June 21, 2011
The Lexus IS250 C is a hard top convertible that is more of a luxury cruiser than performance breezer (What is this? The 30’s?). The one we happened upon was listed at $44,982. There won’t be a lot of wiggly room in that price since the Lexus car lot had more parking spaces than vehicles. Be that as it may, they still had a number of IS250 C’s there and we think we know why.
The interior of this Lexus was immaculate. Soft, white leather on every surface and if it wasn’t leather, then it was real (we were assured repeatedly by the salesperson) wood panel. The plastics were higher quality than those on most Toyota’s, but we’ve seen better. There are switches on the driver and front passenger seats that electronically move the front seats forward. One of the most frustrating features of two-door cars is accessing the back seat. These switches have made that aspect elegant and simple.
One of the first features that impressed us was the ventilated seats. Driver and front passenger have seats that, depending on the temperature of the climate control and outside temp, will blow either cool or warm air. Since we were already sticky (Imagine if we painted the true picture here… Yuck.), we set the climate control on 72° and the seat fans all the way up. It is not a microburst of wind, but a subtle cool feeling. Most of us didn’t even know the fans were on. We just didn’t have as much back sweat... The seats themselves were comfortable and felt like we could sit in them for a very long period of time. The IS250 C would be a great long distance road trip vehicle as long as your party numbered two. The rear leg room is only 25.9in. That just won’t do. The best part of this was the sales manager telling us that his reasonable tall teenager could fit in the back. We can also wad up people and stuff them in trashcans to be rolled down hills. We have a feeling that both groups will not enjoy the ride and those that do are nutso.
The visibility out the back was severely limited by the rear seat headrests. Basically you are looking out a tunnel and the headrests add to the blind spots when the roof is in the up position. Even with the roof open, we never quite trusted the mirrors and spent time whipping our heads from side to side making sure we were clear to change lanes, parallel park, or move at all.
The media center was straight forward and easy to use. The climate control was great and the stereo did a great job of letting us hear the music without causing our ears to bleed. One thing we didn’t understand is that the driver and front passenger windows are auto up/down, but the smaller rear windows are not. It was mind-numbingly frustrating to hit the front switches and then sit there and hold the rear switches. We are movers and shakers and the rear windows caused us to use effort and concentration that could have been devoted to more important questions like where to eat lunch or why does Coke insist on trying to convince us that polar bears and penguins live on the same continent. What a load of crap! Coke, that is, not Lexus… Awkward…
The exterior of the IS is acceptable. The back end is hip-hop music video worthy, but compared to the SC 430 (think Cinderella’s ugly step-sisters) this Lexus is beautiful. Kind of the same logic why in a group of four women there is one that always doesn’t quite measure up (SC 430). She’s there to make the rest of the ladies look that much better, same applies here. SC makes every other Lexus look amazing. The low-profile tires do not inhibit a smooth ride and look modern enough not to be mocked. There are seven exterior colors, but we drove our favorite; Silver. They probably have some pseudo-artsy name for this color like Star Streak Silver or Tungsten Pearl (might be the real name of it). We like to refer to it as “Cops are more likely to pull over the red, orange, and yellow ones” Silver. With the hard top up, the IS looks like a sporty coupe. With the top down, watch out world, we are here to be noticed and it will have to be the look of this car that gets the job done; the performance just won’t do.
|Back that up!|
One feature that we took notice of because of how uncommonly cool it seemed on the Prius was the key-free lock and unlock. There is a small black button on the outside of the door handle. With the key fob in your pocket pressing this button will lock the car. To unlock the car, all you have to do is have the key fob somewhere on your person and pull the handle and the door will automatically unlock, almost like your own nice private door-opening chauffeur. One thing though, is that the Prius didn’t have an actual button it was built into the handle, which seems cooler and more expensive like it belongs on a Lexus and not an abomination like a Prius.
The exhaust on this car can only be heard when the roof is down and the engine is being overworked or stressed. The rest of the time it’s almost as quiet as a Prius sneaking along on its electric motor. Almost… We really had to drive this car hard to make it sound like we were driving it kind of hard. Tight corners and very brisk acceleration is what got closest, but that’s only when we refused to shift.
The retractable hard top roof tucks away into the trunk, severely limiting cargo capacity. There is not quite enough room for two sets of golf clubs and no room to stuff any bodies (Sorry, Mafia hitmen.). The good news is that the roof itself only takes about 20 seconds to change positions (up or down). You do have to be in park and have your foot on the brake, but then you go from convertible to all-weather coupe is seconds.
This is not a performance convertible. This is a convertible designed to bring luxury to you and wherever you’re going. The leather of the steering wheel and seats, plus the 2.5L V6 will get you to your destination with as much class as humanly possible. The engine only turns out 204hp. If you are looking for a racing convertible from Lexus you would have to talk to the IS350 C that turns out 306hp with a turbo.
The car we drove came equipped with paddle shifters and we’re still not quite sure why. The lag time on the shifts was atrociously bad. Eventually it got to the point where we would anticipate the shift and hit the paddle a good two to three seconds early, so the transmission would get the message at the right time. It was like the paddles and transmission were in different time zones. We’re not quite sure why the paddle shifters are there at all. This is a luxury convertible that might also happen to appear to go fast, but in reality won’t.
The inner ring of the tachometer glows with a circle of caution orange (scared us the first time, but we think it’s kind of cool) any time you start to over-rev the engine. Not actually get it to red line, but just start to really wrap some rpm’s and the car complains visually. There is Electronic Controlled Transmission that we had to leave in the Power position for 99.999% of the test drive. There is a snow option and a regular option, but both of them made the IS drive like a prehistoric conversion van with the acceleration of a glacier.
|We wish the antenna fin was bigger.|
As a calm daily driver, the IS has all the power you need. As soon as you start to think about quick acceleration and hard driving, the IS will be found wanting. The mpgs in the city are 19 and highway is 27, combined for 22, for a V6. That’s pretty good compared to the 3.8L V6 from the Wrangler. The IS produces slightly more horsepower than the Jeep and weighs about 400lbs less. The amazing part here is Lexus (read Toyota) produces 204 horsepower out of a 2.5L V6 and Jeep (read Chrysler) produces 202 horsepower out of a 3.8L V6. Interesting... Or not, either way we got to drive them both.
Underpowered, stupid paddle shifters, and a “Back that thang up” rear end aside, we would definitely have this car. The vented seats were a feature we loved. We have a lot of back sweat… The interior with its rich resources wrapped around us to make us feel like we belonged at the country club. On a related note, we can’t hit a decent golf shot, so this car really helped our confidence. The fuel economy doesn’t quite make up for the underpowered feel, but it doesn’t make us cry at the pump. All in all, this car was built with a purpose, one we would rarely try to achieve on the road, but purpose all the same. Go straight in style, hopefully downhill and the IS will rise to the occasion.
June 19, 2011
Here’s a bonus review this week, since without Fathers we wouldn’t be here and wouldn’t be trying to con dealerships into letting us drive their prized possessions. Dads, we salute you and appreciate you gracing our website. Keep checking back! Our usual review will be up Tuesday or so. Thank you again for everything you do, Dads. Now back to our regular scheduled programming!
As we continue the Summer Car Series, the 2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara Edition is next on our list. Our last experience with a Jeep Wrangler was in 2004. We absolutely loved our ’04 Wrangler except for the gas mileage and ride. We wanted to keep looking at convertibles for the summer months and this entered into the conversation as a rugged, go-anywhere, manly convertible.
The Interior is practical and almost all of them are matte black. The durable plastic is accented by chrome everywhere. The seats were noticeably more comfortable than those in our ’04. We used to "camp out" in the old Wrangler and the back ache would remind us for days what a horrible idea that was. We think we could sleep comfortably in this Unlimited for at least a half hour.
The instrument panel was easy to read. There are two information centers; one under the tachometer and one under the speedometer. The one on the left gives useful information like the outside temperature/compass direction, your mpgs, and trip distances. The information center on the right only lets you know when the cruise is on and when you are driving “eco-friendly”. It literally says “Eco” and when you’re driving conservatively a little “on” appears next to it. The salesperson didn’t understand this feature (she was new), and we don’t see the point, much like the open-convertible meter in the Mini. The tachometer has green paint on it from 1,000 to 2,000 rpms. This is there to let you know you are being “eco-friendly,” as long as you keep your revs in this range. Basically with all of the eco reminders in this car, it feels like the designers of the Wrangler Unlimited are trying to guilt you into not driving your Jeep. Constant reminders of how you’re killing trees will eventually drive anyone to insanity, to a bike, or to a room padded with the most “eco-friendly” bamboo and cork padding…
|The big black circles are air vents!|
The legroom in the back is impressive compared to past Wranglers. The 37.2 inches is larger than the 35.5 inches of the 4-door VW GTI, but still a small space. We wouldn’t spend a lot of time in the back seat, but we could make it work if it was a life or death situation. The rear cargo space is noticeably larger compared to past Wranglers. The kids' bikes would be a tight fit, but three suitcases could fit easily.
Overall, the interior of this Wrangler is much more practical than past models. It even comes with keyless entry, power mirrors, power locks, and power windows (yet another car company to place the window controls on the middle of the console). Who did the study that shows the drivers want all of the passengers to have access to the driver’s window? How many awkward situations come up where the driver needs a passenger to be able to roll down his/her window? We are already imagining the slap fights between driver and front passenger as they lock and unlock the window controls. We were impressed with the amount of power features in this Wrangler and the amount of thinking that has gone into the quick release wires on the doors to still be able to detach them quickly. We enjoyed the power options, but the Wrangler’s mystique is built around the fact that it’s a rough and tumble, go anywhere, straight-forward machine. The power options are simple and normal on most cars, but feel over the top on this vehicle.
|Upgraded sound systems always help!|
The exterior of the 2011 is brilliant! 18 inch tires are standard on the Sahara Unlimited and look rugged and strong. The wheel flares are thicker than those of the ‘04’s and painted to match the rest of the exterior. We love the inlaid fog lamps on the front bumper. There are nine exterior colors available on the Sahara model that we drove and you only have to pay $225 extra for Cosmos Blue and Deep Cherry Red Crystal Pearl Coat (When you think Cherry isn’t Red implied). We think they cost extra to make sure you really want those two colors, since they aren’t that attractive anyway… With the hard top roof, you can pull away modular sections of the roof. If you only want the sun roof open above the driver, just remove his/her’s. You can choose just the driver, just the front passenger, the whole front row, and then the whole back seat/cargo area. We wanted to pull the hard top off the back and leave the driver and passenger ones on, but the salesperson wouldn’t let us. Something about trying to sell cars and that would cause it to look horrible. Guess we aren’t actually going to buy one from them… Who are we kidding? Until someone starts paying us for these, we aren’t buying anything… We do take donation cars, but they have to be fastish (That’s not a real word).
The ride and performance of the Wrangler were two different arguments. The ride of the ’11 compared to the ’04 was as far apart as the opposite rims of the Grand Canyon. We barely felt the crinkles in the road compared to the memories of feeling every single bump and even some that weren’t there. The ride was so much improved that at first we didn’t seem to notice the missing power. The 3.8L V6 produces 202hp. That is only 21 more horsepower than last week’s Mini on a vehicle that is 1.5 times heavier. The gear ratios are great for off-road driving, but trying to zip around in an urban environment was difficult in this Jeep. We drove the six-speed manual transmission, which was also noticeably better than our last Jeep. The shifts were smooth, but that’s probably because we sitting still. To really cause the Wrangler to accelerate, you had to wrap the rpms to almost redline. We did get close to 55mph in second gear in a Jeep, but really felt like we were causing a lot of unnecessary stress on the engine. Nothing about this vehicle says fast. There was one section of interstate where at 70mph in sixth gear with the accelerator floored, we were slowing down. Sixth gear has almost no power and is really there for fuel economy improvement, which is defeated by the fact that you must down-shift to pass anything or maintain speed on anything but a downhill. We even considered fourth gear on the highway to really power past some slower vehicles. In the city the 3.8L V6 averages 15mpg, 19mpg on the highway, and 17mpg combined. The company Denali can average that with two more cylinders and 100 more horsepower. Jeep advertises the Wrangler having 382 miles of off-road range… That’s averaging better than 16 mpg’s off-road. Yeah, and most of us are attractive and in shape. For a vehicle whose appearance screams tough, rugged, and manly, the overall power train is a letdown.
|Legally, they have to post this, but it only made us laugh! Eccccccoooooo!|
Overall, we were pleased with the look and the feel of the redesign for the Wrangler Unlimited. The “feel” of driving this car just didn’t live up to our expectations. For a vehicle with 200 horsepower and a V6, the power just wasn’t there. We drive too many highway miles for this to be a viable option as a daily driver. The mileage alone would put us in a hole with only 22.5 gallon capacity and the horrible mpg’s. The unsecure feeling of plastic windows is also something to consider. You can’t put anything inside that you don’t want stolen. We never locked the doors on the ’04 because what was the point of locking a vehicle that could be entered by undoing the zippered windows. The same logic applies here, but now we own some stuff that we actually care about. You can purchase the full doors and hard top to defeat the robbers, but it’s going to cost you. The Wrangler is exactly what it has always been, a specific purpose vehicle that is good at what it does. Everything else about them doesn’t measure up to industry standards. With everything that is wrong with them, we would still have one! Not as a daily driver, but as one to have when the weather turns gorgeous, crappy, or to use as an excuse to get to those “road less traveled” places.
Happy Father’s Day! We hoped you enjoyed your bonus review this week!
June 13, 2011
We decided recently as the weather has gotten nicer to find some convertibles and do a series of Summer Cars. Car #1 of our Summer Car Series is a 2011 Mini Cooper S Convertible. This is a brand that was “rebooted” here in the States back in 2001. We have been seeing Mini’s everywhere recently and have just never really given them that much thought. Mini drivers do tend to be in our way quite often, but that has more to do with our not so polite driving style than the cars themselves. To get to the truth, we had to see for ourselves.
We were worried about the space available inside of a Mini. After moving the manual seat back, we fit surprisingly well. The “little people” joke is getting stale, so we won’t use it here, even though it still applies. There is very little leg room behind the driver and front passenger seats. Pretty much the only reason the back seat is there, is if you own a labra-doodle then it could lounge across both back seats. There are two sets of LATCH mounts for the kids, but adult humans will prefer to drive their own vehicle than try to fit in the back of the Mini.
|The giant circle in the middle is the speedometer.|
The “been eating too much fast food and it’s starting to show” speedometer is located in the middle of the dash for all of the car and the car tailing you to see. Seriously, it’s almost eight inches in diameter. The bottom third of the large speedo is the media center, which was small and difficult to read and navigate compared to a number of models that we’ve driven recently. We were able to change the radio station, but only after a couple minutes of focusing all of our attention (we don’t have any to spare…) on just that task. Fortunately it was a long stoplight and didn’t take away from any of our playtime.
The window switches, lock/unlock switch, and seat heaters are located under the climate control near the gear shift. The salesperson told us the windows were auto up/down, but every time we tried, we had to hold the button to get it to go all the way up/down. The climate control was easy to use and responded well to the humid day, even with the top down. We set it at 70°F and left it alone the whole ride. There is a meter for how much time has passed with the roof open; a legitimate dial for a statistic that has nothing to do with the car’s performance or maintenance. This dial is a total waste of time, Mini designers and factory…
Since it’s a convertible, the roof was down before we were off the lot. The Mini’s roof has an option to slide back the portion directly over the driver like a sunroof. If that’s not enough, keep holding the switch in the back position and the roof will fully retract. In the stowed position, the roof limited our view out of the rear view mirror. Instead of seeing the wind screens of cars following us, we could only see top of their roofs… The roof was raised and stowed at least four times to see if it was something we had done wrong. It probably was our fault, but we couldn’t find the reason for the limited visibility. When the roof was up, the joints and collapsible support structures were covered with hard plastic making it feel like a full roof automobile. It was really well done. Then again most of our experience with folding roofs is from a ’04 Jeep Wrangler and the roof structure there isn’t engineered to be aesthetically pleasing. With the roof up, there is a wicked blind spot on the passenger side near the rear quarter panel. It’s pretty thick, but the side mirror should help you clear this section of the car to make lane changes. The visibility out the back with the roof up was much better than when it’s down, but still limited. Almost all vehicles we drive feel like they have limited visibility out the back compared to the company Denali. It helps to have side-view mirrors that are ten inches long…
The exterior of the Mini is what we wished Chevy would have done with the re-introduced Camaro. The outside of the Mini is a modern tribute to the throwback look of the 60’s and 70’s. Chevy did that, but then really didn’t upgrade the interior. The Mini’s lines haven’t changed all that much compared to the Mini’s of the past. The roof line, headlamps, and wheels seem to be the most reminiscent of older Mini’s. The new ones are stouter than the old ones, but that happens as you improve the car with electronics. We don’t really have much to say about the exterior of this car. It is a very unique look and one that few would confuse with other brands. There are 11 different exterior colors including British racing green, but only white, red, and ice blue are free. The other 8 colors add $500 to the sticker price.
With the roof down and from the outside of the car, the engine noise is fantastic. The Cooper S sounds like a throaty tuned-racing machine. We really loved it with the top down, very guttural. Every stoplight was another opportunity to hear it race through the gears! We actually went looking for a street with a plethora of stoplights, so we could roar away from light after light.
The performance of our little Mini was fantastic. We had some difficulty getting the transmission into reverse on the way off the lot. It’s another of those six speed manual transmissions that has you take the stick way to the left to put it into reverse, right next to first gear. We still like the press down, beep, and move to the left from the Audi S4 to let us know we were in reverse. Our Cooper S had a 1.6L four cylinder turbo charged engine turning out 181hp. It worked too. The Mini was quick. Off the line, through traffic, and around corners the Mini responded well. Its short wheel base allowed us to cut in and out of holes that the Denali wished were much, much bigger. We felt like the car equivalent of those crazies on motorcycles that ride the mid-line and cut everyone off. And with 27 city, 36 hwy, and 30 combined you almost get the same kind of mileage as the crotch rockets. The 0 to 60 time is 6.6 seconds according to Mini (Edmunds.com), but isn’t really why we would have this car. It felt light, tight, and quick. With the roof down, we felt very aeronautical, like pseudo-pilots. If they install wings, we’re pretty sure we could get it off the ground. We achieved some fun wheel spin in this car. On purpose, of course. There is a sport button but we couldn’t tell a difference between it being on and off. The sport button was supposed to tighten up the steering. We did turn off the traction control and noticed it was easier to spin the wheels, but we were still in control of the Mini the whole time. The brakes were great and the gear changes were smooth. There is hill-start-assist. When we took our foot off the brake to hit the accelerator on a hill, the Mini stayed in place until the accelerator was depressed. There was none of the scary “I’m coming back at you” roll that most manual transmissions experience on steep inclines.
For the price (over $34,000) we would probably stay away from this Hot Wheels car. Just a little more money gets you two more cylinders, a half inch of legroom in the back, and a BMW 135i. If Mini does come to their senses and decides to give us one of these, then it will be driven hard and often. It was a great car for a warm day and really needed to be driven a little longer for us to find a true flaw (other than the sticker price) that would turn us away from it.
June 9, 2011
|If this is your car, you suck...|
June 6, 2011
Swinging back by the BMW dealership last week, where the receptionist doesn’t know that “Beemer” is slang for BMW, we drove a 135i coupe. The receptionist is not a reflection of any of the vehicles that we have driven (Call us if you want us to name drop you here, Baron BMW.). The 135i was truly inspiring.
The interior is the German standard simple meets modern but looks complicated. Even though the car was an automatic it was equipped with the dual clutch paddle shifters and a push button start/stop on the dash. The push button was really cool two years ago, but now we are starting to be less “wowed” by it. The fact that the Prius has one kind of makes the process less cool.
The instrument panel was easy to read. The gear indicator was large and in-charge, located between the speedometer and the tachometer. There are no full-sized adults who can sit in the rear seat behind me. It's pretty much kids only! There are two sets of latch points, so if you have two small children you can make them car sick with your aggressive driving style, while being secure in the knowledge that they’re not going anywhere.
The 135i is smaller than the M3 and only comes in a Coupe or a Convertible. There wasn’t room on this frame for four doors, plus it would make the car fatter and self conscious, we meant heavier. The front of the 135i looks like someone who’s a bit slow staring at you open-mouthed (that’s not right…).
The good news is that while driving the 135i you won’t have to look at it. Unless you are truly riding someone’s tail, but then again you deserve to suffer a little if you’re that big of an !@$.
The good news is that while driving the 135i you won’t have to look at it. Unless you are truly riding someone’s tail, but then again you deserve to suffer a little if you’re that big of an !@$.
|This is what shows up on Google images when you search "confused slow person."|
The 135i’s twin turbo powered flat six produces 300hp to the M3’s 414hp. The low profile tires and paddle shifters made us feel slightly like a NASCAR driver incognito. We know most of those guys drive Vets, Camaros, and Mustangs, but we loved this little 1-series. Thank you, Kyle Bush, for supporting the stereotype that all NASCAR drivers are crazy, hell-bent speed maniacs… Seriously, 128mph in a 45 zone. The 135i has also been compared to the Porsche Cayman S for performance levels. We recently drove a Cayman S and were underwhelmed. The 135i seemed quicker and more exciting.
The price tag difference is enormous between the M3, Cayman, and 1-series. The M3 retails around $70,000 with the Cayman starting around $62,000, while the 135i we drove could be had for around $35,000. The real difference here is where you want to drive your BMW. If you are planning on spending your non-working days at the track driving your BMW hard, we suggest the M3. If it’s back roads where the speed limit tops out around 55mph, then the quick acceleration of the 1 series and the tight steering will send you to driver Valhalla. The 135i is the daily driver that will make you feel like the King of the Road while getting 28mpg on the highway. Saving money on the sticker price and at the pump, while not sacrificing drivability; it’s logical which one to go with! We’d still have the M3…