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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Quick Spin: Chevy Camaro

This time we take a quick spin of the 2010 Chevy Camaro with Robert Mullings, another avid auto enthusiast friend of mine. Brother to David Mullings, check out their website Realvibes.net


2010 Chevy Camaro SS


As of late, Chevrolet was not known for making cars that could evoke any sense of emotion [Other than the Corvette: Ed]. They simply made cars for basic transportation with as much cheap plastic as possible. You didn't buy a Chevy because you wanted to, moreso for the great deal you got. But that has now changed. Recently I was invited to test-drive the New Chevy Camaro. This car was the change that GM has needed to inject a dose of excitement into its lineup and from first sight this car had me. I couldn't believe I was taking double and triple looks at a Chevy product. This car is what I think a muscle car should look like in the 21st century. The model I was offered to drive was a brilliant green color with black racing stripes and is the SS edition which comes with a 426 hp 6.2 liter LS3 V8. So far so good on the outside, let's just hope I wouldn't be let down once I got inside. They offered me the option of a manual or auto (the automatic transmission is powered by the L99 6.2 V8 with 400hp), I choose manual [But of course: Ed]. I got in and right away was greeted by acres of plastic trim, but it didn't feel cheap. Some thought and effort was definitely put in to the use and look of it all. I started the car and the rumble of the exhaust immediately threw out the window any issues I previously had with GM. I adjusted the power leather seats (which were remarkably comfortable) pressed in the clutch and shifted into first gear with ease. Light clutch takeup, this was impressive. Most cars with that kind of power has a heavy clutches that would fatigue the casual driver in any kind of South Florida traffic, but the Camaro didn't have that feel and the shifter felt short and precise. I tapped the gas and the engine revved effortlessly, both of us (GM test driver and I) start smiling). We looked at each other and knew this was going to be a good drive. He turns to me and says, "Let's have some fun." That was my cue to to go. Off we go...

Immediately I found one problem, the steering wheel. I just couldn't find a very comfortable position to put my hands. The wheel felt unusually big and awkwardly shaped. We made a right out of the dealer and headed down the road, the ride was good: stiff enough that you know you are in a sports car but still comfortable enough to for extended road trips. As we are cruising down the street I opened the sunroof and rolled the windows down, time to test the sound system. I cranked it and was met by a very clean sound with the bass hitting pretty hard. The test driver turned to me and, with a smile says "This is what I love about South Florida!" (he's from Detroit). We stopped at a light, "This is my chance to see if this car really feels like it goes 0-60 in 4.6 secs." I thought. Light turns green and I punched it. First gear is done in the blink of an eye, into second then third, and before I knew it we were doing 90 mph grinning like a bunch of school kids at an amusement park. You definitely feel the power of this car even with it weighing in at almost 3900 lbs. As I headed back to the dealer I found myself very impressed with the Camaro SS and wishing I had more time with it. This is a car I would consider a serious contender in the sports car arena. With independent rear suspension, a limited slip differential and Brembo brakes, it's a good platform and all for a starting price of $30,945. Cant go wrong there. Time to turn the keys in. The GM test driver turns to me and asks if I wanted to drive the automatic SS. I reluctantly said yes knowing there is no way it can top this experience, he hands me the keys and off we go...

Part two of his review is on the way!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Twin-Turbo Truck? (Part II)

Once again, David Mullings provides a guest review on the 2011 F-150 EcoBoost pickup truck. Not only does this review spotlight the advanced design of Ford's pickups, but just how far pickups have a come on a whole.





Pickup trucks have never been my thing because the few that I have driven have felt like trucks. I much prefer vehicles that handle better and take less effort to drive. Climbing into one of the new Ford F-150's at the test drive event in Orlando has completely changed my opinion of pickup trucks. As usual, I decided to drive the competitor vehicle first, a Chevrolet Silverado. It was a short drive with some turns and then I lined up for a drag race against an F-150 with EcoBoost (twin-turbo). The Ford chaperone pointed out that if I have a better reaction time I would be able to beat the lady in the Silverado beside me but if we launched at the same time, she would win.

I reacted faster and won but that wasn't important (it was fun though). The drive to the line and back to the staging area was the important part; How did the truck handle? How easy was it to turn the steering wheel? It definitely did not drive like a car and I wouldn't want to deal with that extra effort on a daily basis but it seemed normal for SUVs and Pickups I have drive before.

Then I climbed into the F-150 EcoBoost.

EcoBoost V6

The difference in the ease of driving was instantly obvious and I had to ask the Ford representative how comes it drove like that. He smiled and said that this model had an electric power-assist. This did not drive like a truck at all and I have to give Ford credit for that because it made me feel far more comfortable driving this vehicle.

Electric Power Steering Unit


The interior was extremely spacious and well appointed. Most importantly though was the performance. A twin-turbo F-150 is interesting and I did line up against a Silverado and beat it. The engine delivers 365hp at 5000rpm and 420 lb-ft. of torque at 2500rpm, quite impressive. Out of the three engines they showed me that were available, the EcoBoost engine was MORE fuel efficient than the smaller engine but could haul just as much tonnage as the larger engine.

Interesting.

F-150 Harley Davidson Edition

I test drove other models and the Harley-Davidson really has some nice extras but without electric power-assist, too much like a truck for my tastes. The base model F-150 was good enough for what it needs to do but with no EcoBoost, it did not have the same pep that could come in handy when overtaking or hauling.

Dyno Test

The last two things I did was check out a live dyno that compared the EcoBoost model to a number of competitors along with a video of uphill passing while towing (the F-150 did better than competitors each time of course) and then I went on the actual road while towing a trailer. I have never been trailering before and I was extremely concerned about taking corners too tight, switching lanes and also having the trailer roll over.

I was informed that the F-150 has a feature to reduce the likelihood of rollover of the trailer, the mirror designs made it extremely easy to see blind spots and especially see the curb when making a turn. It turned out to be so easy that I did not even feel like a trailer was attached, I had to keep looking back to check that it was still hitched!

The EcoBoost is clearly the winner and it is going to sell extremely well. Seeing American car companies finally learn from the Japanese that bigger is not always better and that turbochargers are just as good if matched properly with the engine is welcome. The extra touches like the available retracting running boards that pop down when you open the door and then go back into hiding under the truck when you get in are welcome as well.

2011 Ford F-150

Ford clearly has extended their lead in the pickup truck market. Trust me, you need to testdrive an F-150 EcoBoost even if you don't plan to buy a pickup. It will change your impression of pickups.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

2011 Hyundai Equus: First Impressions

2011 Hyundai Equus

Hyundai competing against the established players in the ulra-luxury sedan market, namely BMW 7 Series, Mercedes S-Class, Lexus LS. Sounds far fetched doesn't it?

Well, prepare for a reality check.

Unless you're living under a huge boulder you'd hear about how Hyundai, the carmaker previously known for cheap runabouts that sold more on price rather than quality (understandably so given such "outstanding" examples as the SCoupe), has been on somewhat of a rise within the last decade. One need only look at a current issue of Consumer Reports (or even just Google it) to see the raft of substantially new and higher quality vehicles Hyundai has been cranking out. The just released Sonata has risen to become the visual standard by which all mid-sized sedans are now judged, while offering the most powerful duo of engines in the segment AND being the most fuel efficient in the class. Pretty substantial stuff.

But that isn't all. Hyundai has now set it sights on moving its products upscale and it started this march with the released-for-2008 Hyundai Genesis. Starting in the mid-$30k range, the Genesis is a large rear wheel drive sedan that offers many standard luxury items that would be options on such vehicles as the BMW 5 Series. All of this for about $30k less than what you'd normally pay for had you gone to the Lexus dealership across the street. The Genesis looks the part, offers power parity with a duo of engines to choose from (a 290hp 3.8 V6 or a 385hp 4.6 V8) and comes with Hyundai's outstanding 10 year, 100k mile warranty. But if you thought they'd stop there, you obviously don't know Hyundai. No worries, neither did I.

Lights On

It wasn't enough that Hyundai targeted the luxury midsize segment with the Genesis. Now they've gone for the top player with the new for 2011 Hyundai Equus. Starting at just under $50k, the Equus plays the same game as the Genesis, offering quality, features and roomy, luxurious accommodations on par with the best of the name brands at a price that even mere mortals can afford.

I was invited to a local Hyundai Dealership (thanks to Christopher Hayek and Brian Owens) to get an up close look at the Equus and ask the questions that you, the consumer, might have regarding both the car and Hyundai itself (sorry, wasn't allowed a test drive due to this particular Equus being the only one available). On first glance, the Equus is huge vehicle, a few inches longer than a base LS460 and about equal to the Mercedes S550. Width is about the same and is very roomy inside. The Equus is available in two trims: Signature is the base model (although gazing inside, 'base' wouldn't be an appropriate word to use here) and provides seating for five, while the Ultimate trim is geared towards customers who would rather be chauffeured around and provides executive seating for two in the rear. In this trim, the rear seat directly behind the front passenger is fitted like a recliner with a foot rest, although despite the Equus' long wheelbase, the recliner is only suitable for kids (or as Brian put it, Koreans). In all fairness, Brian did explain that the Equus was not originally engineered for the North American market (i.e. tall, fat people) so the cramped conditions with the recliner are to be expected. However, he goes on, enough of a business case was made to bring the Equus to North America, in part, because of the stellar success of the Genesis. Well, I certainly won't question that.

Equus Signature

Equus Ultimate

The Ultimate also provides a center console (where the center passenger would normally sit) equipped with controls for the DVD entertainment system, consisting of a flip up screen located between the two front seats. The center console also integrates control for the navigation, excellent sound system and also climate control. There is also a refrigerated compartment that cools bottles of bubbly for your executive passengers (or soda for your kids), plus another storage compartment where the ski-pass through would be. Both rear seats are also heated/cooled.

Front Cockpit

Up front, a BMW iDrive-like mouse controls everything from vehicle suspension setup, to climate control and navigation. All the Equus' controls are logically laid out and thanks to the almost infinite adjustments for the seats, it's easy to find a comfortable driving position. Powering the initial batch of Equus sedans is the same Tau 4.6 liter V8 producing 385hp and 335lb-ft of torque routed through a six speed automatic transmission. An upcoming 5.0 liter variant is in development that will provide "in excess of 400hp" as well as an eight speed automatic for customers who think 385hp is a paltry figure (considering the recent strides of the competition, it just might be).

Hyundai Equus

Exterior styling is a mixed bag. The Equus certainly has an elegant yet solid and upscale look to it, even if certain design cues were pilfered (or borrowed depending on your view) from other sedans. There's a hint of Lexus in the face, a bit of S-Class in the rump, perhaps a touch BMW in the side profile. Whatever the case may be, there's no denying the car definitely has presence.

I've always maintained that both the Genesis and Equus are for buyers who care nothing for badges. All they want is a luxurious, comfortable sedan that caters to their upscale needs...without costing a fortune. The Genesis and Equus add up to just the sort of sedans that will appeal to this set of the buying public. As a matter of fact, several people who were in attendance with me instantly placed deposits to have there very own. This proves that even the well-heeled know a good deal when they see it.

Remember when Lexus first started out as a Japanese alternative to the German status quo? The original LS sedan offered much of, if not all, of what the German sedans offered at a substantial bargain. The Hyundai Equus offers that same value proposition today while at the same time firing a shot across the bow of the established players in the segment. For some, the styling might not be as formative and the interior too generic, but for most the Equus is exactly the kind of vehicle that suits their needs.

Hyundai is also changing the buying experience. Every customer gets a free Apple iPad that serves as both the car's user manual as well as providing an app that schedules services when such are needed. A technician will pick up an owner's Equus where ever it may be and leaves a loaner (either a Genesis or another Equus) in its place. The car can either be dropped off when the servicing is complete or, if the owner chooses, he can pick it up at the dealership. Hyundai also offers what they are tentatively calling 'The 14 Day Rotation". After the initial introduction and delivery, an Equus specialist will meet with the owner 14 days after (again, at the owner's home, work etc.) to go over the features of the car or simply listen to any queries the owner might have to ensure he/she is getting and enjoying the full Equus experience.

Hyundai has come a long way. If they've succeeded in making the regular guys (Honda, Toyota) take notice, then with the Genesis/Equus duo they've succeeded in at least making the high rollers take a glance over their shoulders.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Scissors, Gas Struts and Props

So this past Sunday I was engaged in washing cars (which turned into a full blown maintenance project but that's another story) and I happened to take note of the designs of trunks (or boots as the English say). I have to hand it to Mazda, those scissor-shaped hinges with the gas strut assist really pays dividends in not intruding on the trunk's total usable space. It used to be not so long ago that this was a luxury item on cars costing far more than your run-of-the-mill family sedan but kudos to Mazda for engineering such a nifty system for the 6 sedan (mine's an '06 model but this generation has been around since early 2003).

My Mazda6 trunk

Very nifty

Now this is in stark contrast to the cheap goose neck hinges that so many other manufacturers install as a cost effective measure (lookin' at you General Motors). At least now they're starting to cover up the hinges in their own special sheaths, covered in the same material as the trunk liner, but before you'd have to be careful about loading up the trunk, lest those same hinges crush any vital cargo they come into contact with when the lid is closed. Well, you can imagine my surprise (or realization really) to discover a Toyota of all vehicles carrying these cheap hinges, a [2002] Camry no less. Give Toyota some credit however, the trunk is vast (quite a bit bigger than my Mazda 6) but I believe the Mazda trumps it in usable space. It's those same lined sheaths for the gooseneck hinges that makes the space a bit weird to use. Better watch out and pack softer cargo at the top. Sadly, Toyota continues this trend with their latest Camry.

2002 Toyota Camry trunk

Cheap hinges

They do try

So you think I'm bashing Toyota for this indescribable offense? Not so fast. Even though not many owners are likely to look under the bonnet to do engine checks (I mean really, with the latest model cars presently on the road, all you're likely to see is a sea of black plastic covering the engine anyway)the Camry (circa 2002) redeems itself by offering a gas strut assist to lift and hold the bonnet up and out of the way. The Mazda 6 on the other hand, has to make do with a do-it-yourself lift-and-insert-here prop. It's probably not a big deal to most people but the Camry's gas strut does prevent your hands from being unnecessarily dirty if all you're doing is a visual inspection.

Under the 6's bonnet

Insert here

I like to get my hands dirty so the bonnet prop isn't a big deal to me, but for someone who does very little (if any) maintenance, the Camry's bonnet gas strut is a pretty nifty. Bonnet notwithstanding, the scissor hinges on my Mazda are just one of many details I absolutely adore about it. The trunk might not be as vast as the Toyota's but best believe every inch is usable.

(I'll upload a pic of the Camry's more 'sophisticated' engine bonnet prop soon)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Naughty Volvo Indeed




The following is a guest review of the 2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD by my good friend and avid auto enthusiast, David Mullings. Look out for more guest reviews from him as well as others in the near future!

Naughty Volvo Indeed

I was fortunate enough to attend the recent Volvo test drive event in Miami with the writer of this blog and was asked to provide my own perspective. After driving the new S60 at least 6 times for the day, I know that Volvo has definitely changed my perception of the brand. As a past fan of British Touring Cr Championship I was familiar with the S40 that raced in the past (I even considered purchasing and modifying one).

Volvo's new S60 certainly will be considered when next I seek to purchase a car because the handling was solid, certainly better than the Audi A4 and BMW 328i provided for comparison, more powerful thanks to the turbo and fairly comfortable. The space behind the driver seat still leaves a lot to be desired when the driver is tall but that is common to all luxury cars at this level. I did however have a few issues with the S60 that will most likely not lead to a purchase:

1) Volvo did not have the Infiniti G37 or Lexus IS250/350 for comparison testing. I suspect that is because those two cars might shame the S60 in ways that Volvo did not want to happen

2) My 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer GT with tiptronic tansmission and paddle-shifters handles even better than the S60 (my GT came stock with a front strut bar) and the transmission is far more responsive. The most annoying part of the S60's tiptronic mode was that it would automatically change gears even though I specifically put it in 2nd gear in an effort to stay in the sweet spot of the turbo to avoid lag as much as possible. My cheaper Mitsubishi doesn't do that.

3) As a past owner of a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9, the turbo in the S60 had too much lag and thanks to the not-so-smart tiptronic, did not give me the control I was looking for when cornering and exiting. Yes, comparing a manual to an automatic is not that fair but then they should have offered the S60 in a manual version for people who really wanted to enjoy the turbo properly or do more about the lag.

In short, the S60 would fall higher on my list than an Audi A4 (not an S4 of course) and a BMW (not an M3 of course) but most likely lower than an IS250, a G37 and even my Mitsubishi Lancer GT. Volvo did not bring us to the test drive event to check out the nice leather interior, they wanted us to be naughty and spank that car.

It definitely proved to be quite naughty but probably not naughty enough for me. Would I recommend to the average person as a daily driver? Without a doubt. I personally am looking for tighter handling, less turbo lag and less intrusive Tiptronic system.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My Ideal Sleeper

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon



I came across a story on Autoblog today announcing the confirmation and pricing of the new Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon: $62,990 plus destination. So I started thinking, why does a majority of the driving public hate wagons so much?

Wagons are cool, wagons (at least the ones nowadays) are stylish and when outfitted correctly, they are the ultimate sleepers. No I'm not talking about CUVs (crossover utility vehicles) like the Ford Edge or Nissan Murano. No fans, I'm talking about bonafide 5 door wagons like the Dodge Magnum R/T or Mazdaspeed3. When I was shopping for my current car, those last two were at the top of my list (nevermind the Magnum wasn't available with 3 pedals) because they while providing immense practicality with stylish looks, they packed huge performance (its hard to argue with the Magnum R/T's 340hp 5.7 HEMI V8 or the Mazdaspeed3's 263hp turbocharged 4 cylinder).

2013 Mazdaspeed 3



Most people at the time thought I was crazy. I remember telling one girl about my choices and the look she gave me said much about the way people feel towards wagons. It was a look of confusion, aghast and surprise all in one, complimented by a simply but very sarcastic "Why!?" My answer? "Why not?" I still get all the horsepower I'll need but with an added dose of space in the back for whatever i choose to carry along.

Wagons are cool. Automakers know this, but they're still somewhat skittish about sending them America's way because they know Americans won't buy them in the same large numbers as conventional sedans. Which is why I have to give props to Cadillac and Chrysler.

2005 Dodge Magnum R/T


Chrysler first introduced us to the 5 door Dodge Magnum in 2005 which they labeled a 'sports tourer' to avoid the negative stereotype attached to the word 'wagon'. Everyone knew what it was but because Chrysler did such a good job with the styling, making the Magnum low and wide, people initially bought them in droves. And looking at the stats, it's hard to argue: full sized, RWD platform, 340hp HEMI V8 and very cool styling made the Magnum at hit for Chrysler. Hedging themselves however, they decided to make a sedan variant for people who were still lukewarm to wagons, leading to the Dodge Charger. After 4 years on the market Chrysler decided to axe the Magnum due to poor sales relative to the Charger sedan. Needless to say, a small part of me died that day.


2011 Cadillac CTS Wagon


Cadillac has subsequently picked up where Chrysler left off and now offers a true 5 door version of their hot CTS sedan. Initially, the CTS Sport Wagon was pegged to be a Euro-only offering because, lets face it, as long as America and UK are on opposite sides of the Atlantic, so do their peoples' automotive preferences differ. Americans love sedans, Europeans love hatchbacks/wagons (called Touring editions there). Knowing full well though that the CTS Wagon would be a niche vehicle at best, shows that Cadillac was willing to gamble on finding enough takers for its slick looking wagon. During a recent manufacturer sponsored event, I drove a CTS Wagon and compared it with a BMW 535i Touring on hand. In the areas of looks and interior quality, the Cadillac edged out the BMW. However, the 535i still narrowly had the upper hand in driving dynamics over the CTS, this despite the Cadillac's relentless tuning of the CTS on the famed Nurburgring racetrack in Germany.

I should've seen this as a sign of things to come.


2013 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon Black Diamond Edition


After releasing both the CTS-V sedan and CTS-V coupe, Cadillac has lobbed another bomb into the performance segment with the CTS-V Sport Wagon. Look at the pictures. This is one slick looking wagon and not only is it a gorgeous piece to look at (as far as I'm concerned) it also has one hell of a monster lurking under the hood. A detuned version of the Chevy Corvette ZR1's 6.2 liter supercharged LSA V8 provides 556 ponies and 551lb-ft of torque. Only the performance minded can see the subtle differences between this and a regular CTS Sport Wagon and that's the appeal for me. The thought that I can give a Porsche 911 or Ford Mustang driver a serious scare while still having room to transport my [eventual] wife and [quite possible] 1.5 kids in luxury. That my friends, is what a sleeper is: an unassuming vehicle that doesn't hint at the high level of performance under its relatively stock skin.

So if the next time you hear me say I want a Cadillac CTS-V Wagon don't give me that crazy look.

Wagons are cool maaan.

Images courtesy of www.insideline.com, www.canadiandriver.com, www.consumerreports.org and www.autotrends.com

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A "Naughty" Volvo?....Really?

2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD


Quick, what's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Volvo? A box? A box that the box came in? Safety? Sweden? Another box?

How about naughty? No?

Well, that last term is what Volvo is using to describe the latest incarnation of the S60 sedan. Yes, they're actually describing it as "the naughty Volvo". I know, weird. But let's give Volvo the benefit of the doubt here. After all, this latest S60 isn't necessarily the first Volvo to place an emphasis on sportiness. The 'R' version of the last generation S60 was arguably the sportiest Volvo to come out of Sweden, boasting a 300hp turbocharged five cylinder plus aggressive suspension and styling tweaks. Having driven a 2006 model with a 6 speed manual transmission, I deemed this as truly a break in tradition from the normally safe and somewhat stodgy nature of a traditional Volvo car. However the Swedish automaker, in the hopes of attracting a younger audience, has reinvented its vehicles into stylish and attractive statements that, again, goes against what the regular person would normally think of a Volvo. Dare I say, Volvo may even alienate some of its loyalists with this new direction in styling.

So, let's see what makes this new S60 err..."naughty".

300hp; 325lb-ft

At a driving event held at the Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Miami, Volvo invited the public to compare its new sedan against its competition, namely a BMW 328i sedan and an Audi A4 2.0T. How Volvo sees these cars as competition, I cannot fathom why (I'd think the smaller S40 would be more of a match for these Germans) but remember that the larger S80 is more or less targeted at the midsize segment (5 Series, A6, E-Class) so the S60 is something of a misnomer. Here's a small breakdown of each sedan I would be driving:

2011 BMW 328i
Engine: 3.0 inline six cylinder(230hp; 200lb-ft of torque)
6 speed automatic with manual shifting, RWD
17" wheels and not fitted with the Sport package

2010 Audi A4 2.0T
Engine: 2.0 turbocharged inline four cylinder (211hp; 258lb-ft of torque)
8 speed automatic with manual shifting, FWD
17" wheels and not fitted with the Sport package

2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD
Engine: 3.0 turbocharged inline six cylinder (300hp; 325lb-ft of torque)
6 speed automatic with manual shifting, AWD
18" wheels fitted with Sport package

Immediately you can see things are stacked in the Volvo's favor. In any case, with the S60 being a somewhat larger car (riding on a version of the larger S80's platform) I imagine the smaller Germans would be better drivers when it came down to handling and at-the-limit driving. So, in wanting a baseline to gauge the S60's behavior, I drove the A4, then the 328i and the S60. Here's how things went.


Audi A4

This newer A4 is a much larger car than the previous model before it and it shows in the handling. Very stable and solid in the corners, however the steering is quite sloppy. It stifles any communication to the driver as to what the front wheels are doing and how close he is to the limits of adhesion. The 2.0 turbo is peaky with a lot of turbo lag and the transmission compounds this by refusing to hold a selected gear, upshifting at the wrong moment such as midway through a corner. I found myself having to consciously be mindful of what gear I'm in so I didn't find myself in too high a ratio. Lots of understeer but then that's to be expected in a FWD car. Brakes were marginal at best. Overall, the A4 is stable but the limits are low. If you're buying this car, get the Sport Package. As a matter of fact, splurge and get the S4 with the supercharged 3.0 V6. You'll thank me later.


BMW 328i

I had high hopes for the Bimmer going in to the first corner. RWD? 50/50 weight distribution? So what if it didn't have a Sport package? This is the Ultimate Driving Machine! Man oh man, how wrong I was. First corner? Understeer. Transmission is the same as the Audi, refusing to stay in a selected gear and upshifting itself at the wrong moment. The steering offered decent communication but I found myself flailing with the wheel around the corners. Isn't the BMW supposed to be fun? No, this was more WORK than fun. And where's the power? At least the Audi offered a lot of torque to surf on when it was in the right gear. The BMW on the other hand, with a paltry 200lb-ft, made you rev like mad to get any decent speed. The engine was a joy to listen to however: nothing sounds quite like an inline 6 revving its heart out. Braking was quite good, better than the Audi but surprisingly didn't hold a candle to the superior S60. Overall, the 328i is the model you buy for your wife or daughter. If you're really interested in sport, go for the 335i with its 300hp turbocharged inline six. Yeah, and tick the box that reads "Sport Package" while you're at it.


Volvo S60

Believe me, I'm just as surprised as you are. After wringing out the Germans, I found myself not wanting to believe the S60 could possibly be any better. Sure it has 300hp, but it's larger and heavier than the other two. Plus, it's a fricking VOLVO. I was about to have those words shoved right down my throat. Just before the floodgates were opened to drive the test vehicles, the driving staff on hand performed a 0-40-0 test between the test vehicles. First they'd accelerate to 40mph the brake hard to a stop. The car that did each of these things first would be the winner. No surprised the S60 out-accelerated the competition, but the fact that it also outbraked them (the BMW surprisingly) was nothing short of spectacular. So here I was behind the wheel of the Volvo.

The S60 was actually....fun.



Acceleration was breathtaking. At the limit cornering was admirable (thanks to AWD, more on this later) and braking was very impressive. The S60 suffered from the same transmission gremlin that refuses to hold the gear you want for cornering, but with 325lb-ft of torque to surf with 90% available from 2000rpm, the acceleration was still commendable. The 3.0 engine employs a twin-scroll turbocharger to decrease turbo lag, but that was still a problem. Steering was a bit sloppy but tidier and more communicative than the Audi, about on par with the BMW. Whereas the 328i makes you actually WORK to get the most out of it, the S60's limits are high but easy to approach. The computerized AWD system with limited slip differential allows torque to be split not only front-rear but side to side at the rear, virtually eliminating understeer and pushes the tail of the S60 around corners. In the really tight stuff, I could actually feel the system working to eliminate as much understeer as possible. You can steel feel the weight of the car being thrown around, but it was manageable and stable throughout the track run.



Color me impressed because that's exactly what I was. I found myself choosing the S60 over the Germans present because I actually had more fun driving the S60. But there's a rub here. As I stated earlier, these were base models of competing cars that Volvo chose for comparison with its S60. Had they been topline models; like the S4 or 335i, the results would be quite different. However, not to take anything away from Volvo, the S60 is indeed sportier than anything it has produced thus far (except for the last S60R, I'm quite adamant about that). Looking at Volvo's current lineup, the S60 does have the hardware and guts to back up Volvo's claim of being "A Naughty Volvo" if not "The Naughtiest Volvo".



Don't forget though that this is still a Volvo and safety is the primary drive for the Swedish automaker. In this area, the S60 doesn't disappoint and is equipped with what Volvo calls City Safety Technology. This active safety hardware uses an optical radar sensor in the front of the grill and measures the speed and distance of any objects in front of the car. These calculations are done 50 times per second and in the event of an imminent collision, the system will apply full braking. First introduced on the XC60 crossover, Volvo has augmented the system on the S60 sedan with a new technology called Pedestrian Detection. Using the same radar sensor in the grill, plus a camera module mounted at the base of the overhead rearview mirror, the system is able to "see" and "read" the outline and behavior of persons around the front of the S60. If the system detects an imminent collision with a pedestrian (hence the name) it alerts the driver with a warning tone and flashing red LEDs atop the dashboard. If the warnings go unheeded, the S60 will apply full brake power to bring itself to a complete stop short of the lucky pedestrian. As the name suggests, this works only at city speeds, between 2-18 mph. I tried this system and it works as advertised. The trick is to trust the vehicle completely (hard to do if you know you're about to hit something...or someone).

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Driving Impressions

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Jetta: Would I Buy One?

Jetta 2.5



The other day I was driving home from work, stopped at a traffic light with my music blasting (as per usual). I happened to notice a late model Volkswagen Jetta in the lane next time, cute girl behind the wheel (windows up). Light goes green and I drive off, but was caught off guard by the sound of her car as she revved the engine thinking it was an impromptu race. No, I wasn't caught of guard by the race itself (I was more than ready) but more so by the sound of her car itself.

"Is that a lawnmower or weed whacker under the hood?" I thought.

Current Jetta models are powered by a trio of engines, from a 2.0 TDI diesel inline 4, a 2.5 inline 5 gasoline and a 2.0T turbocharged inline 4. I would've thought that this girl had the TDI motor but the racket she was making caused me to slow down and let her pass so I could see the car's rear. Nope. 2.5 on the decklid.

Now 5 cylinder engines aren't known to be inherently smooth motors, neither are regular 4 cylinders (though Honda and Toyota would object to that) but the 5 cylinder in the Jetta is positively raucous, and not in a good way. When you buy a car, is the smoothness and sound of the engine a factor? Or are the car's visual aesthetics enough to seal the deal? I dunno about you, but if a car's engine sounds like it's wheezing though the hood, it's a deal breaker. Don't get me wrong, the Jetta itself is a great driving car, Germanic in its handling and stability (VW likes to brag about its cars being tuned for the German autobahn), but if you've got your eye on one, I'd suggest spending the extra cash for either the TDI or GLI model with the 2.0T.

Why? Here we go.

2.0 TDI diesel

With the TDI motor, yes it's a diesel and yes, most Americans associate the diesel engine with black smoke, big rig trucks and the clackety-clack of valves under the bonnet. But I assure you, modern day diesels in passenger cars are waaaaaay beyond what you think. Volkswagen has done its homework in making the diesel engine suitable for civilian use in everyday cars by cleaning up the emissions, quieting the motor, so much so that it's barely audible at idle. Another highlight of diesel engines is torque and the 2.0 TDI doesn't disappoint here. It may only have 140hp, but it's the 236lb-ft of torque on tap from idle that will really get your attention off line. The other plus? How about 40 mpg on the highway? Seriously, a nearly 600 mile range isn't out of the question with this motor.

Jetta 2.0T GLI

The 2.0T motor is essentially the same unit in the vaunted GTI. Producing 200hp and 207lb-ft of torque and assisted by suspension tweaks, the Jetta really comes alive in this guise. Having driven my brother's 2006 GTI I can safely say that it is a hoot to drive. The 2.5 motor? Honestly, you don't want it. If I had to drive around listening to this motor I'd either hang myself or do the next best thing and buy a Corolla. The Toyota may be a snooze to drive, but at least the engine is way more refined in its sounds.

So would I buy a Jetta? Sure I would.

TDI or GLI? Hard to choose. 2.5? Hell no!


Images courtesy of www.paddocktalk.com, www.autocarindia.com and www.autobytel.com

Monday, September 27, 2010

Twin-Turbo Truck?




I was never really a truck guy (except for my Tonka days) but news as of recent has my interest piqued. Trucks have traditionally been the realm of monster V8 engines, big on power and huge on low end torque for towing and hauling. Yet larger trucks depend on even larger engines, usually big block V8s/V10s and stump pulling diesels. Now it seems Ford is keen on turning the truck world upside down with twin-turbo V6 that's supposed to provide the power of a V8 with the efficiency of a V6.



Ford's so called 'EcoBoost' V6 has been steadily making its way through the model range after debuting in early 2010 as the top-line option in Lincoln's MKS luxury sedan. By combining the efficiencies of turbocharging, direct injection and variable valve timing, Ford has effectively created an engine that provides enormous power potential without the fuel penalty at the pump. The 3.5 liter mill produces 350hp/350lb-ft of torque as the top line engines in both the Lincoln MKS, MKT and Ford Flex crossovers, but manages 15hp more in the new Taurus SHO full sized sedan. In car applications, this works extremely well but in trucks?

For truck duty (and its first RWD application) Ford has altered the cam timing to be on both the exhaust and intake sides, replaced the Honeywell turbochargers with Borg-Warner units and strengthened the engine block. Additional oil and transmission coolers were added, including a larger intercooler to handle engine temperature and the boost pressure has increased from 10 psi to 13 psi. All this amounts to a SHO-equaling 365hp but a more impressive 420lb-ft of torque, almost matching the top range 6.2 liter V8 at 434lb-ft. All of this torque is available right in the meat of the powerband, from 1500rpm up to redline at 5000rpm.

Now turbo engines in cars I can live with (the Mitsubishi Evolution being my favorite) so it's a bit puzzling though not entirely surprising, that Ford would put one in its trucks (besides diesels). Yes, the overall reason would be for increased fuel economy but I still question the long term durability of highly tuned turbocharged engine like the EcoBoost V6 in a workhorse vehicle like the F-150. Apparently Ford has done exhaustive durability tests on prototype mills (somewhere in the region of 1.5 million miles of virtual and road tests) but to ultimately prove that the turbo motor is up to the task of hauling and towing, Ford has some pretty inventive (and downright tortuous) methods in store for one lucky, random unit.



Ford will pick a random motor from the assembly line and send it to a logging company in Oregon where it will haul lumber up steep hills. After that, it will be sent to the Miami-Homestead Speedway where it will two a pair of Ford Fusion Sprint Cup cars for 24 hours at full throttle (hopefully I'll be there to witness this) around the 1.5 mile oval. Then this same engine will be installed in an F-150 Desert Racer and entered in the upcoming Baja 1000 offroad race, after which it will be torn down and shown to the public.

We shall see.

Images courtesy of www.autoblog.com

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Muscle Car Theory Pt.1




Challenger, Mustang, Camaro.

All three were automotive icons before most of us were even thought of. Back when gas prices were at levels we can only dream were such today, America's idea of cool was small to mid-size car packing a huge 300+ cubic inch V8s creating obscene amounts of power. This was the basic recipe of a muscle car and the same holds true to some extent today. While the Ford Mustang has been in continuous production since its inception, the Camaro briefly left the scene for several years before making a thunderous return in 2007 as a concept that Chevrolet had to make a production reality to the applause of numerous Chevy aficionados. The Challenger was short-lived but arguably the most remembered, having left the scene in the 1970s only to return in 2007 also as a concept that Chrysler thought was too good not to produce.

So here we are in 2010. What's my take on these vehicles today?

Let's start with the Ford Mustang.



Looking at the current model, if you squint hard enough, you can just about see where Ford gets its inspiration from. That would be the original '68-'71 Mustang. From the grille-mounted fog lights and low mounted hood, to the short deck and sequential tail lights, the 2011 Mustang screams retro. The same can be said regarding its underpinnings which employ McPherson struts at the front and a solid axle in the rear. Wait...what's a live axle doing in a modern car? (No, the Crown Victoria/Grand Marquis/Town Car don't count as modern). A little background info for the less technically inclined reading this.



A solid live axle suspension is basically a (usually round) metal beam with wheels on either side suspended by either a network of leaf or coil springs. Light duty trucks (i.e. Ford F-150s, Chevy Silverados etc) usually have these equipped with leaf springs for towing or hauling heavy loads. In these instances, the durability of these suspension designs are unquestioned. But the Mustang employs this age-old design with coil springs (see image above) for ride comfort, high power and sportiness. Pretty soon though, Ford's muscle car will be the only car with this antiquated suspension system but it's nothing short of a miracle the way Ford has reworked and modified it for Mustang duty.

Back in its heyday, the Mustang and its rivals were great at doing only one thing (besides looking cool): going quickly in a straight line. Then, the ultimate quest wasn't time attack or rally racing; it was the fasted through the 1/4 mile. In this setting, the Mustang and others of its ilk excelled. But show these powerful machines a set of corners and they quickly reveal their Achilles' heel. In a few words, cruise ship levels of body roll. As such, suspensions using wheels that were free to move independent of each other are more wide spread nowadays to the point where even the Mustang's recently resurrected rivals employ this design. But drive each car back to back and only the very tuned arse can tell the difference.



Following a still fresh redesign for the 2010 model year, Ford followed up with a pair of thoroughly revamped engines for the 2011 model year (anyone who bought a 2010 model must feel like crap after reading this): a 3.7 liter V6 producing 305hp and a 5.0 liter V8 in the Mustang GT that puts down 412hp, both substantial jumps in power from their predecessors. The V6 engine is a solid 95hp bump over the old Cologne designed 4.0 and is just 10hp shy of what the old 4.6 liter V8 was capable of. Both are equipped with what Ford calls Ti-VCT (Twin independent variable cam timing) that enhances breathing and efficient power delivery as well as less fuel consumption. Previously, you wouldn't buy a V6 Mustang for any sort of performance reason (I mean really, with the old 4.0 V6 model you wouldn't want to test a VW GTI or Mazdaspeed3 driver at a stoplight drag race) except for maybe a rental? Now, Ford is seriously pushing its former Secretary special as a genuine performance vehicle. With a [Motor Trend tested] 0-60 time of 5.1 seconds and a 1/4 mile time of 13.7 seconds at 102 mph, the new V6 model is nearly as quick as the V8 in the 2010 GT. Plus it's more fuel efficient than ANY previous Mustang (or car in its class) with EPA MPG figures of 19 city/29 highway. So yes, you CAN have your cake and eat it too.

But hold on.



While the V6 is a substantial and noteworthy leap for the Mustang, the power hungry are going to want to stick around for the new GT. The new "Coyote" 5.0 liter V8 produces 412 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque for a much improved 0-60 time of 4.3 seconds and a quarter mile time of 12.8 seconds at 110.8 mph. Do you NEED a V8? Well that depends on what you want from a Mustang. The 3.7 is certainly a powerhouse in its own right and moves the Mustang with more than enough thrust as the figures suggest but it provides none of the visceral experiences that a true V8 musters. There's no burble from the exhaust, there's none of that right-now torque that pins you (and any lucky passengers) in the seat once you nail the throttle and certainly there are no bragging rights if you decide to line up with, say, a Camaro SS or Challenger RT/SRT-8 at a stoplight. What the V6 does enable the Mustang to be is a genuine sports car, comparable with competition such as the Nissan 370Z or Hyundai Genesis Coupe. With the lighter V6 enhancing weight distribution, the Mustang (equipped with the Track Pack option that includes a lower and stiffer suspension, 19" wheels with summer tires etc) provides an impressive track capability that rivals its competitors regardless of the live axle out back.

The GT on the other hand has a slightly dulled response to the helm when called on to attack corners due to the heavier V8 engine up front, but nevertheless, the lithe weight of the Mustang as compared to the larger Camaro and even larger Challenger allows Ford's pony car to outperform its primary competition in all aspects. Here, live axle is able to keep up (and in some events, even outperform) independent rear suspension. Who'd have thought? Of course to go along with this new-found prowess, the 5.0 provides the roar and torque that only a V8 can offer. Nail the gas and suddenly it's the 1960s all over again.

But wait! There's still more!



For the extremely power crazed, Ford has recently released a revamped 550hp Mustang Shelby GT500. The engine is essentially an evolution of the same supercharged 5.4 liter unit from the discontinued GT super car, revamped for duty in the Mustang and is an absolute rocket ship. Only here it one-ups the GT motor by producing 550hp and 510lb-ft and blasts the GT500 from 0-60 in 4.1 seconds. Quarter mile? How about 12.83 seconds at 115.75mph? Yes fans, that is near super car territory. Thanks to the use of an aluminum block (the old unit was cast from heavier iron) and other modern touches, the 5.4 is lighter, more powerful and more efficient than the previous motor and allows the GT500 to make better use of the stiffer, re-tuned suspension.

Ford has basically covered all the bases with a Mustang flavor to suit all tastes.

Sure the Mustang is a great car in all these respects, but would I spend my hard-earned money on one?

No, and here's why.

Ford's quality and products may have improved over the last few years and I do applaud what they've done with the class-leading Mustang. However, the looks just never appealed to me. I am a fan of the old school (a friend of mine used to have a '60s era Mustang that I fawned over every chance I got) but the retro looks of the Mustang have now bred a sense of...familiarity? I can't quite pin it down, but despite the recent nip-and-tuck Ford did in 2010, the Mustang still doesn't have that in-your-face look that sets my heart on fire. To me looks matter and, unless you're a diehard Ford fan-boy(or girl), compared to it's rivals, the Mustang just doesn't cut it. Muscle cars are supposed to be big, brash and cause other drivers to get out the way if one blasts up from behind. To me, the Mustang doesn't have that. In other words I'd sooner save a little more for a Taurus SHO than spend it on Ford's pony car.

The Birth







Hey all,

This is the second (first public) blog I've decided to create in order to post my views and impressions on the 4 wheeled contraptions that I'm pretty sure not many people give much thought to. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not a professional writer/journalist in the least (even though I did score a 1 for the English Language in my CXCs, that would be the Caribbean equivalent of a 1500 in an SAT for my American audience). I'm just a regular guy who's crazy about cars and basically anything with an engine.

I'm a certified commercial pilot (currently unemployed as such) and an avid car freak who's in tune with the latest automotive trends and news. Ask me a question about cars (and aircraft) and I could go on for days regarding everything surrounding that particular topic. Anyway, within the last 10 years I've been privileged enough to go on test drives of some of the latest products to hit the road and I thought I'd share some experiences with you...my audience. Now please note, some of these drives vary from little more than me pretending to be car shopping in order to get a test drive on a specific model to full blown manufacturer sponsored events at racetracks. I haven't done much in the last year or two (probably because I may be on a wanted poster in the local dealerships) but I am getting the bug to do it again and I'm going post future and past experiences here.

Not only will you find test drives here, but also my personal take on various cars, aircraft, industry trends and news, plus my experiences surrounding my personal ride: a 2006 Mazda 6s. Plus if anyone needs some advice on car buying or general questions regarding anything I've said feel free to leave your questions and comments below and I'll be sure to respond to them.

So yeah, enough about myself.