Posts By: C Douglas Weir

By on July 7, 2006

22.jpgThere has been a little throw-down among the TTAC writers of late regarding the benefits of the DSG paddle shift transmission vis-à-vis the gold-standard fully synchronized five, and six-speed marvels of metallurgy, casting and machining.  I have to conclude that some folks just can’t master the manual shift manipulations to the point of self-satisfaction.  Well, I can’t play guitar by ear, so I like those electronic effects that help cover up my musical shortcomings.  But Chet Atkins and Van Halen like straight axes.  So what’s up with all the happy talk about automatics?  

By on June 21, 2006

tirebalance.jpgI’ve just returned from a four day round trip to Florida after having endured a seriously annoying vibration from the front end of my award-winning minivan.  This after arranging a pre-trip rotation/balance/alignment at my award-winning dealership.  As I hover over the manufacturer’s service-visit survey (which was waiting for me upon my return), my pen hand freezes over the checkboxes.  One little tick might just result in the castration of the technician responsible for my tingling hands and inflamed attitude.  I can foretell the reaction from survey central.  Oh….My…Heavens!  A survey rating of LTP [Less than perfect] has been submitted!  Activate the GO TEAM!

By on May 15, 2006

The longest journey starts with a single car. I never met a pistonhead without a fully-stocked fantasy garage. Unfortunately, the ones who try to bring the dream to life learn a Buddhist lesson: that which you own, owns you. The Langoliers of depreciation decimate the dream from day one. Registration fees, taxes and insurance take their toll. The hassle and expense of service and repair suck. Four years and 12K miles later, the per-mile expenses are astounding. And then, inevitably, the enthusiast's eye begins to wander; their piston passion runs as hot and cold as a cheap motel shower. Another round of this automotive folly would be insane. Unless…

The car share club concept took root in London in 1996, with Formula One World Champion Damon Hill's P1 Prestige and Performance Car Club. The basic idea is simple enough: P1 buys and services a portfolio of high-priced heavy metal; England's well-heeled petrolheads pay a fee to drive them. No finance payments, depreciation, maintenance, storage or tax. Just drive, dump and go. Of course, P1 membership is only cheap relative to ownership, and there are plenty of rules dictating which car you can drive for how much and when. P1 has an elaborate points system that involves a joining fee, an annual fee, a sliding points scale for best to worst times and cars, and mileage restrictions. But it's all about the hassle– or lack thereof.

By on May 1, 2006

 In the past weeks, crude oil prices have defied gravity, Venezuela has threatened to nationalize its oil industry and gas prices have vaulted over three bucks per gallon. Meanwhile, the outgoing chairman of ExxonMobil is reportedly ready to collect some $400 million in retirement benefits and the President of the United States is busy weighing military curtailment of Iran's nuclear aspirations vs. the threat of mines littering the oil-tanker conduit known as the Strait of Hormuz. How much more bad news will it take before we remove our heads from sphincter entrapment? U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman's recent comments at the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) World Congress in Detroit offer a clue.

"One of the reasons we have such high energy prices is there are no alternatives," Mr. Boardman pronounced. So America's Energy Czar has decreed that alternative energy is no longer the PC term for snatching government grant money. All those dismissive conclusions bedeviling solar, biofuel, hydro, and wind energy for the past thirty years or more—they're not "cost effective solutions"– are now moot at the highest levels. It's joyous news for long-time supporters of US energy independence, but how will this translate into government policy?

By on April 1, 2006

 E85 proponents tout "flex fuel" as a Bridge Over Troubled Waters. They believe that vehicles running on E85's mix of ethanol and gasoline will take us to America's "hydrogen future", where zero emission vehicles power up with super cooled fuel supplied by alt-powered micro-refineries. Meanwhile, less utopian thinkers see E85 as a hammer-simple solution to the fuel cell's (and hybrid's) Rube Goldbergian complexities. With a few minor changes to our modern gasoline engines– a corrosion-proof fuel system, new software and rejigged ignition– a nation of bio-powered vehicles could thumb its nose at OPEC crude dealers. If only.

Supporters point to Brazil. In less than two decades, the Brazilians have just about achieved energy independence. Now that they grow millions of acres of sugar cane for fuel production, and have converted the vast majority of their vehicles to ethanol-friendly propulsion, nothing can cut off Brazil's energy supply or screw up their economy– save a strike by the sugar cane farmers. Or a climactic catastrophe. Or a huge rise in labor costs. Or land values. Meanwhile, Brazilian retailers sell E85 for a buck-a-gallon less than gas. America seems ready, willing and able to follow suit: to make the jump from fossil to bio-fossil fuel. So what's the hold-up?

By on March 15, 2006

 I've been formally instructed never to put numbers into a lead paragraph. So let's just say I've been lucky enough to own roughly as many cars as there are basic cable channels. While I've enjoyed every single one of my motors for at least a month, I can state without a moment's hesitation that I didn't enjoy buying any of them. I find the car buying process only slightly more enjoyable than colonoscopy, yet remarkably similar. (No anesthetic, though.) In fact, I'm hoping this car reviewing thing will wean me off my ownership addiction. 'Cause if you haven't figured it out by now, let me tell it to you straight: buying cars is a beeyatch. And I swear it's getting worse.

For starters, there's been a wholesale change in the decision timeline. What once was a late summer/early fall dramatic new-model reveal has become one dazzling, continuous roll-out of new steel. Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, Frankfurt, Geneva, New York, Tokyo… it's one damn car show after another, all instantly available on-line. Once upon a time, Harley Earl fans had nearly a year to settle in with their purchase decision. Nowadays enthusiasts experience buyer's remorse before they buy. You just know that whatever you settle on today will be superseded by something better within days. And if you actually buy a car it's gonna be… If only I'd waited just a little longer… I wonder what it would cost to trade…

By on March 11, 2006

Brian Wilson is a genius. Back in the day, he'd craft a pop song that etched itself deep into your brain, change a few chords, alter the harmonies and… brainwash you again. Bryan Nesbitt was the chief designer of Chrysler's phenomenally successful P.T. Cruiser. After switching to the Chevrolet label, Nesbitt has picked up his […]

By on February 20, 2006

Blind we are if creation of this new genre we did not see.While it's often said you can't be all things to all people, someone forgot to tell Toy Yoda. While GM, Ford and The Dodge Boys are still trying to gentrify their rough-and-ready SUV's into cultured outdoorsmen (before urbanites abandon their automotive Wellingtons), the Japanese automaker took a light saber to traditional SUV demographics, sliced them into pieces and built a vehicle appealing to every single [up]market segment at the same time. No question: the force is with this one. Powerful it is too.

Ironically, the RX 400h is not Lexus' most cohesive design. From head-on it resembles a baby elephant: all legs and a tiny, short body. From the side, the strangely kinked C-pillars and double quarter-windows are a self-conscious attempt to give the standard SUV box some sedan-like horizontality. The blacked-out rear roof spoiler proclaims sport, while the nanodetailed LED taillights say insect. The RX 400h's aesthetic appeal resides in the details, like the gorgeously crafted adaptive headlights and backlit company emblems in all four doorsills. And, lest we forget, there's the ultimate badge of honor: the little 'h' on the boot badge proclaiming your intention to use less fossil fuel, keep the globe cool and avoid red meat (providing there's a suitable salad option).

By on February 8, 2006

 There are three basic markets for any car: price, value (price plus quality) and quality (price no object). Automobiles aimed at the top and bottom of the food chain are relatively easy to produce; price-oriented manufacturers can let things slide, quality-oriented carmakers can afford perfection. Value is a bitch. Automakers in this arena have got to do it all, do it right and do it at a price. One false step and competitors on either side of the financial divide reach down or reach up and snatch your bread and butter. In short, the new Hyundai Azera is something of a miracle: a car that hits the value bulls-eye with supernatural precision.

By on February 1, 2006

Big, with no excuses needed. Now git off my cotton picking lawn! A lot of the car industry's heavy hitters are busy talking up small cars. Audi, BMW, Chevy, Ford, SMART, even the Chinese are betting that America's collapsing SUV market will lead to a rebirth of the whole "small is beautiful" shtick. According to this theory, millions of dinky-sized city cars will soon be plying a city street near you; burning less gas, sweetening the air and taking-up less space. Meanwhile, check out the Dodge 2500 Mega Cab 4WD Laramie Cummins Turbodiesel. This sumbitch is BIG, and it don't apologize to no one for nothin', anywho, anyhow.

The Mega Cab's size earns/demands instant respect, but there's more than simple bulk at work. Most of today's pickups are a riot of awkward configurations: quad cab short beds that look ungainly, stepside trucks with misshapen haunches and girlie-man taillights; Heavy Duty Fords with mismatched low bedside height. The Mega Cab is perfect. Its rear doors' extended length combines with the extra C-panel width to create a sublime balance between cab and bed. Add in the obligatory macho design cues (crosshair front grill, flared wheel arches, optional roof lights) and the Mega Cab is a trucker's dream if I ever did see one.

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