Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Greatest Hits (And Biggest Misses) of 2013


Same as last year, I'm picking some of the most popular things I wrote, and some of my personal favorites, with the understanding that these are rarely the same thing. Just to shake things up this year, I'll include a few things I published elsewhere.

The Hits

If You Live In This World, You're Hearing The Change Of The Guard Things looked pretty, er, challenging at TTAC this past summer, but after a brief shakeup we reset the course and it's been smooth sailing ever since. Not a single user has been banned, although it hasn't been for lack of trying in a few cases. Comments are up, all numbers are up, every way we have to measure reader involvement and satisfaction is better now than it was in June. I'm listing this under "my greatest hits" but it's really due to all of you. Thanks.

Famed Non-Automotive Journalist Michael Hastings Turns A C250 Into A "Bomb". This one went everywhere, including the front page of Fox News, in the course of racking up well over seven hundred Facebook shares. It was used to justify conspiracy theories and to debunk them, it was attacked and supported, it was everything but ignored. Months later, everybody's pretty much given up caring. So if it was a conspiracy, it worked.

Road&Track's Performance Car Of The Year The methodology wasn't perfect, there were a few logistical issues, and I wasn't as clear as I should have been about the rules for eligibility (hint: neither the 2014 991 GT3 nor the 1973 Carrera GT were eligible, and it was for the same reason) but I'm very proud of the way it all turned out and I know next year's will be even better. We took a flier on both the format and content, and it worked.

Review: Toyota Camry SE 2.5L, Track Tested This was a fun way to shake up peoples' concepts about what a modern sedan can and cannot do. I had an absolute ball doing the actual testing weekend, and it was great to see how the readers responded to the rather heretical ideas contained within.

Trackday Diaries: You should buy a minivan. If "Trackday Diaries" is the Krusty The Clown Show, then Drama McHourglass was probably "Poochie", a universally-despised character brought on to satisfy the writer's own agenda. In this single episode, we both killed off that particular character and managed to further one of the viewers' actual favorite characters — the Pentastar-powered Chrysler minivan.

Avoidable Contact: Cayenne won't help ya, Cayenne won't do ya no good. Some of the women out there who hate me the most are the ones with whom I've had some of the most wonderful evenings. By the same token, my bitterness regarding the Stuttgart Self-Wrecking Crew is based on thirty-five years of devotion to the aircooled ethic. The company just keeps thinking up new ways to disappoint me, and the Macan is the most inventive yet.

The Misses

Trackday Diaries: Continuously Variable Emotion. This was the story that exhausted the B&B's patience with "Poochie", but I'm pleased with it in retrospect. So what if it got 29 comments, most of them about the merits of the Altima's transmission?

Autoblog Readers Aren't Excited About Paying For Hipster Vay-Cay This one was pretty popular, managing even to reach whatever thatched hut "Nacho" and his tenders were sleeping in the week it was published. Looking back, however, I wonder if it was a "miss" in the classical sense of the term — Who breaks a butterfly upon a Wheel? Brad and Sheena, in all of their spoiled, twee, overly previous approach to the world and what it owes them, would only deserve criticism in an era where they were the exception, not the rule. It put me in the uncomfortable and unpleasant position of being an old man complaining about these kids today. Roll on, sweet Nacho. (Brad, Sheena, and the famed Nacho are currently in residence at a famous Indian temple.)

The Idiot's Guide to Left-Foot Braking. Some of the readers disagreed with me. You're just wrong, damn it.

Winter Tires Track Tested The purpose of this article was to illustrate the ability of "winter tires" to handle higher temperatures and spirited driving for short periods of time; in other words, to encourage people to purchase winter tires and to put them on sooner rather than later in the season. To my utter horror, reader after reader, both on R&T and Jalopnik, interpreted it as "You Can Drive Winter Tires Year 'Round". I also heard a lot about how 2.2 seconds on a racetrack was "an eternity", presumably from people who have never ever attended a club race or even read the results of a club race.

Sunday Stories: "Angle Of Slip". The problem with going on dates with fabulous, six-foot-tall Dutch girls is that eventually, if you are me, you will want to work such an improbable creature into your writing. It's not really a problem until she reads said writing. And then forgives you. And then it's not a problem again. Look for "Katrien" to reappear one day, perhaps after some prior review by her doppleganger.

One Of Them Shall Not Fall On The Ground Without Your Father For Robert Farago's The Truth About Guns website, a true story of killing and danger and forgiveness. Some of the readers enjoyed it, others were angry that I refuse to hold up the "Mary Sue" image of the infallible, hyper-masculine American gun owner. As for the shot described in the story, it really happened as described — but I couldn't do it again, not for a million bucks.

On This Harvest Moon, The Workings Of Memory I'm on a continual journey to understand myself, the same way I'm on a continual journey to understand others. This story, like the one directly above it, is about being fallible, human, imperfect.

The Year To Come

My new 560SL (pictured) and I have many adventures planned for 2014, from the Atlantic to the Pacific and beyond. Some time before the halfway mark of the year ahead, I'll also be resigning my position as Editor-In-Chief pro tem to make way for the appointment of our own Derek Kreindler. Go easy on him, okay?

from The Truth About Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com


Put the internet to work for you.

via Personal Recipe 680102

Question: What Is the Stoniest Moter Vehicle of All Time?

QOTD-GreenVanAs of 12:01 AM Mountain Time on Wednesday, the first legal, open-to-the-general public cannabis shops in the United States may start selling their wares. In my Denver neighborhood, the dispensary next door to the first Chipotle restaurant opens for business at 10:00 AM, and I'm trying to guess what kind of car, truck, or other vehicle will be the first to screech to a smoky halt at this establishment's front door. Actually, the loadiest stoners aren't exactly conscious of, like, the clock, man, so this vehicle will probably show up on Friday at about 11:38 PM, and then the occupants will forget why they were there in the first place and go find a 7-11 to buy some Twin Bings… but for the purposes of discussion we're going to say 10:00 AM on the dot, stoniest motor vehicle. What is it?
69BlueBeetle_RearThe good old Type 1 Beetle (and its Transporter cousin) scores pretty high on the TCH-O-Meter, though you don't see many of them these days. Hippies back in the old days liked air-cooled Volkswagens because they'll run like crap better than any other car, which means that you can space out on maintenance for years and still drive; the air-cooled Volks is the only four-stroke four-cylinder engine I've ever seen that will run on one cylinder. There's no water to boil over, no complicated controls to confuse the driver.
85_Tercel_Emblem_LHThe 1983-86 Toyota Tercel 4WD wagon is a favorite of Denver/Boulder wastoids, and it's also quite popular in the redwood country of California. Reliable, room for all your loser friends and their snowboards, friendly-looking, capable of chugging through fairly serious snow.
64ImpalaConvert-01The 1961-64 Chevy Impala makes this list, because Cheech drove one in Up In Smoke.
IMG_1270My vote, however, goes to any vintage scooter. One look at a group of scooter freaks and you can tell they're smoking some stuff that would make even Willie Nelson freak out. What's your choice for Stoniest Vehicle of All Time?

from The Truth About Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com


Put the internet to work for you.

via Personal Recipe 680102

Year in Review: The Biggest News Stories of 2013

Another year, another rollout of 900-hp hypercars and new models that steer and brake all by themselves. Wait, what? Autonomous technology trickled down, cars in all categories got way faster and gulped less fuel, our two favorite Americans got a complete redo, startup automakers died, stock prices and sales soared, and some people—namely taxpayers—lost a ton of money. Before we pop the bubbly and forget everything we wrote, let's have one last look at this year's biggest news stories.

Real American Heroes

Modernizing an American classic is extremely risky—you can ruin the spirit of it entirely, like Beyonce did lip-syncing the Star-Spangled Banner in January—but the latest Mustang and Corvette have kept our hearts loyal. The 2014 Corvette Stingray is now a super-handling, bona-fide GT that beats the 911, and while no one has driven the 2015 Mustang, we were delighted our razor-sharp renderings came true as Ford's pony car went global. America can't do healthcare, but damn it if we don't make the best sports cars for the money.

High-Tech Hybrids

We'll remember 2013 for birthing not one, but three hybrid hypercars. The Ferrari LaFerrari and the McLaren P1 were introduced to the world, and we finally got behind the wheel of the Porsche 918 Spyder. Each packs more than 880 horsepower, zaps to 60 mph in less than three seconds, tops 210 mph, and promises the fuel economy of a small hatchback for at least a few seconds. The technology bends our technical brains to the breaking point, and we simply cannot fathom how these three automakers could possibly top what might be the greatest automotive engineering feats of our time.

Slumming It

German automakers tickled our wallets with three new cars costing around $30,000, the 2015 Audi A3 sedan, the 2013 BMW 320i, and the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250. But while these entry-level models are a step above the rentals you'll find in Europe, they don't come close to the luxury of a loaded Ford Fusion. Dealers, preferring to stuff these German sausages with option packages, aren't going to stock a lot of base cars.

Fisker Flounders

Maybe Henrik Fisker should have stuck to rebodied BMWs. His first all-original car, the $103,000 Karma, had the sexy lines and plug-in hybrid powertrain that should have steamrolled Tesla. But then Tesla built the Model S, and Fisker became plagued by fires, battery failures, flooding from Superstorm Sandy, and bad accountants. Once heralded by the White House, Fisker defaulted on a $192-million federal loan and failed to bring factory jobs to Delaware, where its second car would have been built. Then the company's namesake was forced out, paving the way for a sale that's not happened as yet—but likely soon will. Plus, the Karma's efficiency and performance so belied its dynamite style that Bob Lutz bought up a number and swapped out their batteries for Corvette V-8s.

Throwing Money at Electrics

EV price cuts

Just when we thought electric cars were too expensive, they got cheap almost overnight. Nissan started a bidding war when it cut the 2013 Leaf by $6400, and no sooner did Honda, Ford, Chevrolet, Smart, and Toyota respond with similar discounts. There are five electric cars that cost less than $30,000 without tax incentives, which is great for new buyers and absolutely terrible for previous owners hoping to retain some residual value. The deals seem to have worked. Plug-in sales through November are about 87,000, nearly double those of 2012.

GM logo

GM's December to Remember

Everything that mattered to General Motors investors this year all happened in December. The world's second-largest automaker started the month by announcing it would pull Chevrolet from Europe in 2016 and shutter Holden's Australian manufacturing by 2018 (joining Ford's 2016 factory exit from Down Under). Then the U.S. Treasury sold its last GM shares—at a loss of at least $10.5 billion of taxpayer money. and with shrewd timing, CEO Dan Akerson said he was quitting and promoting Mary Barra as the first female CEO to run a major automaker. GM also sold off its shares in Ally Financial and PSA Peugeot Citroën.

Tesla on a Tear

Tesla had the banner year. Even though it won't report sales as does a normal public company, its stock is outrageously inflated and its outspoken CEO likes blaming the media and sketching sci-fi drawings, Tesla builds a great car and has a sound business. Even with three reported fires and some misleading advertising, the company became profitable, paid its $465-million federal loan back nine years early and started its own free fast-charging network. The Model S—outselling luxury brands in some areas of the country—is incredibly fast, well built, and raises the bar among all cars, electric or not. We know they'll surprise us again in 2014.

The Autonomous Automobile

Car Robots Got Really Good

This year proved autonomous cars were closer to primetime than ever, which means we'll need to update our slogan to "Save the Drivers!" But while federal agencies and lawyers hammer out the details, automakers made massive strides. Ford and Lexus rolled out self-driving test cars, Michigan became the fourth state to allow them on public roads, Audi and Volvo demonstrated a self-parking valet feature, and auto-steering technology emerged on cars we can buy now, like the new-for-2014 Jeep Cherokee and Acura RLX.

from Car and Driver Blog http://blog.caranddriver.com


Put the internet to work for you.

via Personal Recipe 647533

Honda Working On Small Crossover To Compete With Dacia Duster


Unveiled as Honda's entrant into the booming small crossover segment, the Fit-based Vezel will compete with products like the Ford EcoSport, Nissan Juke and Dacia Duster in both Europe and North America, but not in emerging markets. According to a report by Autocar India, Honda will develop an all-new small crossover based on the Brio, a low-cost, locally built A-segment car, for India and other makets.

According to Honda executives, economics have made the Vezel a no-go for India, thanks to a freefall in the value of the Rupee. The Vezel, which would retail for the equivalent of $25,000, would require significant localization to be built and sold in India, and the costs and complexity would be too great. Items like the high-quality interior and the electronic parking brake would be difficult to re-engineer for local manufacturing, and re-engineering wouldn't provide any appreciable cost savings either.

The Brio platform, which has already been altered to produce a sedan and an MPV, is a lower-cost alternative that could help a future small crossover meet its price point in emerging markets, but it would still require sufficient re-engineering to become an SUV.


from The Truth About Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com


Put the internet to work for you.

via Personal Recipe 680102

2014 Toyota Tundra 5.7L 4×4 Tested: Falling Short Only in the Sales Race

2014 Toyota Tundra Limited

Few things inspire brand loyalty as fiercely as do full-size pickup trucks. And while Ford, GM, and Ram have been burnishing their corporations' bottom lines for decades, Toyota's full-size Tundra has never really turned cargo-hauling capability into solid-gold success. This fall, while Toyota was celebrating the one-millionth Tundra to roll off its San Antonio assembly line since the plant opened in 2006, Ford casually announced it had sold 559,506 F-series trucks in the first nine months of 2013 alone. And the other two weren't far off Ford's pace during the same period, with GM selling 496,445 of the Sierra/Silverado twins and Ram delivering 262,787 units. Harsh statistics from the Toyota perspective, even as the domestics bolster their numbers by lumping half-ton trucks together with their heavy-duty models. READ MORE ››

from Car and Driver Blog http://blog.caranddriver.com


Put the internet to work for you.

via Personal Recipe 647533

From the Archives: 1987 Toyota Supra Turbo Test

1987 Toyota Supra Turbo

A car has to have the goods before it can play in the sports-coupe major leagues. The combatants in this arena include such potent performers as the Corvette, the Porsche 944 Turbo, the Mazda RX-7 Turbo, and the Camaro IROC-Z—cars fully equipped to devour any competitor that dares to enter the field of battle unprepared. In this fiercely contested market segment, superlative performance is essential to survival. READ MORE ››

from Car and Driver Blog http://blog.caranddriver.com


Put the internet to work for you.

via Personal Recipe 647533

Audi and Google to Announce Infotainment Partnership Next Week [2014 CES]

Audi Connect with Google maps

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas slowly has become almost a tertiary-level auto show, given how many automakers have begun flocking to the venue to show off their latest technological wares. This year certainly won't disrupt the trend, it seems, because The Wall Street Journal is reporting that one automaker in particular is going to make quite the splash: Audi will announce a partnership with Google to integrate Android mobile operating systems into the German brand's cars.

This is a big deal for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that Audi appears to be drawing a line in the sand between it and, well, nearly every other major automaker. Earlier this year, Google's mortal enemy, Apple, disclosed that it was planning a large-scale integration of its iOS mobile operating system into more than a dozen manufacturers' dashboards.

Audi's plans with Google fundamentally differ with its competitors and Apple, because the German automaker appears to want to actually run its infotainment system on Android. Apple's iOS integration, on the other hand, doesn't replace the car's infotainment software, but rather augments it, allowing users to manipulate their cars' entertainment system via an iOS-style interface that runs off their mobile Apple device. For Audi, the benefits of going full-Android include access to a host of apps, as well as a flexible software framework. We'll bring your more details next week, when it's assumed Audi and Google will make a formal announcement at CES.  

from Car and Driver Blog http://blog.caranddriver.com


Put the internet to work for you.

via Personal Recipe 647533

Capsule Review: Lexus IS250 AWD

It's happened, all in a neat confluence of threes. By my decree, the third generation of the Lexus IS has surpassed the BMW 3 Series. While BMW has been busying itself creating niches for increasingly grotesque vehicle-type-things, Lexus has turned out a pair of legitimately great sports sedans, first in the GS and now in the new 2014 IS. This from a company who's top sellers are Camry cousins.

After spending a week with the 2014 Lexus IS250 AWD it took me another couple weeks to shut up about it. That rarely happens, and when it does, it means that the car is simply fantastic. You're probably all incredulous now, especially since this isn't even the F Sport version with its stiffened suspension tune. This IS should be the least exciting of all, except it's not.

There's something about the way this car is pieced together and highly burnished that transcends the tiny 2.5 liter V6 and its equally-tiny 204 hp, not to mention the even-tinier 184 lb-ft of torque. A base-model Chevrolet Malibu has 10 more lb-ft and nearly as much horsepower from a four cylinder. A six-speed automatic, even with paddle shifters, pales in comparison to the eight- and nine-speed proliferation, and the IS has always been known for its cozy dimensions. And yet, it all comes together to just feel right.

Let's get real for a minute. A 204 hp V6 in this era is only noteworthy for what it lacks, but look past the cylinder count and you'll find that the output numbers square with the displacement. That Malibu I cited earlier has a 2.5 liter four cylinder, which, when you think about it, explains why the torque is better and the horsepower is about the same. The Lexus uses Toyota's 4GR-FSE V6, which has 77 mm of stroke, while the Ecotec in the Malibu has a 100 mm stroke. There's your torque difference, right there, though the Chevy's 88 mm bore is also larger than the 83 mm cylinder diameter of the Lexus V6, which means bigger pistons travelling a longer distance and fewer firing pulses to go around. So, while it rocks a small V6, the power level is right on the money for a 2.5 liter engine, and because it's a 60-degree V6, it doesn't rock like a four.

The BMW 3 Series, the clear benchmark for anyone making this kind of car, now uses a four cylinder as its standard engine, and back when it was still an "E" instead of an "F," it was about the same size as the 2014 Lexus IS. The 3 Series has put on inches and pounds while the IS 250 has stayed tight. The new Lexus styling language, Spindle Grille and all, is at its most handsome here, with characterful taillights that blend seamlessly into the creased shoulder line that runs across the tops of the doors and the pointed outer edges of the lenses align cleverly with a feature line rising from the rocker panels. The new IS is a handsome car.

Because of its standard V6, the IS 250 has fewer bad vibrations to manage, and maybe that's why so many good vibes are able to make their way to the palms of your hands and the seat of your pants. The IS used to feel tiny and old. It was tighter than a Corolla, kinda growly and didn't reward the driver for putting up with any of its shortcomings. The 2014 Lexus IS is still about Corolla-sized. In fact, there's significantly more rear legroom in the lowly Toyota, and other dimensions, like wheelbase, overall length and trunk size are within spitting distance of each other. Just looking at the numbers might give you the impression what the IS is just a Lexus Corolla, but that's just not so.

Have you stopped dreaming about what a Lexed-up Corolla would be like? It's not likely that you'll confuse the workaday Toyota with the sufficiently premium 2014 IS. Getting into the IS 250 is a reminder of a time when cars didn't trade visibility for crash test stars. The base of the windshield is nice and low, and from the driver's seat it's an easy lean to adjust the furthest passenger side HVAC vent. The IS is a cozy environment, with the A pillar topping out just above your forehead. And of course, there's that back seat with a scant 32.2 inches of legroom. With just 101 cubic feet of passenger volume, claustrophobes need not apply.

The benefit of this dimensional tidiness is that it makes the tired, two-bit car writer phrases work. Controls really *do* "fall close at hand," for example. The materials are high quality, from the supportive, comfortable, widely-adjustable seats to the plastics on the dash and door panels, right down to the knobs. The 2014 IS 250 feels good in your hands, even the secondary controls. The acorn-colored, handsomely-stitched seats with heat and ventilation were very agreeable, though the extra bolstering of the available sport seats would have been plenty welcome.

Control stalks feel precise, the steering wheel has nubbins to promote a proper grip for getting the most out of the chassis, and even the touch-sensitive cabin temperature adjustment is responsive and not infuriating like the button-free options in Cadillac or Lincoln models. It may be somewhat devoid of whimsy, but the interior of the 2014 Lexus IS is a den of quality. The Lexus mouse is right there, too, giving you control over the infotainment system that can link up with your phone and an online account and apps. The system can read text messages to you and there are also canned responses that you can send back through your paired phone while driving. You can add to the presets, as well, and that's pretty slick, if not a whole lot less distracting than fumbling with a handset.

The IS is now highway bomber happy to strafe along in the fast lane at highly extra-legal speeds without being the least bit perturbed by it. It may be powered by a small engine, and the AWD version I drove has extra underbits to sponge up acceleration, but that tiny V6 is a heart of gold. In fact, while the IS 350 has 100 more horsepower that's surely entertaining in its own right, the IS 250 doesn't lack for grins. There's fewer places where you can exercise the bigger stable, anyway, but you can enjoy the polished ride and handling balance that is a just-right blend of control and supple absorption. Someone at Lexus knows how to tune a suspension, and again, this isn't even an F-Sport. Every corner becomes an opportunity to find the line, you get useful feedback through the steering wheel and it even loads up through corners just like it's supposed to.

If you're looking to be astounded in 2014, take a 2014 Lexus IS for a spin. Start with the 250. I promise it's all I've cracked it up to be. To use another tired-ass hack autowriter phrase, the 2014 IS 250 AWD is truly a Goldilocks car. It's always entertaining, it has AWD for crappy weather (probably only actually useful when paired with winter tires), it's a high-quality car that's very comfortable and highly composed, and even with the small V6, it's confident and assertive on the road, if not outright speedy.

Here's the highest praise I can give a car: I would buy this. That's right. If I had $45K to spend on a car, the 2014 Lexus IS 250 AWD would be a purchase I'd happily make. Now you know the secret of what the car pundit would drive if this industry paid as handsomely as we wish it did.

DSC_4614 DSC_4616 DSC_4617 DSC_4618 DSC_4619 DSC_4620 DSC_4621 DSC_4622 DSC_4623 DSC_4624 DSC_4625 DSC_4626 DSC_4629 DSC_4630 DSC_4633 DSC_4634 DSC_4635 DSC_4636 DSC_4638 DSC_4639 DSC_4640 DSC_4641 DSC_4642 DSC_4643 DSC_4644 DSC_4645 DSC_4647 DSC_4649 DSC_4650 DSC_4651 DSC_4653 DSC_4654 DSC_4655 DSC_4656 DSC_4659

from The Truth About Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com


Put the internet to work for you.

via Personal Recipe 680102