Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What the Heck Happened?

Well after coming back from the Detroit Auto Show, I got re-assigned from Pickup-Drop-off duty to title running. I now almost exclusively am driving a dedicated title run car. I'll review it, but there's not much to say.

2006 Toyota Camry LE: I'm surprised by the power you can wring out of the inline four VVTi engine. No, it's not crazy fast, but it was clearly designed to have "enough" power for normal traffic. At the same time this "just enough" pervades the rest of the car. The seat is "Just Enough"; not super comfortable, but not really uncomfortable. The steering is "Just Enough"; not an overwhelming effort, but also not super communicative. The interior design and amenities are "Just Enough"; power lower seat, but manual seat back, tilt wheel, but no telescoping. The transmission is "Just Enough"; it shifts OK and is five speeds, but it's slow to respond and never feels like it wants to work with you. It's not bad, It's pushing 200,000 miles of constant use and is going strong, but it's also nothing special. Cars like this make people who don't care about cars.

I THINK this is a picture of the Camry, it's the right color anyways.

So since I don't get to drive lots of diffrent cars anymore, there's not a lot to review.

Oh yea, I also have a job working for the 24 Hours of Lemons now. I'll be working every race east of the Mississippi in 2013! So I guess I'll cover that. As for the Car? It's coming along. Hopefully it will be making its debut at The Cure For Gingervitis, April 19 - 21 at GingerMan Raceway.

It has body panels again!


Sunday, January 27, 2013

2013 Detroit Auto Show

Every year the Northeast Ohio chapter of the BMW Car Club charters a bus and heads up to Detroit for the  North American International Autoshow. If you don't know, that's the fancy name for the Detroit Auto Show, the big one. Having been driving cars regularly now as my day job, the whole jumping in and out of cars has lost a bit of it's luster since I've been in most of these cars, and half of the ones I haven't been in are locked anyways. There were however some things I noticed while walking the big hall surrounded by the sum total of the whole auto industry.


1. The Tail Gunner Seat is alive and well in the Mercedes E class wagon!

Puke bucket sold separately.

You remember it from childhood in your parents 70's and 80's station wagon of choice; the motion sickness, the fact that you were out of your parents sight and reach, and the many faces you made at the drivers behind you. With the rise of the SUV and the dreaded CUV the Tail Gunner has been replaced with the Third Row Bench, which at the best of times could accommodate your average ectomorph child, and more often than not only accommodates those children who lost their legs in the great Child Wars of the early 2000's. 
Saddest GI-Joe ever.
But here in the E-class, leg room is king. Sure there's nowhere to put anything with the seats in use, but really most third row seats leave you little to no space either. More importantly, if a whole generation of kids grows up without experiencing the sheer terror of seeing a semi your dad just cut off slam to a halt less than an inch from the tail gate, then we as a whole will be a weaker people.

2. 19" is becoming the new standard

Want a basic fun car? Want it to be nicer than the bone stock model? Want to have to spend almost $1,000 when it comes time for a new set of tires? Well GOOD NEWS!!! The most common wheel size at the show this year was 19 inches. Yes you too can fear every pothole in style. You too can experience the bone jarring misery of the thin sidewall. And best of all, Car and Driver recently did a test that shows that once you go past 17" you actually start sacrificing performance. Why? Because a giant rim weighs a lot and you really do need some sidewall to help the suspension do its job of absorbing bumps and getting you around corners. The only reason you would go this large is to fit huge brakes in there, which on all the cars I looked at was not the case. But hey,on the plus side people with less money will wait until their tires are EVEN BALDER before replacing them since now it will be much harder for them to afford the tires.

3. BMW continues to imagine niches to fill

Folks who know me, know I'm one of the BMW enthusiast masses. I always had a predilection towards them, even as a little kid before I knew anything about driving. But, folks like me don't fill the pocket books of the family Quandt in Munich. So over the past 15 years BMW has gone from being a small performance sedan company, to becoming a trendy $500 pair of jeans with built in holes kind of STYLE company. 
Is that a store, or a closet? Who can say.

In order to do this they have confabulated such automotive genre as the "Sport Activity Vehicle" the "GT we swear it must be better than a wagon" and whatever the heck the X6 is supposed to be. 
Still explains Nothing.
Now those wacky Bavarians  have gone and entered the final stage of self consumption. I give you, the four door M6 Grand CoupĂ©.
In the fancy, it never looks clean, frost paint no less.
But hang on, you may be saying if you are in fact as insane as I am, "Isn't the M6 already a two door M5? And hey isn't coupe used to typically describe a two door car?" While both of these facts are true, and the exact kinds of rigid comfortable categories many come to expect from a German car manufacturer. These days however, comments like that would brand you as a fashonless troglodyte were you in the association of the current BMW target audience. So luckily now when you go car shopping in between your ski trip to aspen and your beach resort on the island of Anguilla, you don't have to feel the emasculating embarrassment of the filthy poor by being forced to choose between four doors and head room, and two doors and less headroom. And in that way, the world becomes just little bit better place.....

4. Porsches may be dangerous animals shaped like cars

This one is pretty self evident. You can't go inside them at a show, they try to only have as few of them as possible in one space, and some of them are in zoo like cages.
Please don't tap on the glass.
I always had a feeling these cars were trying to kill me when I drove them, I just had no idea it was true!

5. Ferrari has probably lost the point

For most of my life, seeing a Ferrari in person has always been kind of a special experience. They seem to exist in front of the foreground, they seem more real than the rest of reality around them. They are just built different; their paint is just a bit smoother and more brilliant than other cars, their window glass seems to have a slight internal luminosity, the body panels are precisely aligned in a way that your brain notices even if you can't quite put your finger on why. And oh that body; they look beautiful in photographs, all sensual curves and reflective contour lines no mater where the light hits it, but in person it's like how people in the older parts of the Bible must have felt when they saw angels (which happened a lot back then apparently.) It's goodness physically personified, seeing one just lifts your heavy mortal spirit, even for a moment. 

At least that's how it used to feel, right up until the new California:
Bleh...
And it just starts going downhill from there. The 458, the FF, things started looking, wrong. And then, this showed up at Detroit:
The new Toyota Supra Concept car?
It's the new F12berlinetta (yes its spelled that way with no space, I don't know why.) This is a car built by an aerodynamics computer, not a soul. It's a work of artifice, not of art. The glass is now dull, the curves now only a work of pure aerodynamic function. It looks like the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ's older, homelier sister. 
Hi boys, I just love Videogames, Beer, and Hot Sexy Chicks, tee-hee!
The Lexus LFA (the last one ever, also at the show, and you were even permitted to touch it with your filthy proletariat hands) has more feeling and soul than the F12berlinetta, and the LFA is a heartless robot. 
Bede,bede,be, I was designed by a committee,  bede, bede, be. 
Ferrari would point out how much the car borrows from the design of the Formula 1 car that really, every Ferrari buyer is subsidizing when they buy a Ferrari. And while that's cute and all, sacrificing beauty for performance, that would imply that the Ferrari Formula 1 car was, you know, a winner.
O Hai.

6. We are currently in a new golden age of automobiles

Aside from the Smart car space (why does it still live?) there were no genuinely crappy cars. Having grown up coming out of the malaise era of crappy, crappy american luxo-rubbish and cheap imports, now may be one of the bets times to be driving cars. From Kia to Jaguar, Chevy to Mercedes there is now a pervasive feeling of quality, sturdiness, and value virtually across the board. Granted yes now a cheap car is closer to $20,000 than it is to $10,000, but what you can get in in the $20,000 range would be a near supercar compared to the cars of even most of the 90's. Cars now on average all last well into the mid-100,000 mile range, (hell the Hyundai now has a 20 year, 200,000 mile power-train warranty!!!) And never has so little fuel given so much power; zero to 60 in under 10 seconds AND 30MPG is a fairly common thing these days. Just the fact that for $30,000 you can buy a car with over 400 Horsepower (that's less than $75/ horespower!) means it's a really great time to be driving. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Week of January 14th.

1/14/13

  • 2000 Dodge Durango: Firm and very truck like. You can tell this model is sitting on a truck frame.
  • 2005 Toyota Sienna: It's nice, but very heavy, you feel every pound of power door and entertainment system.
  • 2011 Cadillac CTS4: Great Build. Good Price. If the ATS is built this well Audi should be worried.

1/15/13

  • 2000 Ford F-350 V10: Not sure if V10 really adds more to this truck than the big V8 does.
  • 2009 Chevy Silverado 1500: Base truck is very trucky.

1/16/13

  • 2001 Honda Odyssey: This drives just like a bigger CRV or Element. Build is about on par too.

1/17/13

  • 2008 Chevy Impala LT: If you think you want a Camry you may want to look at one of these. By '08 these are just about equal. Chevy moving up, and Toyota moving down.
  • 2007 BMW X5 4.8i: The Ultimate Driving Machine......'s Fat Cousin.

1/18/13

  • 2010 Chrysler PT Cruiser: Drive is OK. Not a lot of power, but it doesn't drive clunky.
  • 2004 GMC Envoy SLT V8: A Trailblazer by any other name would drive as averagely. But nice seats. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Week of January 7th

1/7/13

  • 2010 Ram 1500:  New interior is leaps and bounds better than the old truck. Otherwise it's a truck.
  • 2005 Volvo XC90 AWD: Drives ok. Comfortable, but from the inside it feels Bigger outside.
  • 2010 Lexus ES 350: If your first priority in buying a car is how nice the interior is, this is your car.

1/8/13

  • 2010 Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0T: Power is much better in two wheel drive with the 2.0 Turbo engine. It drives well, but it's just too high.
  • 2004 Honda Element: Great cargo box, not so great to put people in the back what with no roll down windows or anything. Honda makes better trucks than cars these days.
  • 2010 Jaguar XF: Forget the ES 350, you want a GREAT interior get the XF, Huge slabs of real wood, leather everywhere, and it's damn fun to drive to boot. Look at one of these before buying a German.
  • 2005 AUDI A4 Cabrio 1.8T: Lots of cowl shudder, Engine is ok, but this is still just a slightly nicer Passat. 
  • 2003 GMC Sonoma: It's little, It's a Pickup, um.....yea.

1/9/13

  • 2004 BMW 530i Sport 6spd: At over 100,000 miles this car still drives like a dream. This may be a perfect car. It's a shame the new 5er isn't as fun to drive as this.
  • 2011 Toyota Prius: This car is just flat out cool and compitent. No it's not sporty, or cushy, but man this is what Toyota used to be about. 
  • 2005 Volkswagen Jetta 2.5 5spd: Great power with the 2.5 Inline-5. Exhaust tone is strange but not raspy. Cruising on the freeway at 3000 rpm however the exhaust note gets tiresome.
  • 2009 Toyota RAV-4 Sport: Lots of power but for no good reason. 
  • 2011 Toyota Prius: As cool as the instrument display is, I still don't like it in the middle of the dash so far away.
  • 2008 Chevy Impala: It's an average car for an average american. At this point i's basically on par with the Camry. Not sure who that's damming to more.

1/10/13

  • 2007 Kia Sedona LX: It's an ok minivan, no frills or fancy entertainment systems, but it will move 7 people around with minimal bitching.
  • 2006 Mazda 3 2.3: Zoom-Zoom! Fun and dynamic with lots of power for cheap! Also Mazda understands you pull BACK to Upshift!
  • 2011 Ford F250 Powerstroke Slam-Eagle: Every once in a while you come across somebodies  custom labor of love. Be it the bitchin van with the wizard fighting a robot dragon painted on the side and a built in water bed, or a Mustang tuned to an inch of it's life for the 1/4 mile, or in this case, a low profile towing rig pickup that has no pretension of being used anywhere the tarmac ends. All trucks for towing should be low like this. Drives great, and you don't need a drop hitch. 

That's as tall as you ever need to tow stuff.

Oh yea and wicked custom paint work UNDER the clear-coat helps too. 
This guy alone adds 200 pounds of towing capacity!
  • 2005 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder: It's nice to be reminded of what cars used to feel like all low to the ground and sporty. Sure this one had no power steering, but I needed the upper body workout.

1/11/13

  • 2004 Toyota 4-Runner V8: Taller and less solid feeling than the old blocky 4-Runner. Very thirsty. Still love the big, mitten workable climate controls though!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Week of December 31st

Well to my surprise there was actually work to do New Years Eve. So that's good.

12/31/12


  • 2010 Mazda CX-9 AWD: Great dynamic feel. AWD system is un-obtrusive and really solid. I'm really starting to take a like to this thing. I hate CUV's, but this is fun to drive. If I suddenly discovered I had 3-4 illegitimate children, this is the vehicle I'd buy.
  •  2010 Volkswagen Jetta TDi Cup Edition: More visual bark than performance bite. It's just a TDi version of the Jetta GLI with a big goofy front clip. It's still VW nice, but "Cup Edition" Just looks a bit silly.
Looks like the race car, If you squint.....

1/1/13

Office Chair Jousting, Yea, it's a thing!

1/2/13


  • 2002 Chevy Silverado 1500 w/20" Rims: Yea, somebody did this, and yea then we bought it. Ride was smoother than I expected, but braking was poor with the big heavy rims.
Luxury?
  • 2000 Ford Windstar: Has a very solid feel. Conveys strength and protection. Doesn't necessarily deliver mind you....
  • 2008 Nissan Altima 3.5 SE: These cars continue to impress, Great CVT, Great Engine, but steering is a bit light.
  • 2007 Dodge Nitro SLT 4x4: Even tighter than it's sibling Jeep. No shoulder or foot room. It's like they designed this thing to not be used.

1/3/13

  • 2009 Toyota Venza: Neat styling for a tall wagon CUV. Drives well and has good power. Really feels like it was designed by the group that did the Prius.
  • 2003 Honda Pilot: Smart storage layout, doesn't drive too tippy. This doesn't have that fake "Truck-ey" feeling many of these kinds of cars do.
  • 2011 Hyundai Sonata SE: Smooth, comfortable, with great interior design and trim. The back light (the rear window) has distortion dead center. 
  • 2008 Nissan Altima 3.5 SE: You just don't need the V6 with the Nissan CVT. Save the money.

1/4/13

  • 2009 Saturn Outlook: Build quality and design is on par with VW/Audi. You can defiantly tell that the latter saturns were pulled out of the European arm of GM.
  • 2007 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro: Engine has nowhere near the pull of the BMW 2.0 Turbo. Chassis is tight and fun to drive, like a sharper VW Passat. Not a whole lot of knee room though. But, I love the hard click of the buttons in the Audi.
  • 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser: It drives like a really top heavy Neon, which it is. The Retro interior has a good novelty factor, but overall it kinda looks like it was trying too hard. I will say though, Chryslers cheap interior materials don't seem so bad in the retro style. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Week of December 17 through the end of the year

It's the holidays, which means lazy car salesmen have given up for the year and I'm lucky if I even get called in for a full day of work. It's OK, I have a new arrangement with my Mortgage company that I can start paying in good intentions.

12/17/12

  • 2010 Subaru Forester: Steering is light and drifty on center so don't look away from the road on the freeway. Overall good feel and as usual great low center of gravity like all Subaru.
  • 2006 Lexus IS-250 Sedan: Good dynamics, but it just feels too small above the belt line and especially in the foot wells, How big is that transmission?
  • 2009 Saturn Outlook XE: Solid CUV feel. Ending Saturn was a bad choice.

12/18/12

  • Work? Hah nobody needs cars. 

12/19/12

  • 2009 Volkswagen CC Turbo 6spd (long trip): Great powertrain, good turn in, but controls are numb and pedals are skewed too far to the right. Great shiftier feel.

12/20/12

  • 2006 Dodge Ram 2500 w/Plow: Plows on the freeway are a pain. Overheating, horrible mileage  and boy do big bumps have new meaning when there's that much weight forward of the front bumper and nothing in the back.

12/21/12

  • 2010 Jeep Patriot: Too tight inside, brakes are needlessly stiff. This is just too primitive for its price.
  • 2000 Ford F-350 Lariat V10: This isn't a truck, it's a land borne tug boat!
  • 2006 Volkswagen Jetta 2.5: This is a really great simple small sedan. Get it as a stick and just drive it.

12/26/12

  • 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser: The novelty of these just doesn't seem to wear off. 
  • 2006 BMW X5 4.4i: It's big outside, but small inside. Not super great as far as AWD traction goes. Too reliant on the traction control to fake it.
Also just say no to soft touch plastic. Sure it looks nice in the show room, but it just doesn't hold up.

12/27/12

  • 2008 Chevy HHR: Great little hatchback. Doesn't try to be "retro" too much. Drives very well. If this is what Chevy needed to to do in order to make a nice 5 door then so be it. WAY better than the PT cruiser was.
  • 2009 Kia Borrego V6: A GREAT full size SUV that looks like, but isn't, a crossover. Stylish and comfortable, but not trying to be "Luxury" Kind of like what BMW used to do. If you can't bear to just get a great minivan, this is a good choice. Sadly it was sold here for only one year before being replaced with a CUV. http://www.edmunds.com/kia/borrego/

12/28/12

  • 2010 Ford Fusion SE: Fantastic sedan, comfortable, roomy, dynamic, the layout and interior design is top notch for it's class. Soft surfaces wherever your legs/arms rest. Sync controls are logical and smart. The steering wheel especially is well done, with radio/infotainment controls on the right (same hand you reach to the radio with.) and Cruse and dash info controls on the left. Also AUTOSTICK is the RIGHT WAY AROUND!!!! (Forward to Downshift, Back to Upshift, as Racing God intended.) More people need to love sport cloth seats; grabby, warm, and tough! And you don't need to feed them like leather.
  • 2009 Kia Borrego V6: Yes sometimes they sell that fast. When they are good,
  • 2009 Mazda CX-9: Responsive and well appointed, but still too tall, Autostick is the right way round.
  • 2005 Chevy Equinox LT: Sits tall, compromises interior quality to pay for the extra sheet metal, but hey, you aren't driving a wagon right......

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Week of December 10th

12/10/12

  • 2010 Ford Edge SEL: This thing is horrible, hard echoey interior, cheap seats, hideous seating position, tippy feeling. And it's big, yet my hair still hits the headliner, I can't believe they were making stuff like this up through 2010!
  • 2010 Ford Edge SEL AWD: Mielage is terrible at ~21MPG on the highway! For the price of this vehicle everyone involved should be ashamed. 

12/11/12

  • 2004 Jeep Liberty 3.7L: Very Jeep like. Feels offroader-ey, but still manageable on the road; as opposed to the wrangler.
  • 2007 Lincoln MKX: More money, but same crap fest as the EDGE.
  • 2004 Suazuki XL7 V6: Still a stout little frame on body truck. Aside from a half hearted attempt in the interior it isn't trying to be anything but a little offroader.
  • 2008 Chrysler Aspen: This tarted up Durango just makes no sense, it's still Dodge cheap inside.
  • 2004 Ford Taurus: Average, average power, average breaks, average handling for a family sedan. Just average. C-.

12/12/12

  • 2002 Nisan Maxima: These age out great and are really fun to drive. Great power, good steering response, but man they do not fit big Americans so great.

12/13 - 12/16

ROAD TRIP!!
I abandon my day job to jump in the GMC 2500 and roll out to Colorado to go get a friend's new racecar. 

Cleveland to Denver is 1,331 miles, over all, the trip with stops would take about 24 hrs. So it's up real early to get on the road.

Sadly due to weather concerns we took the open trailer. The land whale will be used soon enough. Crew Chief is ready and I'm ready!

Our first stop for the night was in Keamey Nebraska, I'd like to have something to say about it, but we got in at night and left early. 

Somewhere along the way I came along a vending machine that sells obvious.

Yea I fricking hope so! Your'e the Vend-it-HOT. Items should DEFIANTLY be HOT.
That possibly hot mess behind us, we continue on through out the day entering the dry scrub of western Nebraska and then south west into Colorado. Then something magic begins to happen. 


 Off in the distance the horizon begins separating from the clouds.


 Now almost two days into the trip, the Rocky Mountains loom into view.


By the time you get into the Denver suburbs you can see the snow caps and the sheer size of them starts to become apparent. Also by this time you are at over 5000' above sea level. the air is so delightfully crisp and thin, just like being in a plane.

We hit the hotel in town to dump our stuff then it's off to load the car.

It's name is now "Cheddar" because well, it looked more yellow in the pictures.
It's a First Generation RX-7 running SCCA E-Production. This is one of the top of the heap for full amateur closed wheel. Beyond this is GT category and the Pros.

That engine may look small, but it's a 2100 pound car and that Wankel Rotor engine puts out over 200hp with no turbos. 
You need a lot of Tach for a Rotor engine, they technically don't have a redline so much as a point at which the flame front can't complete the burn before it ends up kicked out the exhaust port.  Also note the dual EGT gauges, because these beasts make close to 1800 degrees in the exhaust. and it's a fine line between peak mixture and destructively lean.
Once the garage is emptied and the seller has his check we head out for some visiting with the chief's friends (the seller was one of them), and then it's well past time for bed.



In the morning there's a surprise out the window. The dark mountains that blocked out the sun so early the evening before are now glowing with golden hour morning sunlight.

Good morning massive mountain range!
After breakfast we check that we still have a racecar and then it's back on the road home.

Still there, Still, Cheese Colored.
We quickly rock through Nebraska and Iowa (75 MPH speed limit!) but by around Midnight it's time to stop and we end up in Davenport RIGHT on the Mississippi river. 

Did I mention it was RIGHT ON THE RIVER? 
The Blue arrow is where we stayed. the parking lot is maybe 12 feet above the river surface. The red arrow indicates the down hill road we had to use to get to the hotel, In the dark, late at night, after driving all day. We really hoped the brakes were in the mood to work.

Giant river tank with Giant local Mississippi river fish monsters. 
All the places we stayed were great, but the Holiday Inn Express here in Davenport was the nicest with some great folks at the counter, also it was like $75 for a double queen on no notice. SCORE!

video
Oh yea and they had a machine that poops pancakes.

After eating robot feces pancakes we check the car again and then it's off on the final run back to Ohio.

Lucky Old Man River didn't have a taste for cheese in the night. 

It goes all the way from up there, to down there.
At 7pm on Sunday we end up finally back in Cleveland to unload a shiny new present a week early. Four days, 2, 662 miles, way too much junk food, one actual meal, and back to work on Monday!

It's wet, but it's here!
Next step is to get it in a shop and get to work!!!