosshair badge in the center of the liftgate.

From the illuminated instrument panel to the stitched leather on the dash to the two sunroofs above the three rows of seats, the MKT uses lots of aesthetically pleasing materials and designs in the interior. All of these pieces help create a sense of class without being too over the top. Plus, it really looks mean in black. Really mean. Check out the full-screen player after the jump.
By Ian Merritt | November 12, 2009 | Comments (5)

2010 Aston Martin DBS Volante: Through Ian's Lens

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The first name most people associate with Aston Martin is that of a famous secret agent who drives these cars in hard-to-reach locations. What the public always forgets is this man inevitably destroys the Aston Martins only after voiding the warrantees by mounting aftermarket rocket launchers, oil slicks, ejection seats and machine guns to the prestigious British automobile. If you ask me, Aston Martin could save some PR money by spreading car parts across the countryside somewhere and placing a sign that reads, "James was here."

Do you know what else equals cheap publicity? Allowing a 31-year-old automotive photographer to snap some pictures of a 2010 Aston Martin DBS Volante in the rain. As a stickler for pristine weather conditions when photographing cars, I politely declined. Yeah, right.

The 2010 Aston Martin DBS Volante is one of the more aesthetically pleasing exotic cars on the market today. Instead of the Lamborghini creased-angled-wedge look (which is as boring as Porsche’s designs), Aston Martin keeps the DBS sleek and wide with rounded features in the four corners accentuated by its headlights and taillights. The DBS keeps it classy by adding highlights of carbon fiber on the chin spoiler, rear bumper and in various places along the interior. Luxurious leather, metal trims and refined plastic finish off the comfortable cabin. From the front, the hood vents are one of the prettiest components of the DBS’ 6.0-liter V-12 engine. The car’s overall design is tied together nicely by the sleek hips of each wheel well and fender. From the profile, this car wants to cruise at high speeds.

As the photos prove, the autumn rain did not stop me from snapping away with my camera. It just quickened my pace! Check out the full-screen player after the jump.
By Ian Merritt | November 9, 2009 | Comments (2)

2009 Nissan 370Z Nismo: Through Ian's Lens

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At the 2009 New York auto show, I featured the soft-top roadster version of the newly redesigned Nissan 370Z in a Through Ian's Lens post. How could I pass up the chance to show off the same car with a hardtop, whale-tail spoiler, Nismo badge and — above all else — in candy apple red? It's too delicious.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Z.  In those 40 years Nissan (and Datsun) hasn't lost sight that this car is 1) about the driving experience and 2) about how awesome you look experiencing the driving. The newest edition delivers on both points. In spades. Did I mention that our test car was in candy apple red? I'll let my photos do the talking. Check out the full-screen player after the jump.
By Ian Merritt | November 6, 2009 | Comments (3)

2010 Mercedes-Benz E550: Through Ian's Lens

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One of my childhood memories is sitting on the front-seat armrest of my grandfather's early 1980s’ Mercedes-Benz 240D while he drove me and my brother around the flat farmlands of southern Minnesota. Sometimes we’d run errands and sometimes we went just to go for a drive. With the smell of the leather interior in our noses and the comforting clatter of the diesel engine in our ears, my brother and I knew we were riding in something special.

That “Something Special” legacy continues at Mercedes-Benz for 2010. Taking design cues from the smaller C-Class and larger S-Class, the completely redesigned 2010 E-Class combines a fierce front with sleek hard lines throughout the hood, grille, headlights and fenders. It's an aggressive new stance for a model that has felt middle-of-the-road for the past 15 years. Mainstay design elements are prevalent on the E-Class with the dual headlamps on either side of the nose and stacked indicator/reverse lights/brake lights on the rear. In profile, the E-Class carries its major design lines in a slow crease that swoops along the body panels from the top of the front wheel well to the top of the taillight.

When you see it on the street, this new E-Class will definitely stand out against its competitors. Check out the full-screen player after the jump.
By Ian Merritt | October 29, 2009 | Comments (4)

2010 Tesla Roadster: Through Ian's Lens

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Nikola Tesla is best remembered for being at the forefront of electrical engineering at the turn of the 20th century. Forget the cheesy early 1990s hair-metal music references, Tesla was a groundbreaking inventor who helped create the alternating-current electric power system, and he’s also one of the first pioneers of wireless communication, more commonly known as the modern radio. His mark on modern science is indelible and indisputable. What a perfect name for an electric car company.

The 2010 Tesla Roadster’s body design is based on the Lotus Elise with a couple of unique differences. To offset the electric engine and drivetrain weight, Tesla uses carbon fiber body panels wrapped around an aluminum frame. My favorite angle of the Tesla Roadster is its profile because it reminds me of the new Ferrari California with inklings of Ford GT and even some slight Porsche lines.

Besides the lines and interior of the Roadster, the logo and badge designs are gorgeous pieces unto themselves. Tesla spared no expense when designing a brand that will hopefully be around for a long while. Check out more photos below and an interview with the owner of this beauty here

By Ian Merritt | September 10, 2009 | Comments (1)

Through Ian's Lens: 2009 BMW Z4

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When I was 8, I wanted the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. When I turned 14, any Lamborghini would have done. Now, as I slide ever closer to 35, the perfect second car for my family must fit my current set of “midlife” needs. The prerequisites? This car must be nimble and powerful, have four to six cylinders, two seats, cargo space for suitcases and camera bags, and it must look aesthetically refreshing yet classically stylish. A tall order? Maybe...

Enter the completely redesigned 2009 BMW Z4. It may not be my absolute dream car, but it comes as close as any luxury-priced modern roadster can. With a completely new look, the ‘09 Z4 announces its presence quickly with an elongated nose that gives the new Z4 the powerful stance of a performance coupe rather than a roofless roadster. Coupled with this pronounced snout is a flawlessly designed retractable hardtop that’s hidden (when down) by a raised rear end above twin tailpipes under a slight bumper. All these design cues are leaps and bounds from the previous design, which left a lot to be desired aesthetically (and don’t get me started on how ugly the soft-top was on the roadster).

The Z4 can now be called a gracefully balanced car from bumper to bumper. My favorite angle? The profile. From the side, you can see just how perfectly weighted the car really is. And let’s be honest, it would totally look sweet in the garage next to my station wagon. Unless it were white. I’d probably bring it back to the dealer if it were white.

By Ian Merritt | August 24, 2009 | Comments (1)

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