I haven’t been to Italy, in 21 years. My cousins and I are having dinner together for the first time in 21 years. If I didn’t already know it, I’d have learned it now: males with Italian blood are obsessed with cars. My cousin Nicola even works for FIAT, in the seaside town of Termoli. […]
Posts By: Samir Syed
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Time and time again, it’s the comparison that kept occurring to me as I played Gran Turismo 5 on my PS3. The fruit of years – and years of development, Sony’s Forza-killer was finally bestowed upon us this November. Befitting its immense gestation period, the game is a mix of out-dated user interfaces and standard cars and tracks, a sublime driving engine, and incredible detail on some of the newer premium cars. Originally targeted at Forza Motorsport 2, it came out after Forza 3, and it plays like something in between the two.
For accountants, there are two certainties: golf and taxes. Together, both are tedious enough to make me want death. Unfortunately, I knew I’d be hearing a lot about both of these moribund subjects at our firm golf tournament. I was in the parking lot that morning, praying to the heavens for divine intervention when I heard my boss’ 1976 Corvette growling and lazily pulling up. As soon as I saw the ‘Vette, I decided to cash in the goodwill I’d earned by working 300 hours of overtime between November and March. “Fifteen minutes – no more,” he said. Score.
It may come off as odd to road test a French car in Sweden. Play along because as you’ll soon discover no country’s better-suited for the Renault Kangoo. During my brief sojourn in Sweden, I’ve decided Swedes are the Earth’s most utilitarian people. Nowhere else in the Western world do the women own as few shoes or the men know as few jokes. In automotive terms, the Swedish penchant for simplicity has translated into a decades-long love affair with the most utilitarian of all automotive species: the station wagon. The Kangoo is Renault’s foray into the compact hauler market. On paper, it’s a shoo-in: it’s even uglier than an estate, it’s more practical and it consumes less fuel with the optional diesel engine! In other words, what French car could possibly be more Swedish?
“Life’s too short to buy the same car twice,” I always say. As the owner of a 2002 Mustang, I figured it would be my last example of the stallion. It’s not that I dislike the car, but I still haven’t checked “German” off my automotive ownership list and I’m dying to do it soon. When I showed up to the rental counter and was presented with the choice of a base Grand Caravan and a spanking new Mustang GT with the much-publicized interior upgrades, I didn’t need to blink twice. Minutes later, Montreal was fading in the background. So how did the GT fare in forcing me to re-assess my edict? The truth is, the car delighted me in all the ways you’d expect.
I could feel it getting closer. I heard the flat sixes at WOT nearby. I caught a glimpse of a lime-green race car flying by us. Martin and I were minutes from the one place I’d always wanted to go. I’d seen it countless times on Top Gear. I’d played it countless times on Xbox. And here I was, in Eifel, meeting up with Capt. Mike and Martin Schwoerer, about to turn videogame dreams into reality. To put it succinctly, there was no way the real-life Nurburgring could live up to my expectations. But it did.
When I entered Copley Place, the last thing I ever expected to find was a TTAC review. My trip to New England already having yielded material, the trip was already a success on that front. Yet, as I roamed the halls, ignoring designer label after designer label, destiny was slowly creeping up on me. At 2:15 PM on May 29th, 2009, I flagged the Porsche Design store. More specifically, I smelled it. The combination of pistonhead intrigue and olfactory delight was too powerful, and I walked in.
Here’s a story that proves that incompetence and general apathy isn’t limited to the DMV where Patty & Selma Bouvier earn their living. Starting now, Quebec motorists can offer up $51.97 above the current cost of a driver’s license to obtain what the provincial government is calling “Smart” driver’s licenses. These licenses will come equipped with an RFID chip that can be scanned remotely by US border guards to identify approaching drivers. Introduced by Quebec’s version of a DMV, the SAAQ, these chipped IDs are meant to allow Quebecers to comply with new Department of Homeland Security regulations that require government-issued identification when entering the US by land. Here’s the problem: The (highly personal) information emitted by the RFID can also be read by anyone else who, with $250 and a working knowledge of eBay, can obtain the necessary equipment. To make matters worse, no encryption or security measures were implemented on these “Smart” licenses. Needless to say, it’s an identity thief’s wet dream.
Now that the Need For Speed franchise has definitively and conclusively jumped the shark, Rockstar’s Midnight Club has emerged as the standard-bearer for street racing games. Enter the newest edition: Midnight Club: LA. The recipe for this one was deceptively simple: take the GTA IV driving engine, enhance it to reflect different (i.e. real) cars, stick the driver in yet another trendy city-– this time LA– and let him get into as much trouble as possible. On the whole, Midnight Club picks up right where NFS Carbon left off (let’s pretend ProStreet and Undercover never happened). It’s a fun, arcade-style game, but it’s not without its flaws.
A few months ago, I asked TTAC’s Best and Brightest if I should drive my Mustang in the snow. After very little soul-searching, and very much viewing of Mustangs, Supras, Bimmers and Porsches doing snow donuts on YouTube, the decision practically made itself. So, I had the car anti-rusted and bought a set of Kingstar W411 winters (made by Hankook) on black wheels and off I went, with no extra junk in the trunk (hey – it might ruin the steering). I’ve driven it almost daily; it’s faced Montreal’s harsh winter with gusto. Even during the heaviest storm of the year to date, I had no problem getting around. Obviously, I’m delicate on the throttle and I pay attention to the brakes, lest I lock up the wheels and transform my little pony into a giant, lead sled. One caveat though – freezing rain. One day where we received all manner of precipitation (rain, then freezing rain, then snow) the car got stuck in a parking space in a street the city of Montreal had characteristically forgotten to clear. A little back-and-forth pushin’ and rockin’ while a good samaritan floored the gas and she was soon free, but I almost missed a dinner date. Lesson learned for next time: Bring a shovel and carry traction-aids.
Need for Speed Prostreet is a huge departure from the NFS series, featuring only legal racing. That’s right; the ultimate “I don’t wanna grow up” game has grown up. By banishing typical NFS staples – illegality, police chases and near-invincibility – EA Sports has made a serious racing game. Unfortunately, that places ProStreet squarely in the crosshairs of established franchises like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport, who’ve cornered the market on “serious racing.” Against this lethal competition, ProStreet falls far short of establishing a beachhead.
“Factory rice” rides are always a conundrum. On the one hand, they’re rife with unabashed cheesiness: grotesque rims, offensive exhaust notes, a prominent wing and assorted cladding. Yet they’re too expensive for the teen tuners at which they seem targeted. So who’s buying these augmented econoboxes? Guys like me: 28-year-olds torn between adolescent rebellion and conformist careerism. So, can Mitsubishi’s entry in this semi-nihilist Nipponese niche, the Lancer Ralliart, fulfill the existentially-challenged man-child’s need for wheels?
When the leaders of the G20 meet this weekend, they’ll look to Canada’s conservative but durable banking model as a template for the rest of the world. Since the Liberal reign of Paul Martin as Canada’s Finance Minister, Canada’s been the “Wealthy Barber” of the developed world, deploying bland but solid fiscal policy to great effect. And now, more sense from the current Canadian Finance Minister, Conservative Jim Flaherty. CTVNews reports that Jim isn’t too keen on giving the ailing Canadian auto industry the US-style bailout that’s currently being debated in Washington. Why not? Well sometimes, the story just tells itself: “Nobody wants to see taxpayers’ money taken — and then in effect wasted — where a company is not going to survive … we want to see the plan for survivability,” he said. In order words, before the FinMin spends one cent of taxpayer dollars propping up Canadian production, he wants to see a turnaround plan. You know – the same kind of plan GM has failed to publish ever since it first bled red under its current CEO Rick Wagoner. Don’t hold your breath, Jim.
Last year, Premier Jean Charest’s fellow Québécois faced the worst winter the Province had seen in over five decades. So he directed his government to make winter radial tires mandatory. From December 15 until March 15, snow shoes for you, eh? Two weeks ago, I spoke to a mechanic in Nashua, New Hampshire who lamented a shortage of winter tires. New Hampshire being almost Canada, I should have twigged. Then, two days ago, a Montreal tire shop was burned to the ground in what the Montreal Gazette called a “supicious tire fire.” Still didn’t click. Finally, the Canadian press put two and two together for me, declaring that Quebec’s winter tire law is causing a shortage and, c’est vrai, a tire war in the province. This being the first year such a law has been in place for any Canadian province, the demand for tires in Quebec has inevitably led to shortages in neighboring provinces and bordering U.S. states. In case anyone in the Northeast needs winter tires for a Ford Mustang, I happen to have a pair that I’d part with for, say, $20b dollars. U.S.