Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2009 BMW 335d

d ... What's the "d" stand for? Well, since you asked. It stands for diesel. BMW has finally decided to bring its technology stateside. Somewhere lots of people are rejoicing that they get a decent performing car without suffering at the gas pump. Now, before "you people" start saying well "Diesel gas costs more at the pump." Yes, yes it does. However, you get more miles out of a gallon of diesel gas than you do our of premium gas. When was the last time you got 600 miles to a tank of fuel? So that squashes that argument...

Back to the point at hand... from the exterior, there is no discerning marks that would identify the 335 as a diesel car compared to a 335i. The only difference come to those with detailed eyes when you see a body colored port located in the rear bumper. This port is used to refill the "mystery" fluid that help to keep the diesel fumes from becoming an environmental problem. Every 15,000 miles you need to make a trip to your local BMW dealer and they will refill the container that holds the mystery fluid. Rumor has it that without this fluid, the car will self-destruct... well no it won't, but it will cease to run.

Interior wise little has changed. The only visible change is on the dash here the fuel tank indicator has a diesel indicator over it and the redline is much lower ... at around 4750 RPM. Other than that, the car operates just the same.

Start it up and initially there is a little difference in sound, but soon it settles into a low hum just like any other BMW. Only the most discerning ears will here a difference in tone over a traditional motor. Push the gas pedal and off you go. Like any other car, the power is smooth and effortless. You will see that there is much more torque... 425ft-lbs compared to the 300ft-lbs available from it's cousin. There is a horsepower penalty however, dropping from 300 down to 265. Not really a problem because torque is your friend anyway.

Driving this car, the boat loads of torque is instantly apparent. Ask for more go power and the car obliges. The torque pushes you forward almost making down shifts unnecessary. Highway speeds are easily attained and quite quickly. Once at speed response is almost instant, but from a stop, there is a slight delay while the turbo does what is has to do to build boost. Once you're up to speed though, response is almost instant. The average driver will not know the difference between a diesel and a gasoline powered car. They will notice however when they don't have to go to the gas station nearly as often. And that is a major bonus...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

2009 Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X (10) MR

G R I P!

This car has it... and lots of it. First things first, the EVO is not your standard Mitsubishi Lancer. On the outside, it may look very similar and the interior may be just as bland, but the all the important bits have been not just upgraded... but completely replaced. Gone is the anemic four cylinder in the Lancer and instead it is replaced by a newly designed 2.0 L turbocharged, all-aluminum inline four cylinder engine. Now you may think... ugh, 2.0 L of engine can't do anything worthwhile. Well, let's just say this is 2.0 L of dynamite. This car pumps out a whopping 300hp out of a tiny package. Romp on it from idle and there is some turbo lag, but I understand there is a launch control feature available to solve that problem should you want to smash your brain against the back of your skull. Once moving, you roll on the throttle and a wave of torque propels you forward.

The transmission is new for the year. It is a new sequential semi-automatic six speed Twin Clutch SST twin-clutch transmission. This twin clutch system baffles the mind, but suffice to say, it does what it needs to do. Executes beautiful lightning fast upshifts and flawless downshifts at the flick of the steering column (not wheel) mounted paddles or the console mounted shifter.

Now the business end of the transmission is tied to an all new full-time all-wheel drive system named S-AWC (Super All Wheel Control). This is an advanced version of AWC system used in previous generations. The S-AWC uses torque vectoring technology to send different amount of torque to any wheel at any given time based on what many fancy computers think you are trying to do. The level of perceived grip that this translates to the driver is down right phenomenal. You can push harder through corners and fancy computers send power to the wheels that they need to so you can stay on your desired path. Laws of physics surely can't be broken, but the S-AWC has the ability to bend and even rewrite them at times. It has the ability to tell Sir Isaac Newton to look the other way as you power through corners like a man on a mission. If you aren't careful, you can easily turn the car one direction and have your lunch go the other.

Interior is nothing special... it basically is a slightly upgraded Lancer interior with really nice and supportive seats. Be forewarned though, if you are any bit out of shape, you're going to be too wide for these seats. They are very supportive, but you'll find yourself at the gym much much more to keep your weight down and your backside in check so you can fit comfortably in those seats.

Exterior enhancements included an upgraded front bumper, hood, bigger wheels and brakes, redesigned rear bumper and a much larger boy racer wing. This is the point where I tell you that the boy racer wing is "very" boy racer but some design monkey wasn't thinking when he put the rear spoiler right smack dab in the middle of the rear window. Looking through the back glass you get a great view of the spoiler, but not much else.

At 41,000 this isn't the cheapest pocket rocket on the market. Especially since the interior looks like that of it's 13,000 brother. However, when you drive this car, it's very evident that the extra 30,000 some odd dollars is all spent on the go fast goodies of the engine, transmission and all-wheel drive handling system.

You want to go fast? Then this is probably the best pocket rocket you are going to find for the price. Just be forewarned... you will need to spend some money to upgrade the exhaust because the Mitsubishi engineers did a great job of muffling the exhaust, but left you with the unmuffled sound of the overpowered blender under the hood. Plus... you will need to be prepared to start making three point turns to get in and out of parking spaces because it has the turning radius of a school bus.

It's all a small price to pay for the ability to bend the laws of physics at the flick of your wrist. Plus, with the amount of grip this car has, you can pretty much adjust the earth's rotation as desired. I heard that as a result of this car, too many drivers were going the same direction and the shear level of grip has cause engineers to think we are going to need to add another second to our clocks next year.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

2009 Cadillac DTS

This is your father's and even his father's Cadillac. It is long and flashy. Open the big door and slide into the big comfortable leather seat and it just swallows you up like a soft pillow. As you get comfortable, you can take note of the wood that covers various points on the dash and console.

Pop that column shifter into drive and float away from the curb as if you are gliding on a cloud of air. Stab the gas pedal though and that cloud of air gets a hurricane like gust behind it, but that's not what this car is about. This car is like riding on Aladdin's carpet. Float over bumps as if they never existed.

Reach down and flip on the heated massaging seat and take pleasure in the multipoint massage system that is now kneading away all your worries. The scenery almost starts to get surreal and blurry as you enjoy the heat which eases your aches and pains as if

*** insert sleeping & snoring noises here ***

Later... wow, it was so soft I fell asleep. Mental note, don't use the heated massaging seats on a long road trip. My grandfather may want one of these though.

2009 GMC Yukon Hybrid

This review will be short because this is basically much akin to the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid reviewed earlier, just cheaper and scaled back some.

The 2009 GMC Yukon Hybrid was brought to market this year with economy in mind. People who need large SUVs were tired of getting seven mpg on a regular basis. So GMC tossed some Hybrid technology in to help people cope with ever rising gas prices. The engine in the GMC Yukon is a 6.0L V8 combined with the same two 60kW electric motors found in the Escalade cousin. The horsepower rating is a however considerably down versus the Escalade at only 332hp on tap when demanded. However, as a benefit to less horsepower, you get a whopping 1 or 2 mpg increase ( I think I'll take the extra horsepower instead ).

The exterior of the GMC Yukon is drastically changed versus the Escalade which is almost identical to it's non-hybrid brother. Not counting the almost 13 badges advertising that you are a tree hugger driving a school bus, the changes could easily set you apart to the discerning eye. The front facia is changed on the Hybrid version for better aerodynamic as are the mirrors, side skirts and rear bumper. The roof rack was removed unless requested and the wheels were replaced with lightweight and some what stylish variations. So, these aero improvements are what help to contribute to that increase of 1 or 2 mpg we spoke of earlier.

Inside, you get basically the same dash and layout found in the non-hybrid version of the Yukon except for an added Hybrid feature found on the Escalade which shows exactly what the Hybrid system is doing at any give point in time. Definitely a neat gadget to show your friend so they know you are not messing around about being ecologically friendly. We know you are doing it to save gas, but your friends do not have to know that.

The suspension in the Yukon is slightly rougher than on the Escalade. Hitting bumps on the road seem to send noises and vibrations through the cabin that seem to never end in comparison to the Escalade. However, this vehicle also costs considerably less than the Escalade as well. With added incentives, the price of this vehicle comes down from astronomical to almost affordable putting it very close to the Chevrolet Tahoe which is not nearly as economical on fuel.

If you need a large SUV ... and I mean really need one, not because you feel safer driving a school bus to work. Get the Cadillac Escalade if you can afford it. If you are on a budget... get the GMC Yukon. Don't think that by buying a 9 passenger hybrid to drive only yourself to work is going to make you a better person. If you need the space this is the way to go. If you don't, get something smaller. You'll thank me next time you try to pull into a parking space and you won't have to do a 3 point turn to do it.

2009 Saab Aero 2.0T

Where does the key go? That's the first thing I thought when I got in the car. Then I remembered that those crazy guy who build jets figured it would be neat to put it in the center console instead of up by the ignition. Turn the key at the mighty 2.0L fires to life. Gauges light up and this fighter jet is ready to launch. Move the shifter into Drive and away we go.

Saab Aero #7, you are cleared for departure runway 27.

Foot goes to the floor and response is much like that of a fighter jet. You start to roll forward while the power starts to come on and the finally the big turbine spins to life and away you go roaring down the street. As you reach maximum boost the turbo system starts to vent the excess which is clearly audible from the passenger compartment with the top down. Acceleration starts slowly but builds quickly once spinning. Unfortunately, that turbo lag is almost always there whenever you try to gain speed. You have to factor it into your driving style. Want to pass a car? Go full throttle, wait for the turbo to do it's thing, then pull out into the opposing lane. Pull out too early and the guy in front of you and behind you will think you are some drunk guy until you actually start moving towards the horizon.

Interior is comfortable for two, slightly tight for four. It seemed as if the rear passengers were sitting higher than the front passengers who took an almost fighter like position with almost naturally puts them in a more laid back position while the rear passengers are placed further back and up to be assaulted by the gail force winds over the low windshield. The dash does the job giving you all the information you need albeit with a fairly interesting boost guage to let you know whenever the turbo is actually doing something. Plus, it also has a nice little red area following the guage which I'm guessing is when you should start to look for the Eject handle should the needle start to enter that area.

Handling for this car is ... well, it looks pretty. However, combine front wheel drive with no roof for stability and suspension designed to be soft for all those passengers and convertible top machinery and you aren't going to win any contests. Sharp turns I guess aren't a requirement in these jets. I suppose they are more used to the wide turns that take a few miles. The suspension is soft, but it can easily be upset due to the lack of rigidity with the missing roof.

So... it's a great car to look at, nice car to drive if you want to be seen... but not a sports car. Saab could've done better, but I guess those guys used to build jets and there is a reason they aren't building them anymore. They want to retire with something soft and pretty.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

For those that are feeling environmentally conscious but still want to lumber around in their thunderous SUVs, Cadillac has something for you. They have brought hybrid technology to the king of the hill. The Cadillac Escalade is new for 2009. it is powered by the same 6.0L V8 engine found in its non-hybrid cousin. However, to supplement its output, Cadillac has outfitted it with two 60kW motors to help get you moving.

If you look in the engine bay, you will see a variety of orange colored wires indicating something you should not be messing with. Touching or cutting one of those will probably be the most electrifying part of your day. Strangely enough, even though the hybrid system has equipped the Escalade with a heap load of batteries under the chassis for added power, it still retains a battery in the engine bay. You would think that the battery in the engine bay would be not necessary considering the massive power station used to drive the rest of the vehicle.

Power in this monster is much improved. Those two 60kW motors snap to 'go' when you romp on the gas pedal. It propels the massive SUV to highway speeds in what seems like record speed for a vehicle of this size. Under full acceleration, the engine is pumping out 430+ hp combined with electrical assistance from the two electric motors making for a startling acceleration experience. But, that's not what this is about. This is about maximizing fuel economy. If you are gentle on the gas pedal, you can motive the beast from a stop using nothing but battery power up to about 20-25 mph before the engine kicks in to help bring you up to speed.

Transition from battery power to engine power is nearly seemless unless you are looking for it. If you are watching for it, you will feel a slight shudder as the motor turns on/off based on need. Now, as you are coming to a stop, if you are watchful of your surroundings, you can maximize your coasting time without using the brakes. While coasting, the vehicle goes into charging mode using the rotation of the rear tires as generators to charge up the juice in the batteries. If you are good with this procedure of easy starts and coasting to a stop... you will notice that this monster will turn in an impressive 20mpg city and 21mpg highway. Not bad considering it's size and it's retained ability to pull 6000lbs of stuff trailing behind.

Interior of the Escalade has changed very little from it's solely gasoline powered cousin. Upgrades include a dial on the dash board to help the driver keep an eye on 'efficiency'. A dial swings right or left letting you know you are doing something wrong. If the dial is in the 12 o'clock dial, you're making the most use of the hybrid technology. Too far to the right and you're too hard on the gas, too hard to the left and you're using the brakes too much. It's a game to see how well you can keep it straight up or away from straight up based on your financial situation and stock in the gas companies. The screen inside is also upgraded with a hybrid technology screen which diagrams exactly what is going on with the system at all times. It will impress your passengers should want to know what is happening and why it sounds like this vehicle is an oversized golf cart.

One of the nice features... when running on battery power. This oversized behemoth sounds like a mice at Christmas time. It's super quiet and all you can hear is the quiet hum of the AC compressor. Basically you get the ability to sneak up behind people in the parking lot and scare them as the engine turns on.

Added bonuses! As of today, I do believe in certain states, if you have a hybrid vehicle, you can drive in the high occupancy lane with only on person in the car. Plus I do believe if you qualify for all the necessary refunds, you can get up to $13,500 back in tax incentives for being more 'green'. As a side effect for this, certain states require you to put a special hybrid sticker on the vehicle. That means it will be covered by no less than 13 decals indicating to the world you are driving a hybrid vehicle.

Friday, November 21, 2008

2009 Cadillac CTS

Cadillac brought one of its most popular cars to the show. The CTS designed to be more European inspired which is supposed to mix the values of an American luxury sedan with the performance of a German performance sedan is back. From the outside, the car looks stylish and refined. The headlights and huge trademark Cadillac grill definitely announce its presence. Trimmed in red, the car looks poised as a luxury brand should with a hint of performance hinted at by the large wheels and the trimmed exhaust hiding under the rear valance. The car looks square a much welcomed change from the jelly bean designs of most automobiles these days.

Inside the car, the passengers are welcomed by comfortable seats trimmed in leather and nicely appointed wood. Seats are very comfortable with separate heating and cooling functions for both driver and passenger. The center stack between the two front passengers is full of buttons and dial which can easily confuse some drivers. If you are at home in the car and have memorized the location of all the buttons, then you are set, but be prepared to answer questions from your passengers who are trying to play DJ from the right seat.

Interesting point of note is that the screen that houses the display for the radio actually extends out of the dash to reveal a much larger screen that houses the navigation and auxiliary functions. The screen is bright and easily read while moving.

Now, while moving, you are motivated forward by a 3.5L V6 engine pumping out 304hp. Stabs at the gas pedal will motivate the rear wheels to move faster than the car will allow. Our testing 'partnership' was not pleased when we left tire spinning out of the parking arrangement. The engine is a bit slow to respond once moving, but it's adequate to get you up to speed. Cruising is effortless with the power plant under the hood. However, while cruising, you will notice that something is not right. Remember the German inspired performance sedan they were shooting for? Well, they missed the mark just a tad. While driving, the suspension feels confused and never quite right. It's not Caddy smooth, but no where near as performance oriented as a German counterpart. The suspension is firm without a doubt and on smooth surfaces does the job it is supposed to do. However, over uneven transitions and bumps the suspension feels overwhelmed by the mass hanging over it. Rattle through the steering wheel lets the driver know what the front wheels are doing, but often they are lost as well with a numb feeling as they transition over difficult roadways.

The CTS is a good car, but not all it is hyped up to be, it definitely has Cadillac built into it's history, but it is pushing for a new direction. It needs to go further down the road of knowledge before it tries again though. Now, there is also a "V" edition of this car available. We are waiting for testing of that vehicle to become available... and hopefully those 558HP will be much easier to control and deal with.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

2009 Pontiac G8 GT Sedan

New for 2009, the Pontiac G8 GT Sedan explodes onto the scene with a massive presence. With a starting price of $28500, this is a car that is a force to be reckoned with. Exterior presence screams performance with functional ducts on the hood and a front facia that screams move it or lose it. Underneat that hood, sits a 6.0L V8 pumping out 361 very furious horses which are ready to run on command. Flex your ankle and your heart will start to race as the tachometer starts to the swing to the right and the rear tires struggle for grip. Nice thick black marks are left on the road way as you quickly hurtle yourself up to speed. The only thing left in your wake is tire smoke making even performance sedans costing twice as much envious.

Keep your foot in it and transmission shifts are met with smooth changes before engaging the next gear and the symphony of engine growl continues to chase you down the roadway. The growl that is chasing you is something akin to an American performance sedan. Not loud of obnoxious, but something smooth and deep which makes you want to dip into the performance band each and everytime you pull away from a stop light or a fancy sedan which thinks they are the baddest boy on the block.

Suspension refinement soak up bumps without overly upsetting the chassis. The firm suspension however does communication with the driver and it lets you know when something is wrong. I can only imagine that this car would be very talkative at higher speeds or traction limits. At docile roadways speeds, it is compliant enough to make driving comfortable.

The interior is nothing spectacular to write home about, but it gets the job done. Functional buttons combined with a large screen center mounted in the console make it easy to see what is being done at all times and buttons are easy to push and feel sturdy.

Our only complaint with this car is that massive engine under the hood has massive exhaust tubes which run down the center of the car and after lots of blistering runs tends to make the center mounted tunnel very 'warm'. You'll need to make sure the A/C is set to circulate air both top and bottom so your legs don't feel the heat. Well, as the saying goes, if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

This car is a blast to drive and with plenty of room for your friends, is definitely something to be considered if you are looking for a combination of practicality and speed combined into a satisfying package.

Oh... and there is a GXP version coming out next year that will be equipped with a 450HP motor and a six speed manual transmission. If I were you, I'd start buying stock in tire companies now... cause that monster is going to roast the tires off of the best performance sedans out there.

2009 Hummer H3T Alpha

New for 2009, Hummer is releasing the H3T Alpha. It is a cross between a Hummer that we are all used to seeing and a truck. Powered by a 5.3L 300hp motor, it doesn't feel very fast, but I'm sure it's got enough torque to pull a tree out of the ground. Gas efficiency wasn't all that wonderful and was not listed on the spec sheet, but I'm sure it is not on the top of people's minds when buying a vehicle like this. The truck is equipped with a four speed automatic transmission with super tall gearing giving a low cruising engine speed but pretty much eliminating the though of 'quickness' being associated with it.

Inside is typical Hummer. Nothing exotic to write home about. You do get four doors, and a some what comfortable cabin, but seats are a bit tough and the ride provided by the monster is every bit you would expect from a truck. We were not expecting luxury sedan smoothness, but chassis flex and ripple was easily aparent over the smaller road undulations. The bed was big enough to be considered usable. They lose points forever for making small 'look-a-like' air intakes on the hood a-la it's H1 big bretheren.

Wearing massive rims and off-road tires, this vehicle is best suited off-road. It should only be really used on paved road to go from on off-road location to another and even then, you should think about twice about it. Sad part is, it will probably be used to haul soccer moms around urban shopping malls or to the park to pick up little Bobby from soccer practice.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Miami International Auto Show Nov. 7 - 16th 2008

We will be present at the Miami International Autoshow bringing back all the news and footage we will carry. Stay tuned for more information.

Monday, October 6, 2008

2009 Mini Cooper S

The MINI has come a long way. Many of you may remember that the initial release of the MINI was welcomed with warm arms and words of praise, but those words of praise started to disappear quickly when daily driveability was affected by normal wear and tear and high ambient temperatures and heat soak. The 2009 MINI Cooper S goes a long way to rectify those problems, but make some more. Evolution I suppose has it's ups and downs.

First, the turbocharged four cylinder engine is words better than it's previous supercharged older brother. Before sloppy and poor throttle response lead to awkward slow speed driving and a lack of umph at anything below 4000rpm due to the supercharger using up more power than it's making. The new turbocharged motor does away with all of that. Throttle response is greatly improved and torque from slow engine speeds is readily available now. You no longer have to wind it out to make it go.

Handling is still superb, pushes in the wheels to the corners is a receipe for go kart like handling and nimbleness on a scale to which other cars barely make it to the halfway mark. The suspension is firm, maybe too firm for some, but for the enthusiast it's just right. You feel the road and you know exactly what is going on. Bodyroll is not excessive, but enough to let you know you are pushing your limits. The handling is fairly neutral with a hint of understeer when you get in over your head. Oversteer is available though if you know what you are doing and wish to rotate the car through a corner with lift throttle oversteer.

Unfortunately, the MINI is still front wheel drive, but due to some advanced suspension geometry, putting all that power down results in minimal torque steer. The traction control does a wonderful job pushing power to the other side to help balance your intended direction when too much power tries to find it's way out of one tire. However, the tight packaging of the engine and front wheel driving configuration leave lots of room for the rear of the car and passengers without awkward driveshafts taking up valuable floor space.

The interior of the car is where evolution goes a bit in the wrong direction. Everything on the interior gets bigger. The center mounted speedometer is now a good 20-25% larger than the previous generation making it awkwardly huge. There is no hiding how fast you are going from your passengers... or for that matter, the people behind or next to you that can see through your windows. I'd be willing to bet satellites from space could see this large speedometer if they wanted to.

Toggle switches remain the way of doing business in the cabin, but an awkwardly places knob on the speedometer and one below often confuse people as to which one to turn to adjust the volume knob. Best to just remove the knob and use the buttons on the steering wheel anyway. This way your passenger can't interfere with your musical selection.

For a resonable price, a MINI can be yours with all the bells and whistles of a much more expensive car. Dare I say it ... it's a premium priced vehicle in a MINI package and a MINI price.

Friday, October 3, 2008

2009 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

If the only thing you want out of a car is a convertible and the ability to seat four, then this car is for you. If it is one thing I can say about this car, it is large and capacity for four is definitely possible. If you value anything else in life, survival, value for money spent, a good driving experience, the ability to feel like you aren't driving a blender without a top... run somewhere else.

Upon first look... the car hides its size well. From the outside, it looks decent sized, but when you sit on the interior, you get a true grasp for how limosine like this car is. The front feels like the hood on a Corvette... it ends in a different area code. The rear of the car feels like you are pulling around well... another car. The front leg room was spacious as was the shoulder room, but the head room was a little crampt. The rear room isn't meant for large adults for long trips, but children or short people would be comfortable back there provided the person in front of them was not a basketball player and they had uh... knees.

Our test car was equipped with the 2.4 liter four cylinder. If you are into fuel conservation, this is the engine for you. If you like getting where you are going... skip it and go for the six cylinder. The four cylinder was economical on gas, has to work really hard at highway speeds negating any savings in gas because it is always dropping down to the lowest gear to accelerate spinning the motor at high speeds and well... sucking up gas.

As with all convertible... the lack of a roof for rigidity plays a huge part on the driving experience and with this car it is no different. The smallest of bumps will upset the chassis and large bumps will make you almost seasick because of the rotational chassis twisting forces. Feels as if you are sitting in the middle of a ladder while people on either end twist in different directions. This is a car to definitely be seen in, not drive and in this case, that's not a good thing. Wind noise from the convertible top is horrible. The radio sometimes has a hardtime overpowering the noise at highway speeds.

However, putting the top down (while a long process) makes many of these problems go away as you are greated with endless headroom and the wind in your hair. Wind noise up front isn't bad, but wind noise for the rear passengers can make having a conversation almost impossible. In all reality, if they are in the back seat, you probably don't want to hear what they have to say anyway... that's why you put them back there.

For it being a cheap four seat convertible... it definitely does the job. However, I would much rather pay more for a car to do that or skip the convertible option all together. Cheap and convertible should not be in the same sentence together.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

2008 BMW M5

After 600 miles, the M5 is still just as much fun as the first mile. However, some of the appeal has been lost due to multiple trips to the gas station. That V10 is thirsty ... but you tend to forget about that when you are winding it out past 7000rpm. It gathers speed unbelievably fast and sheds it off equally as fast considering how large it is.

Let's go over the car from the beginning.

The sticker price on this car is just shy of $100k ... is it worth it? If you are looking for an autobahn crushing family cruiser, then the answer is unquestionably without a doubt. The looks of the car have been claimed by many to be less than perfect, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I behold greatness here. The interior while new and modern not typical of BMW's of the past has won me over and finding things is easy and intuitive.

The iDrive system, that many hate... does not phase me one bit. I'm able to use the voice commands and the control knob easily. Maybe this is because I am a computer person, maybe it's just because I spent more than two minutes reading the manual and playing with it ... who knows.

Now the stuff you are really looking for ... the performance. How does this thing drive? It drive good. Thanks for coming reading. Just kidding. The car drives really nice and not too firm. Even in the hardest of suspension settings (there are three -- soft, normal and hard) it is quite tolerable. The power is intoxicating. Getting it moving takes a moment because well, it is heavy and mass requires power to move, but once moving... any sort of acceleration is only a flick of the wrist away. The seven speed SMG unit executes down shifts with lighting speed and up shifts equally as fast. The faster you want to go, the faster it shifts gears. At speed well in excess of common, the car continues to gather speed.

Does anybody need a car this fast ... no. Is it nice to have, you bet! There is nothing like having a car that can haul a family with luggage around and still be able to blitz a mountain pass when you want to.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Introduction / Update

Well ... you'll probably notice that I am now using a blog to manage all the automotive reviews. As such, all the dates for the reviews are currently out of order. I'm hoping to fix that soon.

Also, we are going to be expanding this section to handing automotive, as well as motorcycle reviews and if it is promising, I may even branch out into personal watercraft as well (but that is in the future).

Enjoy the reading, I hope it helps you make a decision on what to buy/drive next.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

2006 Honda Pilot

Well... it's not every day that you get a full size SUV as a test vehicle for evaluation (well, there was that time I got the Cadalliac Escalade ESV, but that's another story). The Honda Pilot gets a subtle face lift for 2006 which includes a new headlight configuration using projector beams and a clear rear tail light assembly.

Performance is decent for a cheap SUV. Good power is available from all RPM bands and Honda's engine technology is easily noticeable by the high engine redline for an SUV. Downside to having all this power is that it is mated to an open differential up front which means that one skinny tire has the duty of lugging around a rather large vehicle which could lead to wheel spin if you ask too much too soon with an overly aggressive right foot. The problem is three-fold if you do it while going around a corner from a stop. Any sign of wheel spin and Honda's traction management system steps in and kills all power to reduce the wheel slippage. Once rolling though, there is adequate power available to move you to highway speed and passing speed if necessary.

Handling... well, that's something that should just be ignored because we are talking about a full-size top heavy SUV here. That being said... it has better road manners than some of the sedans I've driven. That doesn't mean it is an auto-x champ, it just means that some sedans have a piss poor suspension setup. The suspension is smooth and will soak up bumps with ease. It also has enough suspension travel to accomodate a full loaded cargo area (which is quite large when all the seats are folded down).

Brakes... that is where there is definitely room for improvement. Asking the brakes to slow this monster requires plenty of braking area and when you start to apply them, the nose starts to dive. Ask for excessive braking and ABS is trigger and the nose dives to the point where forward visibility is reduced to the nothing as you stare directly at the pavement ahead. You better make your first stop a good one, because ask you can imagine, they get progressively worse the more time you try to stop.

As for comfort... well, that is where this baby excels. With plenty of interior cabin room, cupholders for all and a center console that has enough room to take a large woman's purse plus an extra purse as a spare... there is no lack of storage space for the driver and passenger. Plus, with 12V outlets, there is enough room for a cellphone charger, radar detector and iPod provided you have the 12V adapter.

The controls up front are all very fitting and the AC/Heating system is by far the easiest of any vehicle I have been in. Set the desired temperature and push auto... and that's it. The inside of your vehicle becomes your own private climate controlled oasis which is always where you want it to be. No hot spots, and no cold spots ... just right. Honda also got all the controls right... except for the radio. Oddly enough, the radio comes with three large knobs... and you would figure (like every other radio) the one closest to the driver is the volume button... nope, wrong, it's the center knob. Oh well, can't get it all right. The steering wheel has controls for basic radio functions and cruise control functions which get you where you need to go if you do not want to take your hands off the steering wheel.

The added benefit of this Honda Pilot is the cylinder deactivation technology. Provided you are at a steady cruise and less than a specific speed (which I have found to be 82mph ... but could vary based on your location and altitude) the engine will deactivate three cylinders to help save on fuel usage. It is a nifty feature which helps reduce gas consumption of this thirst SUV.

Overall, it is a great SUV if you need the cargo space, but think twice because it's rare that anybody requires this much cargo on a daily basis to justify such a large vehicle.

2007 Mazda 6 V6

Wow... the Mazda 6 has come a long way since its introduction. Jumping right in, it's isntantly noticeable that they fixed some of the problem areas in the dash from earlier. The center console that used to house the radio/tape/CD area has been redesigned so it doesn't start peeling on the first hot day. The seats feel changed, but not for the better. Of course, that could be because the car was new and needed some more seat time to get more plyable. Be foreward, the first couple of hundred of miles will make you stop frequently to stretch and relax your muscle as the seats initially are not very forgiving. Overall, the rest of the interior felt unchanged which is fine because why change what works.

The suspension of the car felt quite soft and made for a comfortable ride through the city and while on the highway. It soaked up smal and large bumps alike without upsetting the passengers too much. Through agressive turning and stopping though, you paid the price with quite a bit of body roll combined with excessive nose dive and tail squat. After all, it is a sedan... but I think they need to put a little more performance into the suspension.

The engine ... now that's a joy. The engine was very smooth and powerful at all engine speeds and travelling velocities short of supersonic speeds past the century mark. My only real complaint would be that the engine transition from off-throttle at idle was rather jumpy. No matter how gently you applied the throttle from a stop, the car would jump forward making every departure from a stop light look as if you are trying to drag race the guy next to you. That gandered a few strange looks from other drivers as the nose raised up into the air like a scared horse.

The transmission in the car has six gears which make for great fuel economy. An attempt to make any sort of pass on the highway though will drop down two gears from sixth to fourth which would send the RPMs skyhigh and passengers wondering if they crossed the starting line at the Indy500. However, when not in passing mode, the car is capable of crusing at anywhere from 70-90 with ease. Anything below 70 and the car wants to gallop faster while anything north of 90 made it communicate to you that it was unhappy that it was working that hard. It would do it if you asked, but it was not happy about it. You could feel the fight back from the gas pedal as the resistance was much higher.

One other large complaint ... the lack of brakes. Braking from speeds required much longer than you would think from a performance sedan. The brakes felt soggy and not very progressive. They need to do something about installing a larger brake booster, larger calipers or better pads or SOMETHING to help inspire a little more confidence under braking. For that very reason... high speed cruising often required much more stopping distance than normal due to the simply fact that the comforte level just was not there.

All that being said, the car is an excellent car and definitely would be a great car to drive around in on a daily basis to and from work and for long road trips.

2006 BMW M Roadster

HOOO RAHHHH! Damn... this is a fun car. Granted, this car is not a test mule and is my own personal car, it's hard to give a full writeup as I'm not as likely to beat on my own car without having it properly broken in.

I can say this much so far ... this is going to be a fun car and it's also going to be a handful to drive hard. First of all... give up every notion you have about it being like an M3. It's nothing like an M3. The engine, brake and suspension may be similar, but when it comes to actually making them work in harmony... nothing like the M3.

The biggest thing you notice when you drive this car compared to any other car is the seating position. When you are in this car, you are not in the middle or in the center of all the activity. You are basically following the engine around as you sit in the trunk. Try it, go into your car and sit in the trunk and try driving it around... feels strange yes? It's not a bad thing... just different.

That being said, the interior of the car is purpose built... to drive. No frills, no extra storage space ... no nothing. I think it is one of the few cars where the glovebox is designed to hold just that, gloves ... nothing else. The only storage space you have it behind your right elbow (on US models) where you can store a few nick nacks but nothing large and definitely nothing odd shaped. The rest of the car is assembled, just for you and your briefcase ... or if somebody is lucky (or had paid you a healthy amount of money) a passenger.

Being that the car is new, the engine feels tight, but power output is definitely up there. Way more power feeling than that of say a Porsche Cayman (see the review). Punching the throttle at any part of the RPM band leaves you and your neck fighting the forces of physics trying to push you into the seat. The engine makes harmonious noises... nothing like that of an M3. No chainsaw like rasp, just a nice growl as it surges ahead. With the top down, you can also hear that hint of that marveloous engine growl out of the exhaust as you quickly depart from your current location.

Handling wise... there is definitely understeer preset. However, a stab of the throttle quickly turns that understeer into oversteer. If you are not paying attention, the traction control will jump in and reel you in with extreme vilagence... however, that's no fun, so traction control is off for really playing around (in a safe controlled environment). Be forwarned tho, that tail is very happy when at speed and will twitch and break free quite easily if provoked. Yes there is understeer, but there is also plenty of oversteer that will send you spinning into the scenery if you are not careful. The suspension, while tight is also very comforatle allowing it to soak up most bumps without having to adjust your spinal column. However, toss it into a corner and the suspension sets and the go-kart handling commences.

The brakes are quite potent but are typical BMW brake pads, dust like there is no tomorrow. No high speed braking tests were done because ... in all honesty, I didn't want to have to spend hours cleaning off my wheels from the baked on brake dust that would accumulate. More braking tests will be done after the pads are changed for something more dust friendly.