The Truth About Cars » 2010s http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 20:45:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » 2010s http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Rental Car Review: My Wisconsin Week With a 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/rental-car-review-my-wisconsin-week-with-a-2012-chevrolet-sonic-lt/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/rental-car-review-my-wisconsin-week-with-a-2012-chevrolet-sonic-lt/#comments Mon, 21 Oct 2013 13:00:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=628786 27 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIn my travels as Chief Justice of the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court, I spend a lot of time in bottom-end rental cars. Sometimes I get press cars and write about them on these trips, but that’s usually more of a hassle than it’s worth. For about 15 four-day race weekends a year (plus a few vacation trips here and there) I’m in a Dodge Avenger, Nissan Altima, Ford Focus, or other rental-fleet favorite. 2013 is a year of Wisconsin visits for me; first, I went to my wife’s Milwaukee high-school reunion with a ’13 Jaguar XJL Portfolio, then I spent nine days in Door County with a rental ’12 Sonic, and next month I’ll be at the Chubba Cheddar Enduro at Road America with a ’14 Mitubishi Evo. The Sonic made an unexpectedly strong impression on me in August, so let’s see what life with Chevy’s little Daewoo is like.
00 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWhen we arrived at the Milwaukee airport, the rental-car agency had just one car available in the class I’d reserved: a 2012 Chevy Sonic with more than 25,000 miles on the clock. Twenty-five thousand miles, on a rental car! Rental-car miles are like dog years, with one rental mile roughly equivalent to seven owned miles, and I had never before seen a rental car (in the United States) with more than 15,000 miles under its belt. I figured I’d be getting a sneak preview of what a Sonic with 175,000 hard miles would be like in the year 2025— an opportunity, not a disappointment, for the serious automotive journalist.
08 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinMinutes after leaving the airport, I spotted a good-sized car show, complete with live music, so I figured I’d get right into Upper Midwest car culture.
31 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIn a way, trips to the Upper Midwest serve as reminders of my cultural roots; though I spent most of my childhood in California, I spent my first six years in Minneapolis. Here we see the Martin Family Motor Pool, circa 1970.
30 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinYes, before the commissars of California turned me into the coastal-elitist Zaporozhets lover I am today, my family lived a proper Old Milwaukee-drinking, sauerkraut-eating, snow-shoveling, Custom 500-driving life in the heartland. In fact, every photo from my early childhood features Old Milwaukee (or Old Style, or Grain Belt) beer bottles and/or Old Dutch pretzels somewhere in the frame.
10 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinRight. So, a Milwaukee car show did a good job of getting me back in touch with my inner Midwesterner, plus there were a few interesting machines standing out from the usual background of first-gen GM F-bodies and pre-Pinto Mustangs. Say, this Stovebolt six with vintage Offenhauser intake.
09 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOr this more modern version of the custom-Chevy theme.
24 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWe were hungry, so we headed to the south side of Milwaukee to grab some dinner. Before leaving, however, I futzed around with the audio system of the Sonic long enough to get my MP3 player hooked up to the stereo’s AUX jack…
22 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin… at which point I discovered that this no-frills econobox has functioning Bluetooth integration. How long ago was it that only luxury cars had this stuff? Ten years?
13 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Sonic felt a bit loose and rattly, as you’d expect with a high-mileage rental, but everything worked fine and the 1.8 liter Ecotec still made decent, if buzzy, power. In fact, I can say without reservation that this is by far the best overseas-designed badge-engineered subcompact in General Motors history; the mildly unpleasant Aveo was better than the punitive Metro, which was better than the miserable Sprint, which was far superior to the wretched LeMans, which beat the hell out of the excremental Chevette, which seemed like a fine automobile next to the unspeakably terrible Kadett. With those comparisons in mind, we rolled into the south Milwaukee neighborhood in which my wife’s grandparents spent their entire lives.
11 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinDinner was at Three Brothers, a little Serbian joint located in the building that once housed one of Joseph Schlitz’s first breweries.
12 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIt’s always a good sign when you’re eating dinner at a restaurant with one of these things on the roof.
14 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinReally getting into the Upper Midwest thing at this point, I tried to imagine rolling up to this restaurant in 1964, driving the rental-car equivalent of a Sonic. A Chevy II sedan with four-cylinder engine and 10,000 miles on the odometer?
15 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinFor dinner, I had the stuffed zucchini with dumplings. Highly recommended. No, I didn’t drink Schlitz with it; there is such a thing as carrying local authenticity too far.
18 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinAfter spending the night at my mother-in-law’s place just north of Milwaukee, we hit the road for the 140-drive to Sturgeon Bay, a Lake Michigan town about midway up the Door County peninsula.
23 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Sonic’s suspension was a bit rattly and the body was pockmarked by old hail damage, but the unapologetically plasticky interior had held up to all those miles of rental-car punishment pretty well. I continued to be impressed by the number of once-luxurious features that are now standard on even the stripper rental version of the lowest-end car of a car company’s entry-level marque. Cruise control!
21 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinTilt steering wheel! No power seats, but we may see them go the way of manual-crank windows in the next few years.
07 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI had to supply my own GPS device for the Sonic, but once backup cameras become mandatory in all new cars we can expect all those little screens to enable GPS in even the cheap Daewoos of the US car marketplace.
02 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinPassing through Belgium, Wisconsin, not far out of Milwaukee’s sphere of influence, I spotted a highway sign for the Luxembourg American Cultural Society Museum. As my legal surname should make clear to any lifelong resident of southern Wisconsin or Minnesota, I am a proud Luxembourg-American— just like Chris Evert and Dennis Hastert.
17 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe museum wasn’t open at the time, but it seemed like a pleasant place. No, I don’t understand why the Luxembourg American Cultural Center is located in Belgium when the town of Luxembourg, Wisconsin is nearby.
16 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHere we are in traditional Luxembourger outfits, which gave me a powerful hunger for some traditional Lëtzebuerger Grillwurscht. So, we climbed back into the Sonic and resumed our journey.
03 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinRural Wisconsin is one of my favorite road-trip states, not least because you can stop in just about small town and snarf up an excellent meal based on the principles of the Upper Midwest Food Pyramid (more of a Food Holy Trinity, really): cured meat, cheese, and beer. The Port O’Call in Kewaunee didn’t have Lëtzebuerger Grillwurscht, but they did offer the full spectrum of New Glarus beers and a good selection of meaty, cheesy fare.
25 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinArriving in Sturgeon Bay, which is sort of a weird mashup of corn-fed Midwestern town, salty port city, and upscale resort community, I wanted to pose the Sonic by all the old-school taverns with nicely weathered Malaise Era beer signs.
26 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI suspect that the Red Room’s Blatz sign predates the Malaise Era by a decade or two.

Beer at local prices! I gave up on the Sonic-with-vintage-beer-signs idea once I realized that such a project would take about a week to finish.
32 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinActually, I lost focus on beer signs when I spotted this Nissan Figaro parked in downtown Sturgeon Bay. I couldn’t find the owner, so I can’t tell you what no-doubt-innovative paperwork magic was performed to make this car legal for US roads.
33 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNor can I tell you how a Citroën 2CV can survive in Wisconsin without vaporizing in a cloud of red dust within hours of arrival.
19 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOne feature that really struck me about the Sonic was the cheap-and-cheerful instrument cluster, a discrete standalone unit that can be mounted on left or right side of the dash without too much trouble. No doubt using the same Korean-design/Taiwanese-capital/Chinese-labor system that brought us $25 boomboxes that can be tumbled down several flights of concrete steps and still crank out the Tang Dynasty, Daewoo has produced a tough, easy-to-replace analog/digital instrument cluster that provides all the needed driver information, looks vaguely science-fictiony, and probably cost less than the fuel gauge on a Maepsy.

In fact, this cluster is the first thing you see in the add for the Japan-market Chevy Sonic. Wild compact!

Now that we’re watching Sonic commercials, let’s take a look at a few more examples of the way this Daewoo is conquering the world. Here’s how they pitch it in Brazil.

In Australia, the Sonic gets badge-engineered into the Holden Barina.

In Argentina, this Sonic ad gives the econo-futuristic instrument cluster heavy billing.

The Thai-market Sonic is So You. Note the instrument cluster on the right side.

This US-market ad features Theophilus London and the sort of hoonage that would have been illegal under Malaise Era car-ad restrictions.

Speaking of hoonage, marketers of the Korean Sonic (still called the Aveo in 2012) encourage “Fun Riding” in Italy.

In Mexico, all night party people use the Sonic sedan to escape oppressive techno-state control.

Former Warsaw Pact countries got local-language versions of this ad.

This Indian-market ad is for the previous-generation Aveo, but I’m including it for general entertainment value (and to provide yet more evidence that GM has gone seriously global with its Sonic/Barina/Aveo/Zafira/whatever).
20 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin
OK, back to Wisconsin! After admiring the instrument cluster a while longer, I headed to the log cabin.
29 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinMy wife’s grandparents bought this log cabin on the Lake Michigan shore back in the 1940s, and I parked the Sonic in the spot where generations of Buicks and Packards once parked.
05 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOver the course of the next week, I took the Sonic on many trips into town, to purchase crucial supplies (and to get internet access, so I could write about my Bonneville Salt Flats adventures of the previous week).
06 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSonic trips to fine Wisconsonian eating establishments such as the Nightingale Supper Club, took care of my recommended yearly allowance of perch and whitefish.
04 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin
Naturally, the Sonic went on a few shopping expeditions for treats to bring back to Denver.
28 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIn the end, I was a little sad to return the hail-battered, much-traveled Chevy to the rental-car lot at MKE. The current generation of Sonic turned out to be a decent transportation appliance. If it can survive 25,000 miles in a rental fleet, you have to figure it should be good for at least 200,000 miles on the street, right? My Rental Car Review Verdict™ of the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT: Utterly bereft of Mack Daddy style, surprisingly pleasant to drive. If given a choice between this car and a Nissan Versa at the rental-car counter, take the Sonic (and if given a choice between the Dodge Journey and walking, take walking).

01 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 22 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 23 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 24 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 25 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 26 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 27 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 28 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 29 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]>
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Adventures In Marketing: Observe the Edgy and Rebellious Lincoln MKZ Buyers! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/adventures-in-marketing-observe-the-edgy-and-rebellious-lincoln-mkz-buyers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/adventures-in-marketing-observe-the-edgy-and-rebellious-lincoln-mkz-buyers/#comments Thu, 18 Apr 2013 13:00:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=485273 I do a lot of traveling (to such exotic places as Kershaw, South Carolina and South Haven, Michigan) in my travels with the 24 Hours of LeMons, which means I have plenty of dead time in airports to contemplate puzzling car ads. The Economist is the best possible magazine to have on hand when you get hit by a six-hour weather delay at George Bush International, because of its incredible bang-for-buck density. It’s clear that marketing flacks take the Economist‘s word for it when they talk about readership demographics, because the split between self-proclaimed readership (powerful and influential globe-trotting executives) and actual readership (geeked-out history/politics junkies with unkempt beards and Dead Kennedys T-shirts) makes for some entertaining car advertisements. Here’s one for the ’13 Lincoln MKZ, which attempts to woo the 72-year-old owner of a 6-store dry-cleaning chain into feeling that the purchase of an MKZ will transform him into a focus-group-perfect 42-year-old entrepreneur. Let’s take a closer look at what Lincoln’s marketers picture as the idealized MKZ buyer.
“Like individuals, no two journeys are alike.” In fact, every one of the ten men pictured in this ad is the exact same guy: the mid-level manager who uses PowerPoint to make minutes drag on like geological epochs. He’s not The Man, but— in the world created by Ford’s marketers— The Man drives a Lincoln instead of one of those foreign jobs.
So, 30 years after Gates, Jobs, and Wozniak changed The Man’s dress code from oligarchic suits to not-quite-one-of-the-guys nerdwear, we’ve got the double disconnect of a car being pitched in a publication read by a demographic that mostly ignores Detroit cars, using what appear to be computer-generated images straight out of the notes gleaned from a focus group comprised of hyper-optimistic Las Vegas realtors.Of course, this got me to thinking about the only MKZ owner I’ve ever known, who actually is a 40-something business executive. In 2006, I was working as a tech writer at a software startup in California, and the founder (a super-geeked-out physics PhD with a Prius) decided he’d better hire what the investors call “adult supervision,” a genuine suit who could convince everyone that we were serious. This guy parked his brand-new MKZ between my battered P71 Crown Vic and the QA guy’s hooptie Porsche 924, and it became clear that he’d traded in his Lexus GS for the Lincoln because he’d believed the car writers when they broke out their “DETROIT IS BACK!” rubberstamps upon attending the no-doubt-luxurious MKZ launch, and he really wanted to buy American. He didn’t look much like the guys in the Economist ad, and he was more a low-drama administrator than the risk-taking maverick envisioned by those Vegas realtors, but at least he was the right age. He was disappointed by the MKZ— I can’t recall exactly why— but he was determined to give his Lincoln a chance. In my opinion, Ford’s marketers would be better off going with a focus group made up entirely of hair-transplanted strip-club owners from suburban Bakersfield; go for the semi-penumbral-economy bad boys!

1965 Lincoln Continental - Picture courtesy of Old Car Brochures LincolnEconomistAd-1280px LincolnEconomistAd-Close1-1280px LincolnEconomistAd-Close2-1280px Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Review: 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/review-2013-mitsubishi-lancer-evolution-mr/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/review-2013-mitsubishi-lancer-evolution-mr/#comments Wed, 30 Jan 2013 14:00:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=475621 I review fairly few new cars, but when I head to the American Irony 24 Hours of LeMons race at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois, I feel like I need to take on a country club sort of approach. That means I need the appropriate press car for an official at the race that feels like Caddy Day at the Bushwood Country Club pool. In 2011, I tried to get Chrysler to get me an Avenger R/T, because who wouldn’t want the fallback rental-car Dodge with 283 front-drive horsepower? Instead, I got the Challenger SRT8 392, which was fun but certainly no Avenger R/T. For the 2012 American Irony race, I decided that what I needed was the nice version of Mitsubishi’s contribution to the current rental-car gene pool: the Galant SE. What I got, thanks to Mitsubishi axing the Galant (though not cold blasting it) and generally acknowledging that the Evo is the only big Mitsubishi blip left on Americans’ car-awareness radar, was this white ’13 Evolution MR. Hey, that’s what I’ve got, that’s what I’ll review.
Actually, what ended up happening was that a helpful LeMons team gave me the use of a very nice Piaggio Ape 50 pickup for the race weekend, and of course I ended up parking the Evo and reviewing the Ape instead. That’s understandable, because who wouldn’t prefer the three-wheeled Italian truck built by a scooter manufacturer? However, I did drive the Lancer from the airport to the track, and then back and forth to the hot-sheet flophouse of a crackhouse hotel that my cheapskate, press-car-destroyin’ boss chose for the LeMons staff, so I was able to get an idea of what this car is about.
What you get with the ’13 Lancer Evolution MR is a 3,517-pound commuter sedan that has been hit with a batshit-crazy 291-horse engine huffing huge boost, all-wheel-drive, lots of scoops and flares and maws straight out of Manny, Moe, and Jack’s most fevered dress-up-accessory dreams, Recaro crypto-race seats, and a couple of decades of race-winning heritage.
The package feels more like a machine put together by crazed hot-rodders in a little shop behind an Osaka noodle house than a production vehicle built by a major automaker. That’s both good and bad.
The Evolution’s ability to deal with a given driving situation can always be determined by asking one simple question: How much does this task resemble screaming balls-to-wall down some Scandinavian dirt while dodging rally spectators?
Driving around the 25-MPH-limit streets of Joliet in a bouncy, noisy, paddle-shift-automatic-equipped, cramped-yet-large car isn’t much like a rally stage, and therefore the Evo falls somewhere between the Dodge Nitro and the Misery Edition Toyota Corolla for this slice of the driving experience.
However, drag-racing a brand-new VW GTI out of the tollbooths on a rain-soaked Chicago highway is something like a maniacal dirt-eating race, and for that situation the Evolution MR becomes the best possible choice of vehicle (yes, the GTI got stomped so bad that I felt vaguely guilty for the rest of the evening). They say this car is good for high-13-second quarter-mile times, which is a bit slower than my ’65 Impala, but the madness of the engine in this car makes it feel much quicker.
As further evidence that we are currently living in The Golden Age of Engines, I present the MIVEC (Mitubishi’s catchy acronym for variable valve timing) 2.0 liter four. If Mitsubishi had been able to build something one-third this good for the Cordia, Things Would Have Been Different for Mitsubishi USA. Every time I felt like laughing at this silly, expensive ($38,960 as tested), flimsy-feeling car, the incredible competence of this powertrain changed my mind.
The numbers of die-hard Mitsubishi fans in America have been dwindling since the heyday of the Starion and Eclipse as mainstream sporty-car options, but I did meet this young Evo VIII owner and her “Live Fast” Santa Cruz License Plate tatt in a LeMons paddock. Perhaps the berserkitude of the Lancer Evolution will keep the Mitubishi brand in our minds long enough for the company to come up with a new line of vehicles that will— finally— make significant quantities of American car shoppers say, “Yes! I must own that!” On that subject, has anyone seen a regular Lancer on the road lately?
The ride is race-car rough and bouncy, of course, and the interior falls somewhere between “rental car” and “sporty.” The Recaro seats are covered with the same type of sweat-proof petroleum-based fabric that faux-Aeron office chairs get, and they’re made for drivers with way narrower shoulders— e.g., wiry Finnish rally drivers— than I have.
The baseball-style stitches on the “Sportronic” automatic shifter add a bit of Nippon Ham Fighters flavor to the interior, but the overall impression feels more Detroit than Tokyo, something like the world’s nicest 1998 Chrysler Sebring.
I couldn’t find anything in the owner’s manual about the “AWC” button (as a former technical writer, I know exactly how this stuff gets left out of manuals: the writers’ eyes glaze over during the 114th slide of a 4,358-slide PowerPoint presentation and they miss some features), but I suspect it unlocks the center differential. When driving on wet roads, I decided I wasn’t going to be The Writer Who Stuffed a Press Car Into a Concrete Abutment and opted to keep the hoonage to a minimum. It grips hard on wet asphalt, and I’ll bet it lets go real sudden-like.
Anyway, the button made some change to the way the all-wheel drive system took care of business.
Overall, the ’13 Lancer Evolution MR is sort of annoying to live with, except for the moments when it’s the greatest car ever built. Were I to own one, I think I’d spend about 95% of my Evo driving time being mildly annoyed and the rest of the time laughing maniacally. Worth nearly forty grand? Strangely, yes.

01 - 2008 Piaggo Ape 50 Europe - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 01 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 22 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 23 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 24 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 25 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 26 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 27 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 28 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 29 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 30 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 31 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 32 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 33 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 34 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 35 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 36 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 37 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 38 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 39 - 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 39 - Mitsubishi Live Fast Tattoo - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Review: 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/review-2013-mazda-mx-5-miata-club/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/review-2013-mazda-mx-5-miata-club/#comments Wed, 21 Nov 2012 17:30:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=462871 Back when I reviewed the Scion FR-S, I wrapped up by saying I’d want to check out the latest Miata before I passed judgment on the bang-per-buck value of the Subuyopet. So, I called up the PR flacks at Mazda: “Hey, remember how I didn’t totally trash the CX-5 I wrote about in July? Yeah, so now the entire Toyo Cork Kogyo organization owes me, which means I need a Daimyo Class ticket on the next flight to Tokyo, a BLACK TUNED MX-5 waiting for me, and an honor guard of eight dekatoras to escort me as I cruise around looking for an Autozam AZ-1 to ship back to Denver.” Disappointingly, what I got was a US-market MX-5 Club Sport dropped off at a shuttle lot at George Bush International in Houston, to which I’d flown Misery Class in order to judge at the fifth annual Gator-O-Rama 24 Hours of LeMons. I spent three days with a True Red ’13 Miata, mostly shuttling between my hotel in Angleton, Texas, and the race at MSR Houston.
You figure, hey, weekend at a race track with a Miata— get ready for a bunch of racy-sounding gibberish about “turn-in” and “performance at the limit.” Trail braking. Not this time; this track was crowded with stuff like ’73 Dodge Coronets and 560SEC Benzes bashing into each other, no place for a nice uncaged press car with 90 miles on the clock. Anyway, you can sum up the Miata’s track performance— as determined by racers who, unlike me, actually know how to get around a road course in a hurry— for the last 23 model years in five words: at home on the track. Now that we’ve got that established, this review is going to focus on the real-worldliness of this little red devil.
When I arrived at MSR, I took the Miata around the pits to do a little bit of “pre-sweating” of cheaters, and to pose the car with its Mazda racing brethren. Here it is flanked by the whiskey-still-equipped RX-7 and collapsed-barn find RX-2 of Team Sensory Assault.
The Miata hasn’t bloated much during the last couple of decades, as can be seen in this portrait of the ’13 parked next to the ’91 of Team Nucking Futs. The first-year Miata (in 1990) had a curb weight of 2,105 pounds; the 2013 manual-transmission version weighs 2,480 pounds. By the standards of Model Bloat, that’s impressive.
To be honest, I felt a little uncomfortable showing up at this track in a red Miata. The 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court has been hard on Texas Miatas over the years, destroying a couple in the (now discontinued) People’s Curse and generally making life difficult for the Spec Miata guys who attempt to bring their Texan brand of Mazda-bashing behavior to LeMons racing.
As it turned out, just about everybody who has anything to do with road racing— even those Mazda racers I’ve busted for cheaty-ass Racing Beat suspension parts at past races— loves the sight of a new Miata.
However, being around car freaks and racers makes one forget that the Miata has a much different image in the eyes of ordinary Americans, particularly those in edge-city suburban areas full of mouth-breathing Internet Tough Guys in Tapout shirts. Never mind that the Miata will obliterate 95% of testosterone-pumped cars in a real race— what matters is that the Miata falls somewhere on the machismo spectrum between fern bars and Hello Kitty when it comes to its image among non-car expert types.
Not that I’ve ever given much of a damn about that sort of thing, but the perceived manliness (or lack thereof) of this car became an issue while driving it on the rural highways south of Houston. Never in my life have I experienced so much hyper-aggressive tailgating, angry gestures, brake checks, and general highway assholery than in the three days of driving a red Miata with manufacturer plates on Texas roads. Did some joker put an Obama sticker on this thing? I wondered after my first white-knuckle drive to the track with one SUV grille after another looming in the rear-view. Apparently the sight of a little red sports car simply enrages Texas exurbanite males, in a way that all the rental Aveos and Corollas I’ve driven on the same roads never has.
This image problem reminds me of the one faced by certain dog owners. This is my dog, Jackson. He is 70 pounds of solid muscle, bred from a long line of water retrievers, fast, tough, and fearless (he’s also sort of a knucklehead, but we won’t go there).
Jackson is also a Standard Poodle, a breed that image-conscious American males cannot own if they feel even slightly insecure about their own masculinity. Decades of horrible haircutting jobs on no-doubt-mortified show poodles by those scary dog-show types (or, even worse, the mad-genetic-scientist abomination of the miniature poodle) have done to the breed’s image what decades of boring 24-year-old dental hygienists have done to the Miata’s image.
Which isn’t to say that driving the Miata Club for several days didn’t turn me gayer than Rob Halford right away. Fortunately, we had the Leather Daddy cap from the Macho Man penalty handy, so I could dress appropriately.
Now, if you’re going to go shopping for Tom of Finland prints in your Miata and it’s raining— as it was just about the entire time I had the car— you’re going to want a convertible top that doesn’t leak.
Soft-top convertibles almost always leak, at least a little bit, it’s a big hassle to raise and lower them, and they let in a lot of wind noise when the top is up. This is not the case with the ’13 Miata; it takes about four seconds and very little effort to operate the top by hand while sitting in the driver’s seat. It never leaked a drop, regardless of how wild the storms got, and the top remained unperturbed by high winds while cruising at 80 MPH.
The HVAC system is unusually powerful for a Japanese car (Detroit always wins in this category, because Detroit automakers test their climate-control systems in places like Death Valley and Bemidji). This came in handy when I got soaked by rain during the performance of my LeMons Supreme Court duties; the Miata’s heater was able to dry out socks fairly quickly (because the car’s engine was kept running for hours at a time during repeated sock-drying cycles, I was not able to get personally verified fuel-economy figures for it… but I did manage to avoid catching a case of Houston Jungle Rot).
The Miata Club is the sporty version, with six-speed transmission (the base Miata Sport makes do with five), 17″ wheels, and a bunch of snazzy trim bits. For this, you pay $26,705 MSRP instead of the Sport’s $23,720.
The engine in all the manual-transmission ’13 Miatas is the same 167-horse DOHC 2-liter unit, and if British Leyland had been able to come up with anything even half this good, we’d all still be driving MGBs. 167 horsepower feels like plenty of power in this car, though I did get my doors blown off in a drag race with the rental Malibu driven by the rest of the LeMons HQ crew.
The 4.10 rear-axle gear ratio and 0.79:1 sixth gear means that the Miata’s engine is spinning pretty frantically during highway cruising, and I’m assuming that’s one of the main reasons for the not-so-great-for-a-2,400-pound-car fuel economy (claimed 21 city/28 highway). Steeper gears would mean an intolerable reduction in fun, so the fuel-economy penalty is worth paying.
The climate and sound-system controls use simple knobs and buttons. Everything here makes sense, though I can’t help wishing (once again) that the science-fiction aesthetic of 1980s Japanese car interiors would make a comeback.
The Miata is reasonably civilized on rough pavement and long highway drives, a bit less punitive— but also a bit less grippy— than I found the FR-S to be. The word that always comes up in Miata reviews, stretching back to the era of Operation Desert Storm, is “fun,” and it remains impossible to avoid this word when writing about the MX-5. As 11,498 before me have also written, this car manages to combine the joys of an old-timey Italian or British open sports car with the ability to use the thing as totally functional daily transportation.
My quick-and-dirty gauge for judging the level of corner-cutting build-quality shortcuts is a glance under the hood at the electrical connectors. The MX-5 uses pretty decent ones, though one of these days I’ll need to get a press car while I’m not working at a LeMons race, so I can have the time to pull a door panel and look at the stuff that always fails first.
There was one mosquito-in-my-ear irritation that I’d have to remedy, were I to buy this car. See the oil-pressure gauge dead in the center of the instrument cluster, where your eyes are going to be drawn every time you glance down? It’s actually an idiot light, i.e. it registers an “everything is OK” reading when the pressure switch is happy. The “idiot gauge” is quite common these days, if disappointing in a car that’s likely to get thrashed on a race track at some point in its career (racers usually don’t notice gauges other than the tach in the heat of battle, anyway, which is why LeMons racers tend to install gigantic oil-pressure idiot lights), but what really drives me nuts about this one is that it’s not a binary OK/PANIC idiot gauge. No, it’s a ternary OK/OK/PANIC gauge, with engine speed determining which of two readings the gauge will display. So, if I buy a new Miata— which I’m now dangerously tempted to do— I’m going to pull out the gauge cluster, disassemble it, replace the offending gauge with the guts from a normal analog gauge, and add the appropriate sender. Otherwise, the sight of the ternary idiot gauge would offend my geek sensibilities every time I drove the car.
What else? The sound system doesn’t pack enough bass for those of us who appreciate 21st-century levels of boom, but the aftermarket can solve that problem easily enough. Other than the image problem and resulting disapproval from dudes with anxieties about their own Perceived Testicular Heft (henceforth referred to as PTH), the who-gives-a-damn fuel-economy penalty from the nervous rear gear, and a couple of minor annoyances so small I feel petty just mentioning them, this car has nothing but pluses. In fact, it’s the only car I’ve ever reviewed that I could see myself buying new (I felt that way about another Mazda… until I took it to the gas station), though I’d probably save the three grand and get the 5-speed Sport. Used 6-speed transmissions and 17″ wheels are readily available for reasonable prices, any time you feel the need to upgrade.
So, the MX-5 Miata Club is slower on the road course and at the dragstrip than is the similarly priced FR-S, but it’s easier to drive like a hoon and not die, Mazda has put decades of work into making it hold up to track abuse, the aftermarket will provide every imaginable performance upgrade for the next century, and it’s just an all-around better-balanced package. If you must have space for more groceries and/or can’t stand the idea of living with a convertible, the FR-S makes slightly more sense.

29 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 01 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 22 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 23 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 24 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 25 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 26 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 27 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 28 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 29 - Jackson the Standard Poodle in snow - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 29 - Caricature Mazda Miata - Picture courtesy of Car Town Forums 29 - Jackson the Standard Poodle - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 30 - Mazda Miata getting 24 Hours of LeMons Peoples Curse in Texas - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Real-World Review: Fleeing Hurricane Sandy Across 8 States In a Rented 2012 Kia Sorento http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/real-world-review-fleeing-sandy-across-8-states-in-a-rented-2012-kia-sorento/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/real-world-review-fleeing-sandy-across-8-states-in-a-rented-2012-kia-sorento/#comments Wed, 14 Nov 2012 13:30:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=466805 So the Halloween Hooptiefest 24 Hours of LeMons at New Hampshire Motors Speedway went well, with the Rust In The Wind Saab-powered Nissan 300ZX taking a very improbable overall win, and we of the LeMons HQ crew were packing up the gear on Sunday afternoon and getting ready to head home… when we heard that all of our flights out of Logan— in fact, all flights out of the northeastern United States— were canceled due to ZOMG THE END OF THE WORLD IS COMING PANIC YALL!!!1! The plan had been to drive our rental Kia Sorento 70 miles or so to an airport hotel, spend the night there, and grab our flights early Monday morning. We got to the hotel in Burlington, Massachusetts, where we convened an emergency meeting of the very exhausted LeMons brain trust.
The four of us— me, Nick Pon, Jeff Glenn, and Jay Lamm— figured we could hunker down in the hotel for what was shaping up to be at least three days of hurricane hell, probably without electricity and most likely fighting with roaming bands of storm-maddened locals for D batteries and maybe rat carcasses to roast over burning tires… or we could leap into the Sorento and drive west or south in order to get to an airport both out of reach of Sandy’s path and featuring flights to San Francisco (for them) and Denver (for me). If we were going to go for the latter choice, we’d have to start quickly; it was already 8:30 PM and the edge of the fast-approaching storm would soon be closing roads and probably gas stations along any route we might take. We’d all been running on a few hours’ sleep per night for the previous few days— running a LeMons race with 100+ entries takes a lot out of you even when you are catching eight hours of Zs each night— but each of us had plenty of wild-eyed road trip experience and we figured we could split the driving four ways, crank the Melt-Banana to stay awake, and arrive alive. After a flurry of calls to airlines and frenzied study of weather maps— all four guys on laptops and phones— we narrowed our choices to Cincinatti and Charlotte. The storm looked likely to head east, but it had already been south, so we opted for Charlotte, North Carolina, close to 900 miles to the southwest. OK, let’s do it!
Jay Lamm samples Pickle Vodka - picture courtesy of Judge PhilLeMons Chief Perp Jay Lamm, however, decided that he just wasn’t crazy enough to do the drive; he’d tried to dodge Hurricane Irene when in New York the year before and just ended up dealing with more hassle than if he’d just stayed put. So, he handed us the keys to the Kia and all the cash he could spare and sent us on our way. It was 8:50 on Sunday night and we had reservations for flights out of Charlotte for early Tuesday morning. No sweat, as long as we didn’t get trapped by closed roads and/or panic-stricken crowds clogging the roads in an escape frenzy.
Because we had visions of getting trapped on a dead-stalled highway in Maryland or Pennsylvania (I was getting sweated by visions from Cortázar’s endless-traffic-jam story La Autopista del Sur), we blew into the nearby Trader Joe’s to get provisions to last us a few days. I had several bottles of quality bribe booze from racers in my luggage, so I figured we’d be able to barter that for a few tin cups of mulligan stew from friendly hobos camped next to the miles of abandoned cars. Our shopping expedition was a whirlwind affair, since we showed up four minutes before closing time; three race organizers grabbing random stuff off the shelves as the apocalypse bears down results in a strange menu indeed. Two weeks later, I’m still eating leftover Plutonium Joe’s Isotopes-n-Capers Trail Mix™ and Hukbalahap Joe’s Balut Sticks™.
Assuming that the power was about to go out everywhere, we filled up the Sorento at the first gas station we found. While Jeff pumped, I went in to the station to buy Nitrute-Enhanced™ meat-stick snacks and caffeinated beverages. “Stocking up for the storm?” asked the clerk. “Hell no!” I replied, “We’re driving straight to North Carolina!” Everyone in the place turned and gazed upon me with respect. Or something.
The cargo area of the Sorento was just about completely filled with our luggage; we bring all the transponders and a bunch of other bulky race gear with us as checked baggage when we travel to races, so we had a lot of crap. It was a good thing that Jay had decided to stay behind, because we needed the unoccupied rear passenger seats for our food, phone chargers, and other stuff we’d need to be able to reach while the Sorento was in motion. So, if you’re traveling heavy, the Sorento barely has room for three adults and their equipment.
Even though Jeff had just spent a long day as Race Manager in the NHMS tower— that is, the guy who coordinates all the flaggers, emergency crews, pit-in/out staffers, sends me the penalty information, everything, a job akin to being an air-traffic controller combined with a police dispatcher— he swore he felt alert and ready to go and he insisted on driving the first leg of our journey.
We decided that we’d need to give New York City a wide berth, due to the increasingly scary reports of evacuations from the city, and so we planned a route that took us west to Scranton, Pennsylvania, and then southwest to Charlotte. Since Sandy at this time was just off the Virginia coast and moving due north, our route would be taking us down into the storm— or at least its western edge— but we figured we’d be far enough inland to avoid the worst effects.
The wind was getting wilder, the rain was starting to pelt down pretty hard, and I-84 was crowded with erratic-driving hurricane escapees, but Jeff kept saying “I feel great!” and kept the hammer down. The unibody, car-chassis-based Sorento proved to be surprisingly agile for a tall-looking CUV packed to the rafters with passengers and cargo.
One of my jobs as Chief Justice of the LeMons Supreme Court is to write the post-race summaries for the race sponsor, preferably on race day, so I tethered my laptop to my PDANet-equipped smartphone, fired up Photoshop to prep my shots of the winners, and got to work. The Sorento’s back seats aren’t up to, say, Crown Victoria levels of roominess (starting out, we felt that the Crown Vic/Grand Marquis would have been the ideal rental vehicle for this situation) and the ride got fairly bouncy, but I was able to get the job done before the laptop’s battery died. Meanwhile, the final game of the World Series was going on, and lifelong Giants fan Nick was doing his best to pick up the ballgame broadcast on the Kia’s radio.
We managed to pick up the final pitch of the game while we were somewhere in New York, and Nick wanted this shot to immortalize the moment (I’m an Oakland A’s fan, but— unlike most A’s fans— I don’t wish ill upon the Giants). Outside the car, the weather just kept getting uglier, but Jeff rebuffed all suggestions that someone else might take the wheel: “No, no, I feel good.”
At this point, the wind levels were getting worrisome. 18-wheeler drivers were pulling off at rest areas and hunkering down while many of the car drivers were getting increasingly erratic; some were creeping along at 35 while others pulled off head-clutching thread-the-needle passes on the road shoulder. Our Sorento was the quickest thing on the road, hauling distinctly un-CUV-ish levels of ass under dangerous conditions, and yet Nick and I weren’t the slightest bit nervous. Here is the place in this tale where I need to discuss the differences between good drivers and professional racers, because Jeff Glenn is a member of the latter group.
Jeff came from a racing family and was autocrossing an MGB and a Mini years before he was old enough to get a street license. As he got older, he graduated to faster and faster cars, until eventually he was piloting open-wheelers for a living. A few years older than the competition— because he’d opted to get a college degree and “wasted” four years— he realized that the reality of being a pro racer hadn’t turned out to be as much fun as he’d imagined as a kid, and so he became an automotive journalist and, when his editor started putting on goofy races, a race promoter.
Most of the time, Jeff is just the well-organized LeMons HQ staffer who talks to corner-workers on the radio, answers confused questions from racers who can’t figure out how to choose a car number, and makes sure all the gear gets shipped to the correct tracks. It’s when he gets behind the wheel of a vehicle— any vehicle— and the situation turns weird that you realize that you’re dealing with a heavy-duty, alien-DNA driving mutant here. Running late for your flight and need to do a 60-MPH bootlegger turn in an Aveo on a crowded airport road in order to get to the rental-car dropoff in time? No problem, Jeff makes it happen. Or, say you’re in Jamaica on the LeMons corporate retreat, you’ve got a diesel Toyota HiAce with 13 passengers and right-hand drive, and you need to navigate Jamaican roads teeming with stray dogs, overloaded buses, and “drug dons” in Escalades. Again, this is the guy you want driving.
Jeff gets an unnerving sense of focus when a driving situation becomes serious; his responses to communication go all robotic and he lasers holes in the windshield, looking several turns ahead at all times. In Jamaica, he had a way of knowing that there’d be a Montero with a busted axle blocking the road just around the next blind curve and he’d have the HiAce ready for it. In the Sorento, he got faster as the worsening weather conditions chased the other drivers off the highways and we knew that we had to outrace Sandy before she trapped us for three days at the Northern Maryland Chlamydic Lot Lizard Rest Area.
By the time we reached I-81, the southbound direction was empty save for a few hell-bent-for-leather diesel demons determined to get their 18-wheelers out of Sandy’s reach and barreling their wind-tossed trucks along at 85 MPH. The Smokeys were all tied up dealing with storm-related problems, and so Jeff really got on the Kia’s throttle at that point. I can’t say that the Sorento is quiet at speed in a hurricane, nor can I say that its ride is smooth. In fact, all that marketing talk about SUVs coddling you in a cocoon of isolation from the scary world outside— be it full of Uzi-packin’ carjackers or cataclysmic weather extremes— had nothing whatsoever to do with the reality of our Sorento experience. At one point I thought to fret about storm-addled cervidae hurling themselves into our windshield. “Don’t worry,” said Jeff, passing a careening Freightliner uphill as various tree parts bounced along the tarmac, “I’ll see them.” The storm got worse and worse as we blew through Maryland and the corner of West Virginia where we hold the Capitol Offense LeMons races, and we resorted to blasting Blood Sugar Sex Magick, repeatedly, to drown out the road noise. The sound system in our Sorento— I’m assuming the fleet version gets the El Cheapo stereo— was adequate, with a handy USB jack for our iPods, though the rear speakers deliver tinny sound reminiscent of the Flavoradio and the interface is on the maddening side.
We were in too much of a frenzy to keep track of fuel economy, but we had to make several fuel stops to refill its 18-gallon tank. Our all-wheel-drive, squarish pseudo-truck probably didn’t crack the 20 MPG barrier, given our not-so-efficient pace.
We encountered snow and sleet in the hills of Virgina, but the winds began to calm as Sandy and the Sorento headed in opposite directions. Nick and I gave up asking Jeff if he wanted to take a driving break, even as he began talking up the idea of roaring straight through to Atlanta, where we’d be able to catch Monday-morning flights.
Somewhere near the Virginia-North Carolina line, the skies cleared and the sun began to rise. We woke up the LeMons Travel Boss and official moonshine taster and had her start looking to move our flights out of Charlotte from Tuesday to Monday. Success!
Just before 9:00 AM Monday, exactly 12 hours after beginning our journey (that’s an average speed of just over 74 MPH, including fuel stops and the traffic-slowed leg to Scranton), we arrived at Charlotte Airport. We had a few hours to kill before our flight, so we blew some of Jay’s cash on an airport hotel suite to shower and catch a few hours of sleep. Then we dropped off the Kia at the rental-car lot (it turns out that the rental companies waived the drop-off-at-different-airport fees for customers traveling from Sandy-affected areas) and settled down to wait for our flights.
By 3:00 PM Monday, I was on a Denver-bound plane, just six hours later than I’d have been if my Logan-DIA flight had taken place.

As for Jay’s idea to ride out the storm in Massachusetts… well, he tells his story in the official LeMons wrapup video (all the 2012 season’s wrapup videos may be viewed here).

Here’s my (probably) NSFW personal wrapup video of the drive.
As I contemplated rummaging through my troubled fellow passenger’s carry-on bag— yeah, it was very difficult in my sleepless, giddy state to avoid provoking an entertaining incident with Mr. DO NOT Touch— I thought about the 2012 Kia Sorento as high-performance hurricane-fleeing machine. Was its impressive high-speed performance all driver/no car (as was the case when we stuck Randy Pobst behind the wheel of a worse-than-stock MGB-GT at Charlotte Motor Speedway)? If we had it to do over again with a different vehicle, would we have taken the Crown Victoria or— shudder— the Mitsubishi Galant from the rental-car lot? The choice of the Sorento makes more sense when you consider the “what if” scenarios. Say, the nightmare 48 hours stuck in the vehicle when the highway floods and you need to sleep in the thing, or the highway gets covered in a foot of mud and only four-wheel-drive can get you unstuck; in those cases, the Sorento provides the right mix of decent speed and versatility that your discerning race organizer prefers. The Kia Sorento: It’s Reasonably Competent™!

19 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Nick Pon 01 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Nick Pon 10 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 2010 Toyota HiAce  - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 2010 Toyota HiAce - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - Jeff Glenn at Laguna Seca - Picture courtesy of Jeff Glenn Jay Lamm samples Pickle Vodka - picture courtesy of Judge Phil 19 - Psycho Kia Sorento Drive - Picture Courtesy of Google 20- Kia Sorento Drive - Picture courtesy of Nick Pon 21 - Psycho Kia Sorento Drive - Picture Courtesy of Google 22 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Review: 2012 Audi A7 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/review-2012-audi-a7-2/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/review-2012-audi-a7-2/#comments Thu, 27 Sep 2012 14:00:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=461637 After I went to California and induced some dude at Toyota to loan me a Hot Lava Orange Scion FR-S earlier in the month, I figured I’d see if Audi’s PR types had forgotten how I compared the R8 to my hooptiefied ’92 Civic. Sure enough, Audi’s institutional memory proved to have some threadbare spots, and so I was able to arrange for the use of an Audi A7 for my trip to California for the Vodden the Hell Are We Doing 24 Hours of LeMons at Thunderhill Raceway. That meant a lot of rural highway driving, a lot of loading of race equipment into the cargo area, and exactly zero pushing-the-edge-of-the-performance-envelope 11/10ths-tyle driving. We’ll follow up Mr. Karesh’s impressions of the A7 from last year with a few of my own.
First of all, the idea of a car with a bootsplash screen when you fire it up— not to mention the 10-second delay before all systems are ready— tells you more than any single cue that we’ve gone past the era of computer-enhanced vehicles and into the computers-on-wheels era. I haven’t looked at the wiring diagram (i.e., I didn’t feel like spending a couple of months navigating the Audi bureaucratic labyrinth in order to avoid spending a bunch of my own cash for a shop manual), but I’ll bet this car boasts plenty of multiplexed control systems. We’ll get back to some of the implications of this a bit later in this review, because right now I want to talk about good old-fashioned switches.
See, regardless of what goes between a switch and the device it controls, be it a length of wire or a digital control unit, you still have a brute-force physical electrical contact that a human touch will control. The A7 has a bewildering quantity of switches available to the driver; in fact, it has so many that I made bad LeMons drivers count them as a penalty during the race.
So, what happens when schmutz gets into the switch contacts, when corrosion and normal mechanical wear take their toll a few years down the line? I’m not saying that Volkswagen Group products have a well-documented history of electrical-system glitches stretching back decades, because that gets us into anecdotal territory best explored by our readers, but the sheer number of such opportunities for failure here means that maddening electrical gremlins may crop up early on in the A7 ownership experience. Right, that’s not what new-car reviews are for, so let’s move on.
When I got this car, I was all set to make a very clever comparison between Apple and Audi, based on my observations that the crossover between owners of products from both companies is so high. However, that idea crashed like a Quadra 650 showing a Sad Mac when I saw the head-spinning complexity of this car’s controls and displays; take a look at about 10% of the information available to the driver under ordinary conditions. Steve Jobs figured out that ordinary users of electronics (e.g., your grandma) don’t want complexity. They don’t even want on/off controls, it turns out, because they don’t want to learn new stuff. If Jobs had consulted on the design of this car, it would have about six controls and one big primary-color gauge showing Driving Situation Quality or some such Cupertinonian metric.
However, the thing that Audi products do have in common with Apple products is compelling design. The A7 is beautiful, of course (just as the packaging around your new Macbook is beautiful), and it features intimidatingly correct ergonomics throughout. At this point, we need to think about the person the A7 buyer wants to be; in my mind, this person is a man with cruelly small rimless glasses who works as a “creative” in some discipline that requires him to be conversant in the work of impenetrable philosophers like Lacan, while demonstrating insider knowledge of obscure facets of urban popular culture (say, the acid house scene of Minsk). He lives in an edgy neighborhood in some unearthly expensive city (Helsinki, Singapore, etc.) and he experiences physical pain when exposed to a piece of bad design. In other words, the kind of guy who always made me feel like a total ignorant, mouth-breathing schlub in grad school and even today reduces me to a state of excessive italicization. I’m not saying this is what actual Audi buyers really are, any more than real-world Corvette buyers match the idealized Corvette owner (no, we’re not going there… this time).
Unfortunately, Audi’s need to reduce the level of existential terror in its target demographic while keeping the sticker price of the A7 below six figures (the car I drove lists at $68,630) means that there’s a lot of cool-looking shit that gives off a strong “I’m gonna break” vibe. Say, the plastic covers that hide the unsightly hinge mechanism on the hatch; 15 years ago, when deconstructionist thought was the postmodern flavor-of-the-month, you could get away with mechanical innards showing. Not today.
Still, though, we get back to that good-design thing wherever one looks in the A7. These little tie-downs in the cargo area would get a lot of use, were I to daily-drive an A7. Yeah, sure, they’re more fragile than they need to be, but Audi seems to believe their drivers would feel that their senses had been flayed with an electrified cat-o-nine-tails if they caught sight of some dowdy J.C. Whitney-grade tie-down.
The cargo area beneath the hatch is usefully large; in fact, I was able to fit more LeMons Supreme Court bribe booze in here than I was able to fit in the ’11 Escalade.
The power hatch was kind of neat at first, but then became utterly maddening once I realized that all opening and closing of the hatch must be done by the car, at its own pace. When I tried to close it manually and felt the car refuse to allow such manhandling, I felt shamed. Shamed like I was some gristly sunburned toothless uranium prospector in Nevada bashing the tailgate of my ’61 IHC Travelall, after rinsing my bloody gums with a deep swill of generic vodka out of a plastic bottle, and a stern German engineer caught me at it and frowned sadly at the spectacle.
My feelings of disapproval in the view of imaginary cold-eyed German engineers just grew as the weekend with the A7 progressed, because this car knows better. For example, those who read LeMons Judge Magazine’s review of the Escalade Platinum Hybrid may recall that the Cadillac did pretty well as the mobile sound unit in the Macho Man Penalty. Not so with the A7. I cued up “Macho Man” on the iPod, made the miscreant drivers don the hats and mustaches, and began a disco-dancing tour of the Thunderhill Raceway paddock. The E30-driving Macho Men weren’t putting their hearts into it, so I did what any self-respecting LeMons Supreme Court Judge does at that moment: popped open the driver’s door to harangue them. Unfortunately, the programmers of the A7 decided— in the name of sicherheit— that opening the driver’s door should apply the parking brake, and the Macho Men ended up staggering into the Audi’s rear bumper. After that, the car remained bitter and resentful over my scandalous breach of common sense, ignoring the gearshift’s position, turning down the music, and so on. Naturally, this got me to thinking about the mischief that could be caused by nihilistic hackers, were they to get into the A7′s code; we’ll discuss those possibilities in a later post.
Now that we’ve veered into (or at least glanced off of) the subject of the sound system, the A7′s standard “Multi-Media Interface” setup sounds very good and has a less frustrating interface than most systems I’ve seen in my somewhat limited experience of 21st-century automotive entertainment-system technology. There’s less lag between input and result than in most such systems (though a $150 smartphone manages to have no delay in its touchscreen input). The only real weakness is the lack of serious audio power; I felt that I needed to listen to a lot of bass-heavy Massive Attack to really get into the European-ness of the A7, but even top volume wasn’t loud enough. I suspect that the system is capable of pushing more watts through its excellent-quality speakers, but that an invisible German safety monitor knows that excessively loud music is deleterious to one’s health and keeps audio levels down.
On the plus side, the interior of the A7 looks gorgeous. Everything you see and/or touch is made of top-shelf materials, and the overall effect is of being in the totally sensible (yet gangsta-grade) office of the Lacan-quoting dude with the Cruelly Small Glasses.
Just look at the visual composition of this door panel (and pay no mind to the 29 electrical contacts in all those switches that will spend their lives enduring temperature extremes, vibration, and moisture).
The back seat works as well, though I didn’t get a chance to put any very tall passengers back there. On the subject of comfort, the A7 delivers a reasonably smooth ride for such a sporty-handling machine, but the road noise is pretty bad when you’re on not-so-smooth rural two-laners (as I was for much of the weekend). In fact, the tire noise was so loud I had to wonder whether there might have been some problem with the tires on this 11,000-mile press car.
I didn’t come close to flogging the hell out of this thing and learning all that race-y stuff that automotive journalists are supposed to write about, but the A7 certainly is a powerful and asphalt-gripping beast.
The 310-horse supercharged V6 and 8-speed automatic deliver respectable and usable power, roaring safely through even the hairiest passing situations involving drunks towing horse trailers behind space-saver-spare-equipped F-150s on State Highway 162. Because only Alfa Romeo seems capable of making a V6 that sounds great, you don’t get the kind of engine noise that a good V8 or I6 gives you, but the power is real. In 345 miles of mostly highway driving, I achieved a genuine 23.35 miles per gallon (of 91-octane), which is about five MPGs better than I’d expect from a biggish car with this kind of acceleration.
The navigation system, with its Google Maps integration, manages to be both cool-looking and helpful, though the interface is as busy as everything else the A7 driver sees.
Could I see driving the A7 every day? Sure, I’d be willing to put up with the Safety Police overseers and road noise in exchange for the blown V6 power, all-wheel-drive, and cargo-hauling practicality. However, I’d be sweating over the complexity and expecting hefty annual maintenance bills once the car hit about age four.

39 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 01 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 22 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 23 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 24 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 25 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 26 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 27 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 28 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 29 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 30 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 31 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 32 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 33 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 34 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 35 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 36 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 37 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 38 - 2012 Audi A7 - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12EscaladePlatinumReview-67 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Review: 2013 Scion FR-S http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/review-2013-scion-fr-s/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/review-2013-scion-fr-s/#comments Tue, 11 Sep 2012 14:00:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=459624 We’ve already looked at the FR-S, but I came of car-driving age just minutes before the heyday of the Toyota AE86 and, by God, I’m going to write about any car that claims to be an homage to the car that stands as the ’55 Chevy of Japan. So, I got on the horn with Toyota PR: “Hey, Moe, it’s Murilee Martin. Yeah, that Murilee Martin. Listen, I’m heading out to the East Bay next weekend and I need something that won’t embarrass me when I need to out-donut the Glasshouse Caprices at the sideshows in Oakland, know what I’m saying? Sure, the FR-S sounds good!”
Actually, given that automotive PR guys probably assume that car writers treat their cars like gorillas all jacked up on adrenachrome-and-Douglas Fir liqueur cocktails, I probably could have said exactly those words and it wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows. In reality, though, I was coming out to California to visit family and spend a day tailgating before an Oakland Athletics game. I picked up the car at the Oakland Airport and was parked next to the Faster Farms 1966 Plymouth Belvedere race car and eating barbecued meat products about five minutes later.
Since the airport and the ballpark are about two miles from each other, I didn’t get much chance to do any real driving right away. However, I did do a real-world trunk-capacity test right away, and learned that you can fit two good-sized suitcases with no hassle. The back seat provides additional cargo space; you won’t be putting any passengers back there, but we’ll return to that subject a bit later.
So, I had about five hours of tailgating time to examine the details of the car and discuss them with my super-geeked-out car-expert friends. I’ve driven, ridden in, and wrenched on quite a few AE86s, and this car looks nothing whatsoever like the Hachi-roku. This is good, because there’s something depressing about car companies exhuming the long-dead corpses of their past and using them to hawk modern machinery.
Once you start looking at the details, you’ll find many more cues that point to Subaru rather than Toyota. The boxer-4 engine, of course, is straight-up Subaru.
The build tag shows that the car was built by Fuji Heavy Industries, the interior materials feel much more Subaru-ish than Toyota-esque, and the inner fenders are stamped SUBARU.
On that subject, everybody, including me, refers to this car as a Toyota, which is as good an indication as any that the Scion brand hasn’t sunk deep roots in the car-buying public’s consciousness.
Here’s a little detail that says a lot about the philosophical differences between German, Japanese, and American automotive engineers. My friend Shawn, of Junkyard Build Quality Challenge fame, pointed out this anti-honk box attached to the air cleaner housing. Anti-honk boxes (or whatever the technical term is— anti-resonance chamber?) change the volume of the engine’s air-intake tract so as to avoid unpleasant audio resonance at certain engine speeds and loads. The Detroit carmakers don’t really care if your sub-$30k car’s engine makes a noise like a seasick rhinoceros sometimes— just shoot some more insulation on the firewall, problem solved! German engineers can’t tolerate the idea of engine honk, so they redesign the entire intake system if necessary. Toyota and Subaru, however, looked at their budget for this car, calculated the cost of modifying the parts-bin air cleaner (which was probably taken off the Impreza or Corolla or whatever high-production-level part came closest to fitting), and opted for the addition of a simple anti-honk box. I’d planned on stuffing a sock into the anti-honk box’s inlet and seeing how bad the honk really was, but ran out of time.
I always like to nose around under the hood of a new car, to get a sense of what corners were cut. The electrical connectors looked to be of pretty high quality— both Subaru and Toyota have always been good about not pinching yen too ruthlessly in that department— but I noticed a few things that you wouldn’t expect to see on even the cheapest Toyota. For example, these plastic headlight-assembly brackets. A few years of underhood heat will make them fragile, and then someone leaning over the hood will put a knee into the headlight and snap the brackets. This is the sort of thing you expect from Chrysler, circa 1991, not Toyota or Subaru.
Likewise, who uses these Manny, Moe, and Jack-grade, 1952-technology hose clamps nowadays?
My first real complaint about the FR-S came up when I decided to crank up some Ant Banks on the sound system, for the enjoyment of my tailgating companions. This is the 21st century, you can buy full-featured MP3 players direct from China for, like, $6.59, and there’s really no excuse for a factory stereo with alleged iPod interface to be such a pain in the ass to navigate.
Then there’s the quality of the sound system itself; the demographic most likely to buy this car is going to insist on some serious boom, and the standard 300-watt Panasonic system delivers less bass than the junkyard setup I stuffed into my ’92 Civic for a total investment of 25 bucks. Definitely not Tigra and Bunny- approved. I had to stick with no-thud-required stuff (e.g., the Dead Kennedys) for the soundtrack of my East Bay visit.
The day after the A’s tailgate party, I decided to take the FR-S on a tour of all my favorite East Bay wrecking yards (you can see the results in the most recent Junkyard Find posts). Junkyards are almost always in areas with terribly potholed roads, and I learned right away that you don’t want to set the car in the stiff “VSC Sport” mode on such roads. I needed a junkyard taco-truck meal just to settle my stomach after getting a beating that felt like sitting in a trash can being dragged over railroad ties.
Even normal highway driving is pretty miserable when in Sport mode, and the car hangs onto the pavement far beyond my admittedly meager driving abilities when taking freeway interchanges at fun speeds anyway, even with all the stability- and traction-control nannies in full effect. The ride is plenty firm when in non-sport mode, but it’s like a comfy Barcalounger next to the bouncy, noisy original AE86. The FR-S would make a completely non-punitive commuter, unless your idea of commuting comfort was derived from the 1974 Cadillac Sedan DeVille.
Another minor quibble that would be a bigger deal if I were driving this car in the Ivy Mike-level bright sun of Denver: the windshield reflections off the reflective dashboard surface. I thought the car companies solved this problem 15 years ago.
Right, so what’s this thing like to drive? It took me a while to figure it out, but after a few hours of horsing around in empty industrial areas of East Oakland I realized that the FR-S isn’t an homage to the original AE86. It’s an homage to the heavily modified drifter/tuner AE86s of the last decade.
The original Corolla GT-S (or Sprinter Trueno, or whatever you want to call it) was a spindly, 2,200-pound econobox of simple construction that was fitted with a pretty-good-for-the-mid-80s 112-horsepower L4 engine. Adding a bunch of power— which, of course, just about every AE86 owner has done by now— turns the car into a real handful, a parts-busting beast that’s eager to wrap itself around the nearest utility pole.
So, the 2,700-pound, 200-horsepower FR-S is to the drifter AE86 as the SRT8 Challenger is to the tunnel-rammed-440-equipped street-racer Challenger of the early 1970s. Just as the new Challenger turns once-difficult burnouts, convenience-store-parking-lot donuts, and 12-second quarter-mile passes into accomplishments that any idiot can pull off with almost no practice, so does the FR-S put all the dorifto moves of Initial D into the grasp of just about any schlub. You want to wow the kids in the mall parking lot with a perfect 180-degree E-brake turn on your first attempt? The FR-S will oblige. In fact, this car makes the previous E-Brake Turn Champion of the World (a rented Chevy Cobalt in a badly paved racetrack paddock) seem uncontrollable by comparison.
The same goes for moves that require you to blow away the rear tires and slide around like an idiot. Turn off the traction control, cock the wheel a bit, get on the gas, and you’ll be drifting around like some dude who killed a dozen Nissan 240SXs as the price for learning his skills.
My prediction: When these cars depreciate enough to put them within reach of the 16-to-22-year-old crowd, say ten years from now, look out! We’re going to see FR-Ss upside-down, on fire, and/or T-boned-into signposts wherever teenagers gather.
For the grownups who don’t care much about Japanese street-racing fads, the FR-S will make a pretty good weekday commuter/weekend autocross car. I didn’t have as much fun driving it as I did with the Mazda RX-8 (the Mazda feels lighter and less like a drag racer), but the FR-S manages to get nearly double the fuel-economy of the Wankel-powered machine, while being several orders of magnitude better-looking. If you want the opinion of Jack “The Ohio Player” Baruth, who is capable of going quickly around a race track in most un-car-journo-ish fashion, on the FR-S’s racetrack prowess, go here.
Something felt strangely familiar about the FR-S as I drove it from junkyard to junkyard, and then it hit me: the stiff, super-short-throw shifter and gargly boxer engine sound might as well have been swapped directly from my wife’s ’04 Subaru Outback. Once again, the FR-S feels more like a Fuji Heavy Industries product than a Toyota product.
I approve of the semi-old-timey-looking instrument cluster, though the weirdly centered speedometer is more or less useless (there’s a digital speed display inside the tach).
The racy-style front seats are great for hurling the car through tight turns and they’re quite comfortable in spite of the goofy-looking thick red stitching; more to the point, they look like the kind of aftermarket component that generations of Hachi-roku owners have bolted into their cars.
The sill plates have this puzzling polka-dot motif, which is carried over to the pedals.
The back seat, well, isn’t. My 12-year-old niece, who’s about 4′ 8″ tall and skinny, couldn’t find a way to sit comfortably in the back of the FR-S. The rear seat area should work well for grocery bags, though, and you can use the seat belts to keep the bags from sliding around as you execute a psychotic power-slide all the way across the Safeway parking lot.
The HVAC controls are uncomplicated, which is good, but the control mechanisms feel crappier than what I’m used to on Toyota cars.
While on my tour of the industrial East Bay, I happened upon this parked mid-80s Cressida. Note the size similarity between the roomy luxury car and the snug sporty car. Also note that the Cressida is sittin’ on some bullshit compared to the Scion.
The FR-S is still small when parked next to a ’66 Belvedere. My verdict on the FR-S: I could drive this thing every day and be very happy with it, but I’d expect Subaru reliability instead of the (historically superior) Toyota version. At $24,997 as tested, the FR-S has a pretty good bang-for-buck ratio… but I’d also take a long look at the similarly priced Miata before I bought one.

49 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 01 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 02 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 03 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 04 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 05 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 06 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 07 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 08 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 09 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 10 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 11 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 13 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 14 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 15 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 16 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 17 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 18 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 19 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 20 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 21 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 22 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 23 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 24 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 25 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 26 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 27 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 28 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 29 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 30 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 31 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 32 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 33 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 34 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 35 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 36 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 37 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 38 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 39 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 40 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 41 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 42 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 43 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 44 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 45 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 46 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 47 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 48 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Review: 2013 Mazda CX-5 Sport http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/review-2013-mazda-cx-5-sport/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/review-2013-mazda-cx-5-sport/#comments Fri, 06 Jul 2012 14:00:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=451210 After I reviewed a Mazda that’s no longer being made, I decided that perhaps my next Mazda review ought to involve a vehicle that’s actually available for purchase. We’ve experienced Jack Baruth’s impressions of throwing the CX-5 around Laguna Seca and Brendan McAleer’s extensive review of the optioned-up CX-5 Grand Touring, and now I’m going to share my experience of putting the base CX-5 Sport through the meat-grinder of a weekend enforcing discipline at a far-from-civilization 24 Hours of LeMons race.
My plan: pick up the CX-5 at LAX on Thursday, meet some friends for dinner in Los Angeles, drive 133 miles north to Merle Haggard country, use the CX-5 to haul race gear around Buttonwillow Raceway Park, and then go back to LAX. This being a 24-hours-straight race, I figured I might have to nap in my vehicle instead of driving the 15 miles to and from the Bedbugge Inn, which made the CX-5 seem a more practical choice than, say, a Miata. So, I got on the horn to the Mazda PR guys and demanded a CX-5 Sport, a case of Brass Monkey, and the keys to the JDM ’82 Cosmo in the magical basement below Mazda USA headquarters. All I got was the CX-5, which I then drove around Los Angeles looking to recreate the photograph from the cover of Double Nickels On the Dime (sadly, State Route 11 became part of I-110 in 1981, so the shot above is the best I could do).
No problem, though; I had a large selection of Los Angeles music to play through the CX-5′s AUX jack, starting with (pre-Hagar) Van Halen and then right into X, Ice-T, War, and Fear. The audio system in this car pumps out some excellent bass and features digital controls orders of magnitude less maddening than most. However, the USB jack in mine was on the fritz (by holding pressure on the connector I was able to give my USB-charging phone enough juice to stay alive) and the location of the 3.5mm AUX jack seems calculated to break and/or get packed with Doritos residue. I’d just fix that stuff with a buck worth of parts and a soldering iron, were I to own this vehicle, but I’m betting most owners won’t be willing to do that.
The Sport’s interior is all nondescript-but-competent plastic and cloth, of the sort that doesn’t feel particularly expensive but also doesn’t leave a weird petrochemical residue on your fingers (see: every Chrysler-built rental car made between 1981 and the reign of Marchionne). Overall, very pleasant interior, something most could live with in a daily driver for… well, nobody can say how many miles the CX-5 ought to be good for. As this photograph shows, the view out the rear quarter windows is pretty bad, so you’ll be as dependent on your mirrors as the driver of a Value Van.
I headed to downtown Los Angeles, to have some refreshments with former LeMons judge Jonny Lieberman.
During the course of our conversation, it occurred to me that most of Repo Man was filmed in downtown LA. Naturally, we set out to find some of the locations that Alex Cox chose for what I consider to be the greatest car movie of all time. I was reasonably sure that the scene in which J. Frank Parnell dies of radiation poisoning from the aliens in the trunk of the Malibu was filmed very close to our watering hole
Sure enough, 544 Mateo Street was just a few blocks away.
I wanted to shoot the Mazda at more Repo Man locations, but I had to get to Buttonwillow (where, in a meta-Plate O’Shrimp Moment, a LeMons team showed up with a CRX driven by J. Frank Parnell and converted to full Repo Man ’64 Malibu specs).
But I’ll be heading back to Los Angeles when we do the Arse Freeze-a-Palooza race in Chuckwalla, and I’ll be sure to shoot some car photos at the Repo Yard… plus maybe a few at some Double Indemnity locations.
Heading north on I-5, I soon found myself climbing up the steep grade to the Grapevine (of “Hot Rod Lincoln” fame). I’ve driven this route many times, as those who followed my 1965 Impala Hell Project series know, in vehicles ranging on the power-to-weight spectrum from an unregisterable ’83 Sentra running on three cylinders to a ’68 Mercury Cyclone with souped-up 351 Windsor engine, and the CX-5 Sport’s 155 horsepower/150 lb-ft-o-torque was sufficient to keep the speed up even on the toughest slogs of the Grapevine. This car had the six-speed manual transmission, however, and so I can’t say whether the slushbox would have shifted at the right moments to keep the revs up. Lose momentum on the Grapevine without big torque and you’ll find yourself trapped for eternity in the slow lane with the octogenarians in their Celebrity Eurosports.
Some might say that 155 horses isn’t enough for 3,300 pounds, but then you might as well ask why you need a truckish-looking car with big ride height instead of the minivan that would probably serve your needs— if you’re looking for the fuel-economy/cargo-capacity combo that CUV shoppers look for— better. Wait, did I really say that? Anyway, I found myself spinning the engine to redline in every gear on freeway onramps, which is a worthwhile tradeoff for fuel economy that hovers around 30 miles per gallon (more on that later).
I wouldn’t feel comfortable hurling this thing through the Corkscrew, Baruth-style, but that’s just because my mediocre-at-best track skills coupled with the feeling of height in this car would freak me out too much. The two-wheel-drive CX-5 feels very car-like during sub-11-tenths driving maneuvers, and that’s what matters to those who want truck-esque macho lines without Peterbilt-grade handling.
One of the things I like about 21st-century Mazdas is the lack of gingerbread-for-its-own-sake complexity in the instruments and controls. Drilling down through endless nested menus on a touch-screen is fine for a smartphone, but let’s just say that the world’s best user-interface software engineers don’t work for car companies and leave it at that. Here we have a a couple of legible gauges and a little display screen with relevant information.
Same goes for the climate controls. They’re a bit dated-looking, but they work a lot better than their similar-looking 1990s ancestors. Of course, I’d be willing to sacrifice a lot of functionality in order to have a retro-futuristic Mars Base Style cockpit, with all the wildest features of the Mitsubishi Cordia Turbo and Subaru XT Turbo instrument panels, but the Japanese seem to have lost the ability to design such masterpieces in our new century.
After dropping off my stuff at the Scabies-n-Domestic-Violence Motel in the meth-and-lot-lizards universe that is the Buttonwillow highway oasis, I proceeded to the third annual Arse Sweat-a-Palooza 24 Hours of LeMons. At this point, my memories become a jumble of 1959 Humber Super Snipes, Olds Diesel-powered Corvettes, dust, and fatigue. Around the paddock, back to the motel, back to the track. Repeat, endlessly.
So, most of my driving of the CX-5 took place under conditions of hallucinatory levels of exhaustion, on construction-pocked stretches of I-5 populated by aggressive drunks in Ford Excursions. I think it’s a measure of the ease of driving the CX-5 that it was always easy to pilot the thing under such sub-sub-optimal conditions.
Photograph courtesy of Nick Pon
I didn’t come close to overwhelming the Mazda’s cargo capacity; it inhaled boxes of penalty-box supplies and my suitcases with ease. You don’t get as much room for your crap as in a minivan, but it beats the space of the Mazda3 hatchback by quite a bit and it doesn’t carry the grim cultural baggage of minivan ownership.
So, it’s pleasant to drive, looks pretty good, and appears to be well built. My only substantial complaint about driving this car is the hyper-touchy brake pedal; the brakes appear to have been designed for the application of a single dainty toe wielded by Twiggy (however, keep in mind that I’ve been spending a lot of time behind the wheel of a primitive steel box on wheels with manual drum brakes that require Paul Bunyan-grade force for ordinary stops) and I came close to detaching my retinas during a few stops. You’d get used to it after a few days.
I did get the chance to take the CX-5 onto a race track, but I was scanning the (yellow) weeds for lost (yellow) transponders and didn’t crack 20 MPH. That means I can’t indulge in any table-pounding tirades about understeer at the limit.
The tallness of the CX-5 tends to lead to a certain amount of highway wandering when high winds start kicking up the Tulare dust. This might lead to some nervous moments once the suspension gets a bit loose, but that’s many years down the line.
I wanted to pull off a door panel and take a look at the hidden connectors, in order to see how much low-bidder hardware Mazda might have installed in order to save a few yen. I didn’t have time for that, what with the 136 bad-driving LeMons teams I had to keep under quasi-control, but what I found under the hood looked pretty decent.
One quick litmus test I like to give new vehicles is a glance at the battery connectors, because you can bet that any car company that saved four cents per unit with a crude stamped-steel battery connector will have cut corners in a lot of places you can’t see. Mazda uses a no-frills-but-sturdy connector that ought to last through all the battery changes the car will get during its lifetime.
After packing up the race gear, I headed back to Los Angeles to catch a Denver-bound 737. Filling the tank, I came up with 27.6 miles per gallon for a trip that was equal parts stop-and-go traffic and high-speed highway driving, with 97-degree temperatures and the AC on full blast most of the time. Mazda claims 26 city/35 highway for this car, so my results seemed about right. If my way of life mandated a CUV, would I buy this one for the as-tested MSRP of $20,695? Short answer: yes.

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Review: 2011 Cadillac Escalade Platinum Hybrid http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/review-2011-cadillac-escalade-platinum-hybrid/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/review-2011-cadillac-escalade-platinum-hybrid/#comments Thu, 14 Jul 2011 16:00:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=401808
A couple months back, Cadillac gave me a bright red, three-ton, rollin’-on-22s, chrome-drenched, hybrid-electric, $88,140 luxury truck to drive while in Michigan for the Campaign To Prevent Gingervitis 24 Hours of LeMons. Since that time, the effort of attempting to write a meaningful review for this ridiculous-yet-amazing machine has caused my brain to develop a severe rod knock. Who is supposed to buy this thing? I asked myself. What can you do with it?

My problem with SUVs, particularly super-luxurious SUVs, is that I believe trucks are supposed to be trucks, that is, you should be able to load a truck up with 900 pounds of swamp-water-soaked particle board and a burlap sack of hog innards and not cringe in the slightest at the thought of that nasty stuff contaminating your interior. A truck should have a bench seat in front, covered with cheap cloth or vinyl, and even air conditioning smacks of excess gingerbread. If you want luxury— and, of course, I do— then you should be driving a vast, strip-club-owner-grade sedan with its soft springs groaning under the weight of luxury options so arcane that you’ll be years figuring them all out.

Right. So, this is what we in the hack-writer business call a dilemma. Personally, I couldn’t think of any way that this beast would improve my life in any meaningful way, were I to decide to drop 90 grand on one. The only place I enjoyed driving it was around the paddock during the LeMons race, for reasons that will be made clear soon enough. Still, it’s extreme enough that it must be absolutely perfect for the correct users, but who are they? Rappers and the gangster elite would never in hell buy anything with big HYBRID badges all over the place, edge-city suburbanites will shy away in horror from the twice-as-much-as-the-Yukon price tag, and urban high-tech hipsters wouldn’t be caught dead in an SUV.

I finally figured out the perfect Escalade Platinum Hybrid buyers, but we’ll get my much-less-relevant driving impressions out of the way first. The Escalade Platinum Hybrid rides like a lumber truck, no doubt thanks to the blinged-out 22″ wheels and low-profile tires exacerbating the already bumpy ride of a big body-on-frame truck chassis.

Man, but those wheels do look beautiful. It goes without saying that you’re not going to be doing anything approaching serious off-roading in your Escalade Platinum Hybrid, and these wheels ensure that you’ll want to keep pavement beneath you at all times. I took the big Cad for a brief jaunt in the muddy grass of the Gingerman Raceway paddock and the slippy-slidy experience did not inspire confidence. You want to go off-road, get an FJ40 Land Cruiser or IHC Scout, right?

The six-liter Vortec V8 was very quiet; in fact, the noise level inside the cab was library-hushed just about all the time, including when parked next to the front straight at Gingerman with Cherry Bomb-equipped RX-7s blaring past. However, the electric motor made weird, distant whining and howling noises, both under acceleration and under regenerative braking. Several times, I found myself looking around for the emergency vehicles running their sirens.

The computer that runs the control center suffers from a slow CPU, kludgy code, or both. The response time for user input could be as much as several seconds. Using the navigation system made me feel like ramming a cinderblock through the screen. Come on, GM, the future moves fast!

The interior was pretty comfy, but some sort of strange bending of space-time was taking place that made several feet in each dimension disappear when you made the transition from massive exterior to not-so-massive interior. The inside of this truck feels cramped, giving the sense that it has about the same interior space as an early Camry. I suspect that this truck is so quiet inside because the side and roof panels are about a foot thick and filled with spray-in insulation.

But what about the fuel economy, you ask. Is it really possible to get decent mileage out of a 6,120-pound, 332-horsepower vehicle with the aerodynamics of a convenience store?

I drove 301.8 miles, mostly highway but also a fair amount of cruising around the Gingerman facilities as well as jaunts to the night life in bustling South Haven. I made no attempt to keep speeds down to gas-sipping levels, and I did a fair amount of pedal-to-floor acceleration. GM claims 20 city/23 highway mileage.

16.711 gallons, meaning I got just a hair over 18 miles per gallon. Considering that the much more slippery, lighter, and less powerful Mercury Grand Marquis doesn’t do a whole lot better in mixed city/highway driving, that’s very impressive.

So, in summary: If I had 90 grand to spend on a vehicle, this thing would be at or near the bottom of my shopping list (a much more sensible Lamborghini Espada would be at or near the top). I didn’t like much of anything about the Escalade Platinum Hybrid… but then who cares what an SUV-hating curmudgeon like me thinks? Let’s take a look at this truck from the point of view of its optimal purchaser, shall we?

Yes, now I’m working for Popular Warlord Magazine! From the point of view of your suitcases-of-Benjamins-brandishing Third World and/or Former Soviet Republic warlord, the 2011 Escalade Platinum Hybrid is the greatest motor vehicle in history!
Background image source for magazine cover: English Russia

Whether you’re a militia leader in the Horn of Africa, a pharmaceutical entrepreneur in the Bolivian rainforest, or a deal-maker in the Caspian oil fields, you know that the days when a self-respecting warlord could climb behind the wheel of a grimy Toyota Hilux are long past. Today’s more urbane warlord needs presence; yes, your Kalashnikov-brandishing entourage can still follow behind you in their Toyotas, but you need to roll into town in a vehicle that shows you’ve arrived.

We’ll start with the interior, since that’s where you’ll be spending most of your time as your driver takes you to meetings, nightclubs, and so on. Some have said that the Escalade Platinum is a bit cramped inside, but we at Popular Warlord Magazine disagree; once you come to terms with the fact that today’s warlord needs only two or three personal bodyguards traveling with him in the vehicle— yes, the wild days when the warlord himself had to carry an assault rifle on his person are behind us— and that those bodyguards will be armed with pistols instead of RPGs and tripod-mounted machine guns, you can see that this truck has room for you, your muscle, and your 19-year-old Ukrainian-supermodel mistress.

It really won’t do your sophisticated image any good if you have to haul a load of jerry-cans in your travels— your Armani suits shouldn’t be exposed to gasoline— and so the hybrid powertrain of this truck will give you the extended range you need to go from say, Addis Ababa to your secret landing strip in the desert without refueling.

You’ll want the little people to know the caliber of warlord they’re dealing with from the very first glance at your vehicle, and the massive Cadillac emblems will let them know that you’re not to be trifled with.

The four-wheel-drive system and vast torque reserves mean that the Escalade Platinum Hybrid should do just fine on the rough dirt roads in your area of influence; you’ll need to get in the Land Rover or the Hilux in order to leave the road, but for everyday post-Soviet potholes the Escalade performs admirably.

In summary, the staff of Popular Warlord gives the 2011 Cadillac Escalade Platinum Hybrid our highest Warlord Rides rating. For the cost of a couple of fat envelopes of cash, you can equip your compound with several of these fine luxury trucks.

OK, so the warlord (or strongman, if you prefer that term) is the Escalade Platinum Hybrid’s ideal buyer, but there’s another person who can get some good value from this truck: the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court Justice! Yes, in addition to writing for Popular Warlord, I’m also moonlighting at…

LeMons Judge Magazine! Yes, the publication for the discerning corrupt race official. Let’s see how this big red truck fares at LJM, shall we?

Judge Sam and myself rolled into the Campaign To Prevent Gingervitis determined to make a proper judgely impression on the rabble, and the Escalade certainly accomplished that. Why, three different racers told us words to the effect of “I could have bought one of these— I have enough cash in hand, you betcha— but I decided that the Tahoe/Yukon was just a better truck.” Yes, they’re a bunch of pathetic slobs, just trying to impress the LeMons Supreme Court with their alleged fat bankrolls… but still, their naked envy at the sight of this $90K machine was gratifying.

Judge Sam, as my cousin (yes, the LeMons Supreme Court firmly supports nepotism in all its forms) and the son of the legendary Dirty Duck, had an instant appreciation for the inherent pimp-grade superiority of this machine, and I had to agree with him.

We think this truck looks much better with the proper emblem on the grille.

So, this truck scores huge in the “impress the worm-like racers” category, but we ran into a serious flaw right away: the Bose 5.1 surround-sound audio system lacks sufficient boom. Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s On It” hardly rattled windows a mere 50 feet away, and Dorrough’s “Ice Cream Paint Job?” Forget it. Even the Fiat 500′s stereo cranked out more decibels. Come on, Cadillac, the LeMons Supreme Court needs bass!

You see, a true Judgemobile does more than just cruise around the paddock cranking inspirational tunes. A proper Judgemobile must project its music at sufficient volume for such audio-centric penalties as the Macho Man and the Joe Arpaio Chain Gang. The Escalade Platinum Hybrid’s sound system was just adequate for the Macho Man, as seen here.

However, one aspect of Judgemobile duty at which this truck excelled was the level of comfort provided by the climate-control system. We expect any GM vehicle to produce frigid and/or scalding air on command, and the Escalade Platinum Hybrid delivered and then some, even when temperatures dropped into the 20s and stinging snow howled through the paddock, borne on 60 MPH winds. Those poor freezing miscreants doing the Macho Man made the LeMons Supreme Court feel that much more comfortable inside the truck.

I would have preferred a slightly more La-Z-Boy-ish driver’s seat, but the comfort level was very good for two judges bloated from free bribe booze and Midwestern meat products.

For the West Virginia Homestead penalty, in which miscreants must put their car up on jackstands, remove the wheels, and eat salty snacks while sitting on lawn furniture, the Escalade provided both a pleasant contrast to the racers’ hoopty-ass wheels and a comfortable place for the LeMons Supreme Court to get out of the cold.

Can you see the envy in this Tahoe driver’s eyes?

Speaking of envy, check out this haul of bribes for the LeMons Supreme Court! We’re forced to admit that the storage capacity in the cargo area was somewhat limited, given the size of the truck. This was due to the not-very-useful folding third-row seats. We recommend that the LeMons Judge Edition™ of the Escalade go with a third-row-delete feature, to make more room for cases of beer.

Of course, the second row of seats serve as bribe-booze storage when you’ve got only two judges in the Judgemobile, so this truck should be able to fit the gifts of even the most generous racers.

The automatic fold-out running boards were handy for climbing up into the truck, but judge robes had a tendency to get caught on them.

What’s the verdict on this Judgemobile from the reviewers here at LeMons Judge Magazine? We’re going to give the Escalade Platinum Hybrid a respectable three-gavel rating; not quite up there with the five-gavel Doorless Wheel-Shedding Amazon and Monster Smokescreen Caprice Wagon, but definitely a proper Judgemobile all the same.

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Review: 2012 Fiat 500 Sport http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/review-2012-fiat-500-sport/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/review-2012-fiat-500-sport/#comments Tue, 05 Apr 2011 17:00:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=389954
I’ve been waiting 28 years for Fiat to return to the United States, and that means TTAC is going back-to-back on the Fiat 500 coverage, following up Michael Karesh’s review with one of my own.

Me and Fiat, we have a history, see. My parents, already owners of a new Chevrolet Beauville passenger van, bought a pair of new Fiat 128 sedans in 1973. One was pungent green, the other a sort of washed-out yellow, and I knew in my 7-year-old heart that those cars made the best engine noises ever. You had to rev the piss out of that 62-horsepower engine to make the 128 go anywhere, but my mom grew up driving an ice-racing-prepped Porsche 356-engined Beetle and she went for the redline with each shift.

Those 128s crumbled into decrepitude fast, even by the lax standards of the time— my parents stuck with the yellow one for two years and the green one for three before washing their hands of the little Italian machines— but this was a four-door car that sold for $2,299, exactly the list price of the even more miserable and primitive ’73 VW Beetle (do we need to discuss the $2,306 ’73 Datsun 510? I think not). Regardless of the inherent terribleness of the 128 (with its switches that broke off under your fingers, doors that wouldn’t stay latched, and sheetmetal that managed to rust even in Northern California) the racy sound of that Fiat SOHC, more than anything else I recall from my childhood, turned me into a car freak.

Fiat’s fortunes in the United States went straight to hell starting in the late 1970s, as Fiat sales got slugged by relentless competition from cheap and reliable Japanese subcompacts and sports cars, while its “Fix It Again, Tony” brand image among American car shoppers was making the Greco-Italian War look sensible by comparison. Americans recoiled in horror from the new Strada, and Fiat retreated from the continent after the 1983 model year. As a cruel reminder of Fiat’s American glory days, the 124 Sport Spider lurched along, zombie-style, under the Pininfarina banner until 1985, while virtually unsellable Bertone-badged X1/9s were imported by past Subaru and future Yugo mastermind Malcolm Bricklin until 1987.

Yes, that’s Dennis Farina cold blasting a Smith & Wesson-packing California heavy who sneers at his Beretta: “The Fiat of guns. Always jamming on you!” Generations of Americans thought of Fiat as a joke, in spite of the company’s big sales elsewhere in the world, and even those too young to remember being stranded at the side of the road in an overheating Brava have heard the jokes from their elders. Truly, a return of Fiat to the United States could only happen under unusual circumstances, and the first Fiat-badged machine to hit our shores would need to be something special.

Well, the special circumstances are here (who in the hell could have predicted the Fiat-Chrysler deal?) and the 2012 Fiat 500 differs as much from the decline-and-fall models of the 1970s as the 2012 Corolla differs from its wonky, rattly-ass 1970s ancestors. I had a 500 Sport for nearly a week when I visited California to serve in the LeMons Supreme Court at the Sears Pointless 24 Hours of LeMons, and I had the chance to beat on it in the real world of San Francisco Bay Area wet-weather driving as well as the not-so-real world of a LeMons paddock.

Let’s start with the looks of the new 500. Even among Americans old enough to remember new Fiats on the street, the profile of the original 500 is nowhere near as iconic as it is to Europeans. The original 500 sold about as well in the US of A as the Renault Dauphine; i.e., hardly at all. That means that Fiat can’t cash in on a beloved retro image along the lines of the Beetle or Mustang, but it also means that there won’t be much groaning about the new 500 scaling in at over twice the curb weight of the original.

Let’s face it, Americans associate tiny European cars of the postwar era with pessimism. Underemployment. Diminished expectations. American car buyers of the 1950s and 1960s laughed at these cars, though they were actually pretty impressive engineering accomplishments.

The new 500 Sport, however, may appear more Japanese than Italian to American eyes. Note the similarity of profile to the Yaris; sure, some echoes of the cinquecento come through, but you get a lot more Yaris (and Fit) at first glance. Could Chrysler/Fiat have gotten away with bringing in a cheaper, sported-up version of the Panda for its American invasion? I thought so… until I brought the thing to Infineon Raceway.

LeMons racers, many of whom tend to be super-geeked-out automotive obsessives with garages full of Panhards and Sunbeams, went apeshit over the sight of the 2012 500 in the Infineon pits. I figured this Fiat 124 Sport Spider racer would be very happy to pose his car next to the Judgemobile in the Penalty Box after his black flag, and such turned out to be the case. Note the size of the 2012 Fiat relative to the 1977 Fiat.

Still, the juxtaposition of old and new Fiat highlights the reduced “Italian-ness” of the newer car’s appearance. The 124 Spider was, by any but the most delusional standards, a punitively awful machine, down there in the build-quality mud with the comprehensively bad Triumph Spitfire, but it looked cool!. The new 500 looks cool, too, but the only strong reaction I got with mine outside of Infineon was from the gearhead kid in the Bondo-and-primer Alfa Milano who nearly plowed into a bus stop while rubbernecking at the Fiat. For the most part, the 500 just blended in.

Still, I kept posing the 500 with various Italian classics at the track, hoping I’d spot the spiritual link. Was it there? I couldn’t see it, but the car definitely grabbed the attention of hopeless car nerds knowledgeable automotive enthusiasts in this context. Everywhere the 500 went at Infineon, LeMons racers would drop their tools, mid-engine-swap, to check out the new Fiat. This meant that I had the opportunity to make humans of all sizes try to fit in the front and rear seats. A 6′ 4″ Alfa Romeo driver fit fairly well in the front of the sunroof-equipped 500; without the sunroof, a taller driver should fit just fine. Folks up to 5′ 8″ had sufficient room in the back seat, and TTAC Editor-In-Chief Ed Niedermeyer managed to ride 50 miles with his 6-foot frame squeezed into the back; he wasn’t comfortable, but it worked.

Here’s Judge Jonny at the wheel of the Sears Pointless 24 Hours of LeMons Semi-Official Pace Car. Mr. Lieberman liked the tip-in of the 500 and was pleased to lead the parade of 173 heaps around the famed track.

Back in the real, i.e. non-LeMons world, I still thought the 500 looked pretty good in spite of its lack of look-at-that passerby-grabbing magnetism. The Sport wheels have a quasi-custom appearance, without crossing the line into Manny, Moe, and Jack-grade cheeze, and the 195/45-16 tires look good and meaty on such a small car.

The interior of the 500 is made of unapologetically cheap materials, with none of the mock-classy “chrome”-plated plastic or Simu-Wood™ trim so beloved by Detroit in years past. Had the Chrysler of ten years ago had anything to do with this car, I feel certain its interior would have been spackled over with as much greasy, casting-flash-laden plastic as the lowest of low-bidder Indonesian petrochemical companies could have pumped into tanker vessels. Today, as Ice-T would say, shit ain’t like that. This is a cheap small car, and it’s not being marketed as a consolation prize for losers who couldn’t afford a new Chrysler Concorde; it’s made for buyers who want a little gas-sipping commuter with something of a sporty edge.

Nothing very exciting to report on the controls and instrumentation; this is all bland and reasonably well-placed gear. I poked around a bit under the dash and found that the quality of switches and electrical connectors looked fairly decent. I can’t make any promises based on my short acquaintance with the car, but it appears that the dash controls should hold together much longer than their counterparts from the Bad Old Days of Fiat.

The body-color plastic dash insert added a touch of motorcycle-fuel-tank-style snazz to the interior, and it should be easy to clean when passengers experience fast-food mishaps (or worse). I’m skeptical about its ability to maintain its color after a few years of sun in Albuquerque or San Diego, but who cares? It’s a cheap small car!

It’s just refreshing to see such lack of pretense in a car interior’s surfaces these days, even in a subcompact. You put this stuff through an American focus group and they’ll always demand heraldic crests and gingerbread, so it’s good to see that Fiat and Chrysler ditched that nonsense for the USDM 500.

Look at this: no attempt made to camouflage the seat-mounting hardware! Just about all cars at the low end of the price spectrum for the last 20 years have had a crappy hunk of plastic that snaps over the ends of the seat-track brackets, where it spends several years collecting nasty schmutz and developing cracks, before working loose and generally making the car owner feel that this machine is disintegrating. Not so on the 500, which doesn’t fear showing the occasional bolt head. It’s a small thing, but I find it illustrative.

The Bose Premium Audio system that comes with the Sport package fills up the 500′s little cabin with brain-scrambling volume, thumping out bass quality that would impress Tigra and Bunny; I found that Mike Jones’ Still Tippin’ sounded incredibly good when cranked way, way up. Pantera wasn’t quite as impressive, so it appears that the system was engineered with hip-hop rather than metal in mind (though I’m sure that enough twiddling with the somewhat frustrating audio controls could have done justice to Dimebag Darrell’s sound).

Speaking of frustration, I had a tough time reading the tachometer at a glance; it appears that Fiat took a look at the instrument budget and went all-out for style over function. The tach needle is tiny and hard to see, and seems to fall behind engine reality at times. I found myself hitting the rev limiter when the tach indicated I still had 500 RPM to go. Not a big deal, since it’s the sort of thing a driver adjusts for after a few weeks in the car, and understandable given the low cost of the car… but this is one area I’d prefer straight-up function.

And, now that we’ve veered off into curmudgeonly complaints, I hope that Fiat’s enforcers pour some castor oil down the throats of their owner’s-manual tech writers. Take a look at the callout numbers in the manual…

…and now check out the corresponding entries for those items. See how they don’t match up? I’m a technical writer by trade, and it causes me physical pain to see something this easy get screwed up. If your organization misses this stuff, what else has it missed? However, I suspect that this is just a localization glitch, caused by a hurried Americanization of the UK-market 500 manual, and that the 500s rolling out of the showrooms will have more usable manuals.

Returning to the 500′s interior, we see the no-frills seat fabric in action here. Cheap stuff, not pretending to look expensive. It ought to hold up under the rigors of real-world use pretty well, given that it isn’t weakened by pleather piping, fake buttons, or embossing.

The only thing I really disliked about the interior was the headrest design. The headrests are hard, unforgiving plastic with a tortilla-thin layer of padding. If you tend to sprawl out lowrider-style with your head against the headrest while driving, as I do, you’ll find your dome gets quite a beating when going over road irregularities. I’m sure there’s cheap aftermarket padded covers available, preferably something suitably blinged-out, so it’s not a dealbreaker by any means.

As you’d expect in such a small car, cargo space is somewhat limited. I found that my big suitcase with my helmet and racing suit had to ride in the back seat; the seat backs fold down, but don’t manage to get fully horizontal. Most of the interior space goes to the passengers, not cargo.

USB and auxiliary audio jacks in the glovebox allow the use of portable music devices through the 500′s sound system. The interface isn’t particularly intuitive (forget about browsing your iPod through the USB-connected stereo and hoping to find a particular song), but you can play your music.

Before we start talking about driving the 500, I feel the need to point out my disappointment that the Fiat 500 by Gucci isn’t available in the United States. Sure, we’re getting the Abarth, but the country that loved the Cartier Continentals and Oleg Cassini Matadors deserves a Gucci Fiat!

First of all, I was impressed by the 500′s composure on potholed, flooded, washboardy roads in bad weather conditions. While touring the junkyards of the East Bay (where I found this ’52 Buick Super), I subjected the 500 to the decaying infrastructure of East Oakland.

It doesn’t insulate you from the bumps like you’re Frank Sinatra floating in an Imperial with a French 75 in your hand, but it sure as hell doesn’t jar your cerebellum loose from its moorings when you discover that little puddle is really a foot-deep pit. You feel and hear the rough roads through just enough insulation to keep from being beaten up, and there’s never a sense that you’re about to be hurled into the weeds.

Heavy rain on the dreaded Nimitz Freeway? No problem. The 500 rolls right along on the highway with as little drama as cars twice its bulk. While I had the 500, I traveled hundreds of miles of highway in wet and dry road conditions, and the car proved to be a pleasant highway cruiser. Noise levels aren’t bad— you can carry on a conversation in a normal speaking voice at 80 MPH— and the car copes with Nimitz-style roughness without wearing out the driver.

The 101-horse MultiAir engine… well, it’s an engine. Somehow the 101 horsepower in the 2,350-pound 500 feels much less powerful than the 102 horsepower in my 2,200-pound ’92 Civic. I must admit I was hoping for an experience akin to what I recall from the ’73 128 of my childhood, an engine that snarls, making 101 horses feel like 202. Instead, the 1.4 MultiAir is just an unobtrusive, sensible powerplant. Would I be disappointed in a Toyota or Hyundai subcompact with an engine like this? Not at all. I just wanted something more… Italian.

The chrome-cueball gearshift knob looks jaunty, but the shifter itself has an irritatingly vague, indistinct feel. There was something familiar about its short-throw-yet-rubbery sensation, and I sifted my memory banks for days before it hit me: it feels like the shifter in the early VW Vanagon. I stalled the car a few times when mistakenly starting out in third gear, and I lived in fear of hitting second instead of fourth when downshifting from fifth (in fact, this never happened). I wouldn’t class this as a severe problem, because you’d get used to the funky shifter in the same way Fiat drivers of old got used to a headlight switch that had to be punched several times with the heel of one’s hand before the lights would come on. Were I to buy a 500, however, I’d look to the aftermarket for an improved shifter.

For the first few days I had the 500, all my driving was either stop-and-go urban, long-haul highway, or slow cruising around the Infineon Raceway grounds with all the windows down and “Funkytown” blasting. The car seemed like a good value, something I could be happy with as a long-term daily driver, but nothing about it really seemed exceptional. I managed to get 32.7 indicated miles per gallon in a mix of highway and stop/go driving, which seems respectable for a car that doesn’t compromise much on comfort, but I wasn’t quite blown away by the fuel economy. “You need to put it in Sport mode and take it on some twisty roads,” Lieberman kept telling me. With that vanilla engine, I figured, how much fun could it be?

As I discovered once I took the 500 for a couple of runs over the Oakland Hills on Fish Ranch Road after the race, the 500 Sport is plenty fun once you get it alone on a snaky, hilly road. You still don’t get much zip from the engine, but the 500′s grip on the pavement borders on ridiculous for a gas-sipping urban commuter. Sneakers-stuck-to-melting-asphalt sort of grip. Angry-cat-digging-claws-into-your-groin grip. I wasn’t talented brave enough to try to find the car’s handling limits, at least not on a public road still wet from a week of rain, but I did start to wonder what the ideal purpose for such a setup would be. A driver looking for a bomb to go screaming around the hills is going to shop for something with more engine, but a 9-to-5 commuter doesn’t need that racy suspension.

Then, while making a burrito run later in the day, I grasped the genius of the 500 Sport’s designers. This car was designed to steal parking spaces in hostile urban environments. Picture this: you’re running late for an appointment in some nightmarishly parking-challenged place like San Francisco or Manhattan. You drive around block after block, trying to spot the telltale signs of a pedestrian who will duck into a car and free up a space for you. Dozens of other drivers do the same, as all of you circle sharklike, sniffing for blood in the water.

Then you see it! An oil-burning Jetta with a space-saver spare on the left front and a 350-pound junkie at the wheel is wheezing out of a spot up ahead… but it’s on the wrong side of the street and another shark heading toward you has locked onto this tempting prey. That’s when the 500 Sport comes into its element! You whip the Fiat into a full-throttle U-turn— tires glommed to the asphalt like a crackhead on a dropped $20 bill— as the car pivots like a forklift through its tiny turning radius, and you’re into that damn parking space before your competition can even hit the turn signal. You look so cool doing it that the other driver forgets to shoot you, and you make your appointment. That’s what the 500 Sport is for.

So the 500 comes off as a great-handling, semi-fuel-stingy commuter with a good helping of fancy flourishes and retro lines that will likely be lost on Americans with sub-encyclopedic car knowledge. Build quality seems many, many orders of magnitude better than the Fiats of a generation ago. The price? As tested, $19,000. A grand of that was for the sunroof and the automatic HVAC system, but even without those not-quite-essential options, the 500 Sport costs a bit more than a Honda Fit sport hatchback and a few grand more than the Mazda 2 and Toyota Yaris. Things get even more interesting when the Scion IQ hits the showrooms. Would I buy a 500? Maybe… but I’d want to visit the Mazda showroom first.

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