Saturday, May 9, 2015

Electric Bugaloo

One of the new assumptions regarding cars is that electric car drivers are Ed Bagely Jr types - baja hoodie wearing, PBS listening, quinoa shake drinking, feather-footed drivers.

Now with a handful of both full-electric and electric-hybrid cars on the market, that stereotype is being pushed out faster than the cool air in a BMW i8's turbo 3 cylinder.  There are actual, viable car options on the market for those searching for a way to save on gas and do less damage to the environment.  Maybe its the specter of never stopping at a 7-11 for gas or maybe its the idea of not contributing to the fracking of mother nature's every exposed crack, but nowadays, you can save both the world and your gas budget by simply choosing green.  I set off on my search for an electric bugaloo because my 62 mile daily commute gets pricey in my otherwise economical Acura.

First stop: Japan.  The Nissan Leaf, though it looks like a squashed frog, is electric powered and may work for the right owner.  The advertised electric range of the Leaf is 100 miles per full charge.  This means for me, that if I traveled to work, limited my errands throughout the day, and headed home, I'd never run out of juice.  And the Leaf costs the same as many other new cars a family man might want - around $23K.   I'd have to make sure I plugged it in every night and that there was ample wattage coming through the house but here's the deal: I'd save over $200 a month on gas by switching to a Leaf.

The only downside, and this is why there isn't a Leaf in my garage right now - the actual mileage is somewhere closer to 68-75 miles per charge.  For a city-dweller with a less lower-back damaging commute than mine this might work out great, especially if there are charge stations near their work. However for me, that lower range in driving creates a cringe in me known as "range anxiety."  I just can't bare the thought of running low on juice and instead of pulling off at any given stop or intersection and into a Maverick or 7-11 like a traditional driver, I'd have to hunt for a charging station and wait 4 hours for the charge to fill up my battery before getting home.  The Leaf is out, carried away on a fall breeze.

Up the market, and up the price index, is the hybrid electric, the Chevy Volt. The Volt has an electric engine that can charge the electric batteries and extend its driveable range.  The range more than doubles that of the Leaf - almost 350 miles!  Now, that range anxiety I had with the Leaf can be transferred to some other form of useless anxiety. I'm sure I'll come up with something.

The only downside to the Volt? Its up-market cost.  They sticker at around $33K, quite a bit more than the Leaf. Leases on the Volt range from $100 to $150 a month more than a Leaf.  Unless you were already in the market for a $420 a month lease, its hard to realize that extra damage per month as anything other than spending more green to look green.

Which brings us all the way up the market to the Tesla Model S.  Range anxiety? None. 300-400 miles per charge.  Full electric (no pesky gas stops like the Volt)? Yep.  Gorgeous to look at? Yep.  Room for the whole family? Seats 7, if you option it that way.  There is simply no better car for me and my family that would cost a whopping *0* at the gas station.
Here's a list of other lustful notables of the Tesla:

  • The floor is made up of batteries, lowering the center of gravity. This increases handling and     maneuverability to sports-car-like reflexes. 
  • A 19 inch screen controls all of the HVAC and accessory functions of the car, like a giant iPad.
  • The back hatch can serve as room for groceries or can be optioned as extra jump-seats for the
  • small humans that live with you.
  • Instant torque means you can launch the car through traffic holes by one simple squish of the gas pedal.
  • The door handles disappear flush into the doors.  Howard Hughes would piss a brick if he saw that (but then he'd keep that bring in a mason jar).

Now, get me $80K for one and we can live out all of our green fantasies.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Five Cars You Need to Own Before its Too Late

All hail the car.

All hail the drive.

All hail driving.  Amen. The Holy Trinity of getting out.

Since the dawn of time man has wanted to get up and get out.  "No more sitting around the cave, I'm a ramblin' man, Getrok. I've got to ramble on."
"I can't be tied down Getrok. I'm rambling on. All I need is this wheel, and this astray..."
The next 40,000 years was a slow relentless march towards the invention of the automobile.  We've prayed for it. Begged for it.  Tired endlessly after our inventions.  And brethren, we have reached the pinnacle of our achievements.  There is no better time to own a car therefore fulfilling our drive

There are so many cars to choose from on the market that the choices are borderline overwhelming. We've got classics that are restored to their former glory. We have new cars with gadgets and gizmos that don't even run on gas (gasp!).  Between all these choices, here are the five types of cars you need to own before its too late. Too late for what?  Mortgages. Small humanoids with features similar to your own. The Apocalypse. The atrophy of your muscles after binge-watching every possible series on Netflix.

1.  A rally-bred street car.  Picture yourself creating a tornado of dirt and dust as you rally down a winding mountain rode. Not willing to foot the bill to pay for your rally racing career? Fine. Off of the rally stage, own one of these because of their monster-slaying capability, their cornering grip and their laggy, thump-you-in-the-chest turbo power delivery.  Recommended car: 2004-2007 Subaru WRX STi.
See if you can pick yours up WITHOUT Cargo Shorts Joe here

2.  A mid-engine sports car.  There's something special and edifying about revving up the tachometer and hearing the engine growl behind your ears, not in front of your knees. At anywhere north of seven tenths of the car's limits you'll feel the  insta-grip and perma-connection to the road offered by placing the engine in the middle of the car.  The best part is while mid-engine madships are usually thought to be the realm of Ferrari and Lamborghini, you can own any of these three options and still feel the neutral balance of a mid-engine from the likes of a Lotus Elise, Porsche Boxster, or Toyota MR-2.

The gray squiggly lines behind the driver seat represent the engine. I think.

3.  A brawny V-8 powering the rear wheels. A few mad machines out there have V-8s powering the wrong set of wheels, but don't worry, if you bought one of those you're be too dead to read this anyway.  But the low end grunt, awesome tire shredding ability, and burn out inducing fun of a 350 (+) horsepower engine is more addicting that meth-laced chocolate pretzels. Recommended car: 2004 BMW M5, Ford Mustang GT 5.0, or any MB AMG.

The Germans. Smart.

4.  Any engine that revs above 7000rpm.  Doesn't matter what car; on the high end there's Audi R8s and Lambo Gallardos but on the low end an Integra Gt-r or Honda s2000 will give you a fit of the giggles when you keep the throttle pinned longer, longer, longer and still hold that gear, right up to north of 8000rpm. 
That car is cherry.
5.  A roadster or convertible. In the U.S., convertibles make up for 1/10th of all cars sold. So while you enter a new land of exclusivity, you also get to feel the wind in your hair, hear the sound of an unfiltered engine and feel the sunshine on your previously unbeknownst bald spot.  Seriously, live like a scene in a movie at least once in your life.  Try a Ford Mustang if you need someone in the back seat, an A4 if you'd like something more posh, or a Nissan 370z if you want a winning roadster.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Endless Winter Driving Tips

Hi Everybody. Been in a car accident this winter yet? No? Do you know your odds of vehicular mayhem increase by nearly 40% in the wintry months? Well, they do. (see references below)

If you haven't been in an accident, you must be doing something right. You must be one of the talent-laden, wise-minded individuals who have heeded the rules I am about to lay forth. If you are a driving savant, pass on your knowledge to someone else or just hand them your laptop so they can read this.

Winter Driving Rule #1 Just. Pay. Attention.  Think of winter as the pink goo in Ghostbusters 2. It amplifies whatever bad driving habits you have.  Consider winter driving your chance to address all of those habits. Spend the next 3 months battling those demons like Bill Murray battling some guy in a portrait so that when the spring thaw comes you're one of the rarified angels who focuses on the task of driving.

Rule #2 through #10  Increase your following distance.  The number one safety rule for being an active participant in this weird, sketchy social experiment called driving is not riding the bumper of the car in front of you.

Too close?

I can't emphasize this enough. Get off the ass of the guy in front of you.  Your stopping distance in light snow, slush, ice or even wet asphalt is decreased by as much as 30% depending on the grip of your tires and the conditions.

Raise your hand if you know what the safest standard following distance is:

These guys are using the Log Method...

Three seconds. Its three seconds.  Don't measure in logs. Measure in seconds.

Pick a landmark. A street sign, mile marker, or parked car will do. Watch as the car in front of you passes that landmark. Count "One EndlessDriveway, Two EndlessDriveway, Three EndlessDriveway," as you pass the same landmark.  Feel like doing something silly and being extra safe? Increase that distance on up to "Four EndlessDriveways" and throw up a middle finger in the air to death my motorized vehicle.

The biggest factors for not slamming into the car in front of you if they have an emergency stop are:
1) reaction time
2) braking distance.

We already talked about how to fix reaction time. Pay attention. Look forward.  Braking distance comes down to your car's condition and the road conditions.  Let's assume you are smart enough to keep healthy, inflated tires and strong brakes on your car.  As long as you're paying attention, your reaction time is pretty standard. There isn't much you can do to increase the speed at which your eyes see a problem, your brain tells your foot to brake and your foot hits the brake pedal.

"Go Lefty, Go! Wait. What are both you guys doing down there!? Great. We're dead. Idiots."
The safest way to insure your brain and foot have enough time to do their little 2 part tango is to ... what? oh, right. INCREASE YOUR FOLLOWING DISTANCE.

Guess what you should do if someone is too close behind you?

INCREASE YOUR FOLLOWING DISTANCE.  Sounds weird, but an extra buffer of space from the guy in front of you will help you in case of an emergency stop. Then you'll be less likely to be the auto-dominoes we saw earlier.

Guess what you do in heavy traffic?


Increase your following distance.
And that's it. In a nutshell: keep your eye on the road, consider the weather and other conditions and be careful, darn it. 

Thanks for reading. Now get off my ass.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Real-World Toyota Prius Driving

The Toyota Prius is regarded by hard-driving, road-loving, and fast-livin' car enthusiasts (hyphen enthusiasts as well) like me as the bane of automotive enjoyment. Everything about the car reeks of penny-pinching and bean-counting.  What's exciting about pinching pennies? When was the last time you went shopping, decided that the Nixon watch is just too expensive and walked away feeling euphoric?

Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid - Front Angle, 2013, 800x600, 1 of 33
"Nixon watch? But I'm not a d-bag security system salesman! What was I thinking!"

But driving a car that's meant to be driven quickly, that responds to your feathered touch on the throttle or minute input to the steering wheel - now that is fun.
And the Toyota Prius has long been considered, since its inception, as the anti-fun car.  It's just not in this car's ethos to frolic, play and giggle.

Well, this car lover and reviewer had the opportunity to drive a Prius for 5 days in all sorts of traffic, roads, conditions and moods.  And without too much of an oversell, I found quite a few surprises while driving this anti-fun car.

First of all, the fit and finish of this Toyota matches or beats any car in the $25,000 price range. It feels solid and well-made.  One might wonder with Toyota spending so much tech money on the insides of this car that they might skimp on the interior, but no. It is a nice place to be.  I've recently been in a 2013 Sonata and a Mazda6 and while the upper trim levels might secede the Prius, their entry level variants are beat by this dressed up hybrid.  The only negative aspect of the inside of the hybrid hatchback is the space-age attempts made by Toyota to cement their idea that you are driving a car from the future.

The future doesn't allow for making out with your copilot. There's a big piece of armrest blocking any attempts to make a move. Is it a way to save gas? No more red light loving while the engine idles. A lot less parking lot tomfoolery is the consequence of this ergonomic chaperone.

What's Japanese for "cock blocking drink holder?"
Other things to notice?  The hatchback that makes this car so handy and so slippery in the airstream puts a band of darkness in your rearview mirror.  All drivers behind you are suddenly headless due to 3 inches of dark metal and plastic. Its a distracting feature.

Some interior highlights include a really slick effect on the eco-system display unit that looks shockingly 3D and reminds this reviewer of scenes from Blade Runner. Boss.  Also, a standard touch screen unit inches away from the shift knob is easy to use, bright and clear.  HVAC controls are typical Toyota simple.  Under the A-pillar. in front of the side mirrors is a triangle window for easy views of...the side of the road? Anyway, its there. You should look through it at least once.

So enough of the niceties. Let's get to the impressions behind the wheel. "No reason to stand on ceremony, Mr. Prius."  Impressions. Bane behind the wheel? That's YouTube gold!

"The fire rises Mr Wayne. But of course, not in the normal sense you're thinking of! Its a shared power platform...electric and a small combustion.. oh forget it."
Steering feel: electrically assisted steering can feel like a video game at best and like you're washing a dish at the worst.  In the Prius its somewhere in the middle, but it doesn't exhibit any bad habits like not going where you point it.  The radius is tight and the car feels easy to maneuver at parking lot speeds or freeway adventures.

Acceleration: Ask any Miata MX-5 driver and he (ok, ok, SHE) will tell you that acceleration does not a sports car make. But it sure doesn't hurt. In the case of the Prius, I was expecting little to no movement when the accelerator was pressed. After all, we're talking about 134 horse power and 105 pound feet of torque - that's Russian 3 cylinder post-WWI power right there.  But I was pleasantly surprised by the power and take-off strength of this car.  You see, there's a little button on the dash labeled "power" and from that comes a few computerific changes that keep the CVT transmission at its peak power points and let's all the power fly to the road.  Off the line performance felt equal to 4-cylinder cars like 184 horsepower Mazda6s or 190 horsepower Accords.  Zero to 30 mph launches were capable of putting your shoulders back into the seat.  Over 70 mph or so and the power limits come into effect. Passing at freeway speeds takes consideration and planning but it is possible. I did not expect that.

Braking feel is essential for drivers operating at invigorating speeds in sports cars, or any car for that matter. The braking feel of the Prius just ... sucks. No reason to go into all the details, but the brakes are regenerative and give power back to the batteries and this gives the pedal a nonlinear feel that after 5 days, I was never used to. I either stopped too quickly or aggravatingly slow, but I never slowed down like I had planned to. Not once.

After keeping the Prius in Power Mode, watching the eco-meters dip into Kuwaiti oil field burning status, and blasting through traffic I was ready for low mpg numbers (in the low 20s would seem about right considering my lead foot).  But that was simply not the case - I was quite surprised that after 5 days of mixed city and highway driving, I recorded 46 mpgs. 

The best modern cars with comparable acceleration, features and size equipped with traditional gas engines can hope to achieve 36-40 mpgs.  Bumping up to another 10 to 20% in efficiency for a Prius may be worth it to you.  You'd have to get past some other compromises, like bad rear vantages and a transmission tunnel under your armpits, but that's where its your decision.  That gas mileage is hard to ignore and the driving experience isn't as bad as I had expected. Now if I can just get past the eco-douche vibe every Prius owner automatically gets, I'd buy one (only if I can uninstall the standard "Namaste" bumper sticker too).

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Why are Fast Cars Driven so Slow?

How many times have you seen this scenario?  You're driving down the interstate, in the left lane, enjoying your ability to cruise comfortably at a rapid pace.  You're noticing cars around, especially those that you are passing, when you notice a $60,000 Audi going 64 miles an hour in the middle lane.  The driver looks alert, focused and concentrated on the road.

In fact, it looks as if she is TRYING to go that speed.

My car, and nearly any car built in the last 10 years is capable of safely cruising at 80mph or more on the interstate. I am not advocating for breaking the posted speed limit, but well-kept cars can safely travel above 64mph. It has not always been that way.  Twenty years ago, my dad's Fiat felt like it was in the midst of an Cuisinart tornado at 35 miles an hour. The dash would rattle so bad that the I feared it would fly apart and smack me in the lips. 

So why is a 2011 Audi S4, stocked full of 333 horses, going 64 in a posted 75!?  These things are engineered on the autobahn for high speeds. Furthermore, the S4 is the supercharged souped-up cousin of the A4. If you are happy at 65mph, save $20,000 and buy an A4!  (and even that car is capable of safely exceeding 100 mph).

The same day I saw the lazy S4, I saw a Chevy Corvette ZR-1 going slower than any other car on the highway.  This car is capable of nearly supersonic speeds, costs $100,000, and creates more down force than the Hulk trying to pick up Thor's hammer.  (Down force creates higher levels of grip at higher speeds).

Who are these drivers? Why are they terrified of working out their vehicles like they were meant to be worked out? 

Here's my best guesses:

1) The driver has a radar detector and knows something we don't know. He's letting us breeze past him into the face of certain insurance-hike death.  However, when I pass these slow-pokes, I'm not getting sprung into the trap.  So that can't be it.
"Be honest, does this glove make me look too butch?"

2) Gas mileage. Going slower gets better gas mileage.  But when you spend $100 grand on a Corvette does saving 5% on fuel economy make a huge dent in your monthly bills?

If you Google D-bag and Corvette, this is the first thing that comes up.

3) The air of audacity. The look at me factor. These fellas just spent $800 last month to lease their A7 or 335i or is350, and darn it, the rest of us need to know about it! They drive slowly so that every sad sap in a Honda feels instantly envious and inadequate. "I'm sick of posting pictures of myself leaning on my car on Instagram and not getting any likes!  At 64 miles an hour, a thousand cars pass me every time I commute."

NO hands! Look! Please? Look?

Whatever the cause is, don't be this person. Don't be this driver. Don't be so dishonest with your car that you won't even let it do what it is made to do. We don't buy Golden Retrievers and lock them in sheds. Don't buy an A4 and refuse to go fast enough to illicit 5th gear.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Head vs. Heart - how to buy the right car

Like many decisions we make, buying a car can be both a rational decision from the brain and an emotional decision from the heart. I know that for me, when my head and heart are working in unison that I have made the best decision for me that I can. Is that why I'm eating two girl scout cookies mashed between a piece of nutella-soaked bread? Well, I guess I skipped my heart and head on that one and went with my gut.

Head vs Heart in the car world can lead you to make some tough, hand-wringing decisions. So here's a common hypothetical I'd like to pose. You need a new car.  You are looking for the most commonly purchased car - a sensible family car with room for five.  In addition, you would like a comfy back seat and you love the idea of looking like a retired gangster leisurely chewing up highway miles on a cushy suspension. Your heart wants this:

2013 Chrysler 300C
Salvatore Maranzano's car. Er, I mean Mr. Moran. From Arizona.
But your head talks you out of that Bavarian-sourced drive train and all-American good looks. "Its less reliable, Heart."  "It will be in the shop all the time and that V8 may sound like a Blitzkrieg, but think about your gas mileage."

Your head talks you into this:
Toyota Avazzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz-zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Here's another likely scenario.  Something has gone right in your life and you're ready for a sports car! Lucky you. Time to get some real driving pleasure and damned be the world if they can't get out your way fast enough.

Your heart yearns for the feminine curves, the sound and the Ferrari-shared drive train of this:

2008 Maserati Grandsport
Gob: "Its like my heart is getting hard, Michael."

But your head betrays your hardened heart. Talks you into spending less money. Something from the Land of the Rising Sun so its not in the shop all the time. So you end up with this:

2004 Honda Del Sol

Maybe the head vs heart battle royale is why we all end up with Civics and Camrys. The strain is just too much for us to bear. Maybe its why we never buy our dream Jaguar's, why Maserati's lose over 50% of their value in 5 year's time and why we all laughed when Lexus made a $330,000 supercar, the LFA.  We just couldn't reconcile the heady thoughts of a reliable Lexus with the heart-warming performance of a great looking supercar.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Soysauce Opinions - a young lad nails it with every car

Soysauce is a young kid I know. He's now 9 or 10 years old and full of gusto and car knowledge. He'll rattle off the name, intitials and letter designation of a one-off Italian supercar and then be perplexed when you have no idea what car he is talking about.  He'll add detail about the top speed and 0 to 60 time as well some basic facts about its weight and composite alluminum monocoque. He knows cars better than most adults, and I can't wait until he's tall enough to reach the pedals and steal, er, drive his first car.  Here is a recent conversation Soysauce and I had:

(see if you can guess what car he is talking about)

Soysauce: "I think it looks great! The headlights look like a Camaro's, the front end is looking more Italian and the back looks more rounded, like not as sharp of a drop as the old car."

If you guessed the new 2014 Corvette C7, then you are right!

The Vette looks great here, but this track looks suspiciously small
But look how right on Soysauce was with his description! This kid not only knows car data, he now can describe a car with better detail than most car journalists.

Here's his next synopsis:

"Its smaller than you would think from the pictures. Its actually kind of tiny, like a Miata. But I like the way it looks and no one has one!  And my Dad's friend let me sit in it!"

Not picture: a dime for scale
Andrew: "Was it a manual or paddle shifter?"

Soysauce: "Not a manual. It was an automatic. However those are safer because when you shift you don't have to take your hand off the wheel but I heard that manuals are more fun to drive so that's what I would get in my Subaru BRZ. Then I saw a Ferarri 458 Italia downtown today. It was bright white thats a nice color but if I had a Ferarri I would get it in red. They look best in red."

Andrew: "They don't offer the 458 in a manual you know.  Buyers don't want it. Can you believe a car company that caters to people who enjoy driving doesn't include a manual gear shift on its most popular model?!?"

Not pictured: A Ferrari 458's manhood

Soysauce: "Well, paddle shifters ARE safer." 

He's right. About all of it. Paddle shifters, Ferraris in red, Subaru BRZ's are small, and the Corvette C7 is one good looking American car.

Only one thing left to do now.  He's hired on. Its now called Endless Soysauce.