Archive for March, 2012

Mar
29
2012 Nissan Versa

2012 Nissan Versa

I’m pretty sure that if Lenin were alive today and making decisions for the proletariat, we’d all be driving around in 4-cylinder Kia Rondos. At least folks with families would; the rest of us would be cruising around in Nissan Versa hatchbacks. Why hatchbacks? Because the trip between collectives always seems to involve schlepping a peck of peppers and the odd goat or two.

Mar
28
High-Performance Explorer

2013 Ford Explorer Sport

I love me some fast SUVs. Give me heaps of power to go with room and comfort for my family and their gear.

Of course, with many performance SUVs comes the potential for extremely high fuel consumption. Such is the price one must pay for having a stonking V8 engine under the hood.

Mar
28
2011 Buick Regal with ebony trim and piano-black accents, Piano-Black Interior Trim

Buick Regal with ebony trim and piano-black accents

I can only imagine the challenges facing the people who pick out interior trim for new cars. There’s cost, durability, and, of course, appearance issues—and probably a million other things to take into account, too. And don’t forget that what looks great to some people will look lousy to others.

Mar
28

2012 Jaguar XF Sportbrake, What is a Sport Brake? At the 2012 Geneva Motor Show, Jaguar introduced what Popular Mechanics called the company’s “first estate car in 90 years, the Jaguar XF Sportbrake.” Translating the Britishisms, that means that Jaguar is considering an XF station wagon. The term estate car conjures up an image of a wood-bodied wagon pulling up in front of a stately home. What is a Sportbrake?

Mar
28
NHTSA public-service announcement, NHTSA public-service announcement

NHTSA public-service announcement

As mentioned in Driven to Distraction: Part 1, the federal government has come out against distracted driving (DD) in general and texting from hand-held phones in particular. Not surprisingly, the Department of Transportation (DOT) seems on the verge of requiring automakers to install “anti-DD” systems that would disable certain phone functions once the vehicle is in motion. I’m not sure what they’re thinking of—perhaps some whizzer “damping field” a la Star Trek—but the technology is doubtless on somebody’s shelf. However, it’s odd that the DOT is okay with voice-activated devices, as various studies have found that drivers are more distracted by phone conversations than by chatting with people in the car—which must be discouraging for all those helpful live operators at OnStar.

Mar
27
2012 Honda Insight

2012 Honda Insight

With chatter about $5 gas by Memorial Day, maybe it’s time to buy a hybrid.

The question is, are any hybrids affordable?

Here’s the thing about most hybrids: Even though they get better gas mileage, you pay extra for the hybrid technology. Over the lifetime of the hybrid, you may or may not come out ahead financially. Manufacturers can’t do much about the high production cost of a hybrid powertrain, but what’s frustrating is that many hybrid vehicles are unnecessarily expensive.

Of the 28 available 2012 hybrids, three of them have supercharged hybrid engines. The Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid, Porsche Panamera S Hybrid, and Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid—all priced north of $60,000—are designed more for performance than fuel economy. In addition, the Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid starts at $91,850, and the Infiniti M35h has a $53,700 price tag due largely to its robust 360-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. The Lexus LS 600h L is the most expensive hybrid of all at $112,250. The 600h L driver’s only solace is that the car gets slightly better mileage—2 mpg—than the base LS. Woo-hoo!

Mar
27
2013 Mustang GT, Bullitt Car Chase

2013 Mustang GT in action on “Alcatraz”

I’m an absolute sucker for car chases, so of course I sat through all two hours of the season finale of the FOX TV series Alcatraz last night just so I could watch about two and a half minutes of the heavily hyped Mustang-on-Charger action. Ford and FOX teamed up to feature the freshly introduced 2013 Mustang GT in a new-age homage to the classic Steve McQueen chase in the 1968 movie Bullitt. (However, the official press releases and promo materials are careful to never actually mention Bullitt or Steve McQueen—licensing costs or something, I’d imagine. Ford must have already paid a pretty penny for such prominent product placement.)

Mar
27
Mid-1990s Oldsmobile 88

The low rear deck, tall windows, and thin pillars of this mid-1990s Olds 88 used to be the norm. Not so much anymore.

Many of our editors are known for their pet peeves. Six-foot-six Damon Bell always complains about headroom (though now that he’s a new dad, he has added “degree of difficulty” for child-seat installation). Techno-geek Ed Piotrowski grouses about cumbersome cell-phone linking and Pandora access. Jack Stewart complains when a test car is so large that he has to move boxes of spare parts for his Jaguar E-Type (most of which contain triplicates of any component bearing the name “Lucas”) in order to fit the test car in his garage. Don Sikora II (affectionately known internally as “DS 2.0,” something he may just now be learning) consistently gets the best fuel economy of anyone on the staff and equally consistently gripes about it. Associate Publisher Tom Appel (think middle-aged middle linebacker—replete with shoulder pads) carps about elbowroom. And “Geezer C” (my rap name) famously complains about visibility.

Mar
27
Arizona Flag

Arizona Flag

It wasn’t the clear, simple message of this billboard that caught my eye. It was the fact that I spotted it while driving along the I-10 freeway in Phoenix, where the average annual snowfall is roughly zero inches.

Mar
27
Datsun 510 sedan from the early 1970s

Datsun 510 sedan from the early 1970s

If you are under 45 years of age, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve never driven a new Datsun. The last Datsun-badged vehicles disappeared from showrooms some time in 1986. Datsun is back.

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