By on June 18, 2013

focusst

I wish I had more time with the Focus ST, but circumstances conspired to cut my loan short; I was off on the West Coast, driving a hot hatch older than I am, as well as two competitors, the Volkswagen GTI and the Mazdaspeed3. Driving those two back to back gave me some context before I drove the first truly hot Focus since the first-generation SVT version. In Europe, that car was also an ST, dubbed the ST170, because the RS was top dog in Ford of Europe’s hatch hierarchy. I hear that we’ll be getting the next Focus RS as well, complete with the 2.3L Ecoboost, but of course, my Ford sources will neither confirm or deny that.

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By on July 27, 2012

“Drives like a go-kart”. Is there a more time-worn, hackneyed cliche in automotive journalism? Although this phrase is meant to heap praise on a lightweight, nimble vehicle that offers superlative handling, I can’t think of a more damning insult to saddle a modern road car with than to liken it to a proper kart.

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By on November 3, 2011
Two door cars used to be everywhere. From loaded up Cutlasses and Accords. To entry level Escorts, Neons and Civics. Nearly every popular car of 20 years ago offered a hatchback or coupe variant for those seeking a touch of sport in their daily driver.

Then something happened. America gradually got older… and bigger. Four door cars went from the plain-jane three square look of the 1980’s, to designs that evoked the priciest of exotics. Advances in steel fabrication and body stamping were just the beginning of what soon became a new era where four door cars completely dominated their two door sisters.

“Why deal with the inconvenience of a two door?” said a buying public knee-deep in aging baby boomers. Why indeed when you could have everything from a Camry to an SUV if you wanted the pretense of a sporty and powerful ride. Hatchbacks soon gave way to oversized coupes, which gave way to the reality that so-called ‘sporty’ designs were now available in every segment of the car market.

To survive for another generation, a two door compact like the Scion tC has to offer a lot more than just a ‘sporty’ driving experience.
By on October 19, 2011

When Buick announced that it would not be rebadging the Opel Insignia OPC as the Buick Regal GS, and that instead of the OPC’s all wheel drive and turbocharged V6 we’d be getting a front-drive turbo four performance model, I was a bit skeptical. On paper, the proposed GS just didn’t seem different enough from the turbo model (which I liked well enough as-is) to elicit much initial enthusiasm. But this is why we drive cars instead of just comparing spec sheets: having spent some time alone with the GS, I’m happy to report that my skepticism was entirely unnecessary.

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By on August 11, 2011

I haven’t been to Italy, in 21 years. My cousins and I are having dinner together for the first time in 21 years. If I didn’t already know it, I’d have learned it now: males with Italian blood are obsessed with cars. My cousin Nicola even works for FIAT, in the seaside town of Termoli.

“Are there Fiats at Chrysler stores in Canada now?” he asks.

“Just the 500,” I inform.

“That’s not the real 500,” says Angelo, his younger brother. Two hours later, we’re in my Nonna’s garage. He pulls the tarp off a stunning, perfectly restored 1968 Fiat 595 SS Abarth. “Quest’è la vera Cinquecento!” he informs me.

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By on August 2, 2011

The Sea-to-Sky highway in British Columbia, Canada, carves a winding route from the gorgeous – and occasionally riotous – city of Vancouver to the world-class ski resort of Whistler. Its looping curves were rebuilt to make it a high-speed corridor for tourists and athletes during the last Winter Olympics, and as a result, it’s probably one of the top five roads in this country. Mind you, it’s also a favourite hang-out for the local constabulary.

So here I am then, at the wheel of a priceless prototype, sitting on the wrong side of the car next to an emeritus journalist, on a blind on-ramp to one of the most highly-patrolled roads in Canada. What’s called for here is a little decorum, a careful merge, some light throttle application, a few gentle gear-changes and so on. Anything else would be at-worst dangerous and at-best unseemly.

By a curious co-incidence, “unseemly” is my middle name. So I floor it.

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By on April 19, 2011

The Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC 5.0 isn’t a dream car, because it’s obscurity and touring car blueprint is a relative buzzkill. But this Bauhaus-worthy super coupe is a homologated racer much like it’s 300 SL forefather. I’ll skip the basics to focus on unit #1576: a grey market import from a USAF officer stationed in Germany. The current owner, Leif Skare, let me drive this meticulously kept, nearly stock (period correct 15” wheels and AMG front spoiler aside) SLC 5.0 before it heads back to Europe. Perhaps the SLC 5.0 is a dream car, when viewed in the right light. In the right place.

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By on December 22, 2010

While at the LA Auto Show in November, TTAC was invited by Volvo to sample the Volvo C30 electric concept car. More a pre-production than concept, the C30 electric will supposedly hit the streets as a 2012 model-year car. So what does the Chinese-Swedish brand, known more for safety than drivetrain innovations, have in store for the electric market? I’m happy to report that the answer is: nothing out of the ordinary.

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By on November 1, 2010

No story should ever start, as this one does, with “my First Rover Metro.” The implication that there are more Metros to come is all too obvious, and could probably be best categorized as a “cry for help.” In any case, my first Rover Metro was a teal 1995 1.1L Kensington edition, purchased for £60 from a friend in Bishop-Stortford. The Kensington edition meant I got shards of carpet over the door panels, and the kind of pizzazz that only an engineer from Coventry would be able to come up with. The Metro lasted only 19 hours in my hands before a brake failure led to its demise into the back of a yellow Hyundai. My second Rover Metro was a 1997 Tahiti Blue 1.1L Ascot edition*, which meant I got full wheel covers and blue piping in the velour. This only accelerated my descent into the world of English motoring, where I found joy and fulfillment in the death rattle of a Rover K-series engine.

*astute readers will recall that both vehicles are technically Rover 100’s, but are always remembered in pop culture as the Metro.

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By on October 6, 2010


I should have known from the breathless senior in long shorts and fancy jewelry: “AC Propulsion is over there. They won the X-Prize!” I should have known from the Long Curly Hair Middle-Aged Dad with Toddler and Pregnant Hippie Wife. I should have known from the fact that this first day of the national “Drive Electric Tour Sponsored by Nissan Leaf” was in Santa Monica. But I didn’t, and so
color moi tres surpris when the little Leaf driving demo was actually the biggest part of the 2010 Alt Car Expo. Petrolheads beware.

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By on October 4, 2010

Since we both live in Houston, and I have aspirations of writing more material for TTAC in my copious lack of free time, it only made sense that Sajeev Mehta and I should eventually get together and hang out, so that’s exactly what we did at Ford’s come-kick-our-tires event for the new F150 trucks, including their new EcoBoost (turbocharged) V6 truck engine. Since I’m the epitome of not-a-truck-guy, I thought I’d toss in some random thoughts from somebody coming to this experience completely unprepared for what I was getting myself into.

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By on August 11, 2010

Schadenfreude recently brought the elder Niedermeyer out of his summer semi-retirement, and for the most part, it’s a consistent inspiration for much of our content here at TTAC. But as natural and healthy as it is to laugh and learn from the mistakes of others, for some reason I’m just not feeling it today. Blame it, if you must, on a certain mellowness that settles in over the glorious course of an Oregon Summer. One Robert Farago always said that hate must come from a place of love, so in the interests of getting TTAC back in lean, mean fighting form, I’m going to indulge in the worst kind of of auto-writing love-fest: I’m going to tell you about how much I love my car. Except that it’s not a car, and it’s not actually mine…

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By on June 19, 2010

Wuchtig. I’m sitting, panting, trying to catch my breath on the side of a tiny two-lane road running through the vineyards of California’s Napa Valley. I’m in an American car. I haven’t spoken German regularly since I was 18. Adrenalin has chased everything resembling a coherent thought from my mind. And yet, strangely, the only thing left banging around my speed-addled skull is a single German adjective for which the English language has no translation: wuchtig.
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By on June 3, 2010

It’s hard to fault the 2010 Lexus ES 350. There is no hint of rattle. The suspension feels as though it would take the worst New England washboard roads with aplomb. The steering is responsive and precise, and the handling crisp at modestly extra-legal speeds on Clifton VA’s marvelously twisty, hilly byways, despite 3,600 lbs of mass–almost parsimonious in this age of bloat–although you get the feeling you might begin to push the limits of crisp if you go much faster around here.

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By on May 22, 2010

Now it can be told, more than twenty years after the fact. This recent kid-smashing-up-press-car incident has caused me to think about my own misspent youth and the potential parallels between it and that of Little Lord Cheney. My father was a decorated war hero rather than a demoted war reporter, and when I crunched the nose of my first car my dad responded by taking away my license for an entire year and forcing me to ride a bicycle to my job washing dishes from 8pm to 2am at the local pizza-delivery place. He also made me learn how to drive on his stick-shift BMW 733i, so I never had the chance to drive a car through a garage door.

Still, I can point to a few incidents of damn-the-torpedos bad judgment in my teen years, and perhaps my favorite one was the day I found myself behind the wheel of a brand-new BMW 750il and decided to take a shot at one hundred and fifty-five miles per hour.
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