If you like to drive like your hair’s on fire, deciding between the athletic American 2008 Chevrolet Corvette hardtop coupe and the Bavarian corner carver 2008 BMW 335i is a bit like choosing between cocaine and cocaine. If you’re a more sensible motorist, it’s like choosing between A.H. Hirsch 16 Year Old Reserve Pot Stilled Sour Mash Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Schloss Rüdesheim VSOP brandy. in either case, the question is a matter of taste and price. Hence this test: which performance car offers the better buzz for $40k?
Posts By: William C Montgomery
“Screw you, Steve McQueen and your fancy Mustang! I wanna ‘Vette!” I shouted (to no one) while tearing a rift in the space-time continuum through the peaceful pastoral Texas countryside. Clearly, I was imbibing heartily from a bottle of Chateau Corvette, vintage 2008. But I forgot myself. And my objectivity. I was there to perform a head-to-head comparison between said ’08 Chevy hardtop and an ’08 BMW 335i. Unlikely rivals, to be sure. But both are answers to the same question spoken in the quintessential voice of their respective source countries, America and Germany. Both are powerful sports cars designed to appeal to aging upper middle class drivers that can afford to treat themselves to something sporty and nice, just not too expensive. In this case, both cars were available at CarMax for just under $40K.
Ah, the first snow of the year. The frozen blanket transforms even the ugliest landscapes into crystalline sanctuaries. Crisp air fills the lungs and the inevitable homey smell of a wood fire tells of a distant warming hearth. Earth’s annual metamorphosis triggers a few moments when we get to live a dream stolen from the cover of an old December issue Saturday Evening Post. But for too many, this winter wonderland fantasy is abruptly cut short by the sickening sound of exploding metal, glass and plastic, because the first snow of winter also invites a rash of traffic accidents.
Gentlemen, start your tractors. LiveScience reports that scientists have discovered a diesel fuel-making fungus that outperforms existing bio-fuel production methods. Current bio-fuel processes are dependent on enzymes to convert cellulose into sugar before microbes are used to ferment the sugar into ethanol. Gliocladium roseum, the newly-found hungry fungus, inhabits in certain Patagonia rainforest trees. It feeds on cellulose to produce hydrocarbons called “myco-diesel.” With G. roseum, you skip the the sugar conversion and fermentation process. If this process can be commercialized, it could contribute to making bio-diesel a long-term viable alternative to pumping crude out of the earth. If not, not.
Does the future of going green mean packing gravel into the tailpipe of your car? Maybe. MIT’s Technology Review reports that Columbia University researchers have discovered that magnesium rich rock formations know as peridotite absorb carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The rock reacts with carbon-dioxide to create calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate. The researchers optimistically predict, “that the carbon-sequestration rate in rock formations in Oman could be increased to billions of tons a year–more than the carbon emissions in the United States from coal-burning power plants, which come to 1.5 billion tons per year.” The rock is also found in California and New Guinea. Researchers believe that fracturing and heating the rock would increase its ability to trap large amounts of CO2. Right now, the researchers are only looking at large-scale commercial applications. But who knows, the time may come when a peridotite filter might find its way under your car.
When I set out on a comparison test like this, I have one main question in mind: if I were in the market to buy a new car for my family, which one of the cars tested would I buy? I love supple leather seats, premium sound systems, grippy wide tires and an engine with the torque of a diesel freight train. But the reality at this time is that my employer, one of the world’s largest financial institutions, has lost billions of dollars in recent quarters. Its epic balance sheet can now be described as fragile. As a financial controller, I see first-hand how budgets are being drawn in asphyxiatingly tight. I know that I’m not alone in feeling nervous about my future in this economy. So which of these family sedans would I buy? The Mazda Mazda6 i Sport.
Second place sucks. Witness the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics’ squad in Beijing last summer. Pony tails drooped and tears streamed down their be-sparkled cheeks when gold medals were hung on the necks of the young (we swear they’re at least sixteen!) Chinese Olympic team. My heart goes out to Nissan, whose excellent 2009 Altima 2.5 sedan fell just short of the 2009 Mazda Mazda6 i Sport in this comparo.
This morning I rolled out of bed, performed my morning ablutions, downed a bowl of Raisin Bran, dropped my sons off at school and started my stop-and-go commute to work. A never-ending stream of blinking taillights precedes me up and down the interstate through the pre-dawn din. Wannabe comedians inanely chatter and squawk through my radio. Finally my exit arrives: a lightly traveled mile-long arcing two-lane spur that connects interstate to turnpike. In a brief burst of adrenaline energy that widens my bleary eyes, I break away from the gridlock and shoot up the ramp. In third gear I push up to 80 mph as my car confidently hunches down and steers precisely through the sweeping turn. By the time I join the turnpike I coast down and assimilate into the flow of the traffic. These brief thrills make me glad that I opted for a sportier, nimble handling family sedan. But I drive an ’01 Accord. The 2009 Accord LX is no fun at all.
During his first inaugural speech, given at the height of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Once again, Americans find themselves living through days of economic infamy. Uncertain times and erratic energy costs have cured fearing suburbanites of their predilection for gargantuan SUVs. It’s time for practical pragmatism; inexpensive family haulers that dine lightly on 85 octane and stay firmly bolted together for years to come. To fully understand this segment, I tested and compared a quartet of economy sedans. First up: the Toyota Camry.
Most car salesmen that I have encountered are miserable wretches, predators that stalk car buyers in between cigarette breaks. Despite their [well-earned] scum-sucking reputation, they don’t deserve to be killed. Do they? Apparently one man in Texas thought so. During a test drive yesterday, Dodge salesman Jack Phinney was ejected from a black 2006 Ram pickup on Dallas’ Central Expressway. Whether by force or recklessness, police don’t know. The Dallas Morning News reports that one James Thorp, fled the scene and did not return the truck to the dealership. Police later arrested him at Thorp’s former place of employment. He’s being held on $3m bond. Asked about Thorp, his former boss made an asinine statement, as people are wont to do in such situations, “I know James and James is a good guy.” Yeah, a good guy who harbors homicidal hatred of car salesmen.
Halleluiah! Oil prices are falling. Despite Nigerian revolutionaries attacking Royal Dutch Shell facilities. Despite hurricanes Gustav and Ike disrupting gulf production. And despite all of the hysteria of the last six months trumpeting the end of the era of cheap oil, oil prices have fallen as much as $55 per barrel after being pushed to a peak of $147.27 in July. Once the residual shock to gasoline refining by Ike dissipates over the next couple of weeks, consumers will begin to see a substantial difference at the pump. So is it safe for Americans to recommission their mothballed SUVs and muscle cars? A close look at financial events in recent days indicates otherwise.
“Oil at $80 a barrel?” asks BusinessWeek.com. Surely that’s not possible. After all, the world’s running out of oil, isn’t it? China and India have pushed global demand to untenable levels. Wells in Russia, Mexico and Saudi Arabia are running dry. High fuel prices are here to stay! We must have alternative energy… Bring on the EVs stat… Need more hybrids… Must have wind energy now… Ahhhhh!!! Yet Joel Fingerman, a Chicago-based energy consultant, has the nerve to forecast, “This is start of a fall to $80 crude by the end of the year, maybe as early as September.” And Oppenheimer senior energy analyst Fadel Gheit explains, “Oil prices are dropping because they are inflated. You cannot sustain an artificial price forever.” Hrumph! So did ya trade in your favorite SUV for an itsy bitsy gas miser? That’s too bad. Stephen Schork, editor of a daily energy newsletter, says, “A lot of the strength [in oil’s price] was hype and hot air.” Gee, where have I heard that before?