October 28, 2011

Reverse Colonization

I'm going to try and make it across the pond!  Since we don't have a budget at Every Man's I'm asking for some help.  Please do not feel obligated because this site is here to inform and entertain, not to bleed your wallet. 

Backstory:  I always assume no one actually reads this stuff, I applied for a press credential to Top Gear Live in London.  Turns out the P.R. firm in charge thinks the site looks legitimate and has granted a pass to the  shows on November 26th & 27th.  Here's a link of Jeremy Clarkson and James May discussing Top Gear Live.  They of course go on to talk about everything else Top Gear, but they are not known for their silence.

Our goal is $2,000!  15% of that has already come in from one donor!  If you donate you are helping offset the cost of airfare, passport, accommodations, and a little food.  I can stand to lose a couple pounds over four days... 

Thank you again for all your support!

Edited- I've now got a number of items on Craigslist, so don't think that I'm not trying to help too.  We're definitely trying to make this happen!

October 27, 2011

Not Validation, but made us feel great!

I sent an email a while ago to Performance P.R., that's handling the press for the Top Gear Live Stadium shows in England.  I figured I would see if I counted as "media."

Turns out I do.  This is the e-mail I received this morning. 

Thank you for your recent application for Press Accreditation to Top Gear Live Show. We are pleased to let you know that we have accredited 
Names:            Chris Tracy
For Date.         November 26th and 27th @ London ExCel

On arrival please go to the press office to collect your pass. Please note that this is a silver pass which gives you a seat in the live action arena, access to the exhibition, standing access to the track and an official Top Gear Publication. 

Doors open at 09.30am and your Live Arena show time is 12.00.  Please note that there is no behind the scenes access and no photography or filming in the Live Action Arena.  Thank you for your interest in Top Gear Live.

Cool, huh?

I don't even think my passport is current.  It's nice to know that Every Man's counts as media.  If only we made some money doing this, we could afford the trip.  Oh well, back to the car reviews!

October 26, 2011

Mini Coupe S

Most of you will remember the convertible Mini that I drove during the Summer Car series.  This is not the same kind of Mini.  After the flop of the Clubman, Mini was looking for new models to expand its brand.  Enter the Countryman (review to follow).  The Countryman has done well for a model other than the original Hatchback.  One of my favorite authors, John Scalzi, has a Countryman and absolutely loves it.  Fiat got J-Lo; Mini could have a science fiction writer if they wanted…  The relative success of the Countryman inspired Mini to go ahead with plans for the 2012 Mini Cooper S Coupe.

The look of the Coupe is striking.  It is an inch shorter in overall vehicle height than the Hatchback.  Not only is the roof shorter, there’s no back seat, but still enough room in the trunk for golf clubs or a week’s supply of groceries.  The sloped roof line makes this Mini look fast standing still.  The headlamps have the same distinctive Mini look and every component is out of the Hatchback parts bin, except the roof and rear spoiler.

The media center is the same.  It's not the easiest to use.  When I'm in a car for the first time, the car is running and rolling immediately.  Others take the time to set radio stations, mirrors, steering wheel, etc.  They all write for legitimate auto review outlets, so you won't have to worry about reading their work here... 
I’m not a huge fan of the massive speedometer in the middle of the car and in fact never really looked at it.  The tachometer has a digital speedo in the middle of the information center and that’s where I look to get my speed.  There is a button for interior lighting.  Two small LEDS up by the rearview mirror can be changed to match your mood.  It was a gray day and I was driving a small sports car, so I matched the paint scheme (Blue is my second favorite car color.).
                Without a back seat, there was plenty of room for the driver and front passenger.  This would not be a bad road trip car for you and a reasonably-sized friend. 
                The pedals are chrome with black accents to make sure your feet don’t slip off the pedals.  The accelerator goes to the floor easily under my regular size 12’s.  The pedals of the Mini make me wonder what I’m doing wrong in the Porsches I’ve been in.  I find it hard to believe that there is so much less room in a Porsche than a Mini Coupe.
                The one drawback in the interior is the visibility out the back.  The back glass is fairly small and over 50mph the spoiler raises to maintain down force on the back.  The down force is really nice to have, but the spoiler cuts out a third of the rear visibility.  There is a switch to keep the spoiler up all the time, but there isn’t an option for keeping it down all the time.

After taking the Coupe on a short road trip looking for the Ferrari Club of America’s local chapter, I happened onto some curvy, twisty roads (very European).  The Coupe handled the corners well.  The speed limit could have been exceeded if you weren't paying attention.  I loved moving through the gear box.  Every stop sign and stoplight was another excuse to start in first and see how fast I could get to the speed limit.  It didn’t take long…  The Coupe comes with the same 1.6L turbo-charged four cylinder engine as the Hatchback and the Countryman.  The turbo helps this engine turn out 180 horsepower while averaging 27 city and 35 highway.  The 0-60 time isn’t anything to write home about at 6.5 sec, but the turbo makes sure that you are never underpowered.  If you spring for an extra $6,600, you can shave another .4 seconds by driving the John Cooper Works edition (known as the Works).  To me that’s a lot of money for just.4 seconds, especially since there are not a lot of places to really open up the little four-banger.  On my test drive, I spent a while looking for a small country airport that might let me out of the runway real quick, just to open it up…  No dice. 
                The ride of the Coupe was “sporty.”  This is not a luxury cruiser.  This little car is tuned and ready to hit some corners at speed.  The Coupe has a sport button like the rest of the Mini’s and I immediately found and press this button.  All 180 horses really pull this car around.  There isn’t a lot of weight to the car, which makes it seem faster than it is.  The best part is once the engine warms up with every shift there is exhaust pop.  It sounds fantastic and guttural; like an angry machine warning all other vehicles to stay back. 

                The Coupe base price is $24,600; $1,500 over the Hatchback price.  That's more money for a sloped roof and a spoiler.  Plus the Coupe weighs more than its Hatchback brothers.  If I was forced to go for a Mini, it would probably be the Countryman because of functionality.  The acceleration would be slower since it’s a bigger car, but you don’t buy a Mini because it’s fast in a straight line.  All Mini’s handle well and the Countryman has an option for four wheel drive.  Mini’s are already a niche market that now has some competition from the Fiat 500, but the Germans (Mini) continue to bring sportier versions to the States.  Fiat needs to get their Abarth version here soon.  In the spring Mini is unleashing the Mini Cooper S Roadster (Convertible Coupe) and I can’t wait to get my hands on one of those! In fact I told Mini USA, I’d drive one down all of Route 66.  Chicago to LA in a sporty roadster!  What could be better?!?!  Mini has other plans sadly…

Thank you to Baron Mini for loaning us the Cooper S Coupe.
Mini has a string of ads for the Coupe.  Here's one that entertained me...

October 18, 2011

Camaro SS Convertible

Does this intimidate anyone else?

My main objections to the 2011 Camaro SS Coupe were the visibility from the driver’s seat and the nonexistent head room.  We understand that no one sets out to make a bad car and that the 2011 is still a really fun car to drive in a straight line.  Being the optimist that I am (Stop your snickering…) I tried to find a way to eliminate the issues that bothered me about the Coupe. 

Enter the 2012 Camaro SS Convertible!  If head room and visibility are the issue, then just get rid of the roof.  The folks at McCarthy Chevrolet were generous enough to lone us a red 2SS convertible for a couple of hours on a gorgeous early autumn day; low 70’s, slight breeze, leaves falling, roaring V8, and 426 horsepower.  Who could ask for more?  A closed course would have been one improvement.  I wasn’t speeding and spent most of the day focusing on not tailgating.

Yes, this picture was taken at 75mph!
                The interior of the 2012 hasn’t changed compared to the 2011.  This one felt a little more utilitarian and bland than the 2011.  The instrument information centers were the same, except the Heads Up Display (HUD) was much better on this model.  The HUD has some arrow buttons to move it up and down on the windscreen to make sure that all drivers can see it. 
The auxiliary gauges are still down behind the gear shift, but who cares.  I didn’t look at the gauges at all.  If the engine would have sputtered or started to smell hot then I would have a reason to check the temp., oil pressure, battery charge... I forget what else is down there.  There are a couple of cup holders in between the driver and passenger seats that did a great job of holding my smart phone.
 Other than the cup holders, there isn’t a place for your phone.  There is a console, but I don’t suggest placing your phone there, since it means looking down, opening the console, still looking down as you search for the phone, rear-ending the car in front of you, and then finally looking up after you looked at the phone to see who is calling.
The perfect go-fast interior, all attention outside of it.
The media center controls were very friendly.  At stoplights, I could easily navigate between different radio stations, the CD, and the auxiliary input.  Changing the equalizer settings was simple and straight forward.  Classic Rock felt appropriate for a car born in the 60’s.  This car had the upgraded sound system that you could hear over wind noise with ease at 75mph.

                Nothing has changed on the exterior of the 2012.  I am still infatuated with the predatory shark gills near the rear wheels.  There are LED halo rings around the headlamps that make this car look like it’s always watching you.  Between the rear spoiler, the hood scoop, and the gills this car looks like a wolf pack of one (That’s right, I will sink as low as Hangover quotes!).  The taillights are distinctive.  Every now and then I catch a glimpse of taillights that remind me of the Camaro, but it ends up being a Kia Forte.  Probably what Kia was shooting for, but at least I’m thinking "was that a Camaro" and not “was that a Kia?”

                Eighty percent of this test drive was spent with the radio off.  The 6.2L V8 was a symphony of angry American muscle.  The 16 city and 24 highway are a little low, but what you lose in mileage, you gain in exhilaration.  After getting comfortable with the stiff, short gearbox, the SS headed for the highway all by itself.  Where I quickly discovered that a 0-60 time of 5 seconds is a definite reality.  The Camaro jumps off the line.  The car isn’t squirrelly though.  There is Electronic Stability Control (Traction Control) on every Chevy model.  I only had it turned off a couple of times because the road I ended up on was demanding and I had no desire to owe anyone $40,000 at the end of the day.  Hitting the ESC off once turns off the traction control; hitting it twice turns everything off and puts the car in “Track mode.”  It says so on the information center.  If only I had a track handy…
                After the time on the highway, the Camaro founds its way onto K-5 west of 435 (Lakeside Speedway is really close, but they weren’t expecting visitors at noon on a Friday…).  If you have never driven to Leavenworth on K-5, it’s a learning experience.  The speed limits are 35mph to 55mph, but the corners and hills are blind and tight.  The gear box was in third or fourth for a majority of the drive and had more than enough power. The only down side to this route is that if you get caught behind someone not looking for an exhilarating driving experience, you’re stuck.  There was “A” passing zone.  This is where the classic rock helped pass the time.
                The Camaro didn’t disappoint on the tight corners.  The issue of the previous test was visibility and that wasn’t an issue at all.  All 426 horses were responsive and ready at all times.  After the tight roads, the highway entrance ramp was a welcome sight.   The V8 roared onto the highway.  If there had been more gas in it, I would have been headed to Topeka and the 75mph speed limit. 
                I’m glad that I got a second test with the Camaro SS.  The first test had left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth with the huge blind sections and no headroom.  This test made me realize how absolutely freeing all 426 horses could be, as long as there’s a gas station nearby.  This test also showed me that the Camaro isn’t just a straight line muscle car.  It really did handle the corners well.  If I added much more speed, the only way around the corners would have been in a drift.  To have this one for your own you have to part with over $40,000.  The iconic look, the power, and the wind hair make this car one for my wish list. 

I wonder what a GT 500 is like to drive…

October 13, 2011

Cool Seats

The seats stay in place, even during aggressive driving.
During the Ford Ecoboost Challenge, I was driving the F-150 around with all four windows up and no A/C during 95 degree days.  By not using the air conditioning the truck was able to achieve some impressive mpg numbers, but I suffered for it. 

After seeing me on an interview for a local news station, a concern citizen loaned me some Cool Seats by HTFx to help offset the heat.  These two pads were lifesavers.  Cool Seats contain an chemical that keeps the seats at a comfortable 80 degrees.  80 doesn't sound very cool, but when placed next to your 98.6 degree backside and surrounded by a 100 degree truck interior, the pads become your own personal sancutary.  I was able to use two pads during the Ecoboost Challenge.  In fact, I still have them.  I really need to return them, but I'm busy and they are an interesting conversation icebreaker. 
The seats recharging in my kitchen.

"So I have this pad that keeps my butt cool..."

The seats were originally designed for the military and in fact are gaining in their use.  Not only does the military use them to keep soldiers' rears comfortable, they are fashioning vests to help keep core temperatures down in the desert environments.  Military firefighters have been wearing them for years to keep their core temperatures lower and allow them to fight blazes longer, over 22% longer (Their statistic). 

The application that is exciting car enthusiasts is with classic automobiles.  A/C was not an option on many of the classic cars.  The seats come in extremely handy while traveling during the summer months.  The pads stay relatively cool up to 8 hours and can be recharged by just taking them into your air conditioned hotel room each night.

When I would drive into the day job, I'd just take the seats inside with me and then bring them back outside when it was time to go home.  If you've got an old school ride and are tired of getting over-heated, these might be the perfect after market addition.

If you are interested in the Cool Seats, the nice folks at Ray Boyles' Corvette Village are the ones who graciously loaned me my set of Cool Seats.  Their number is 913-362-4888.

There is an Open House on October 29th at Corvette Village, where there will be lots of Vettes.  Hopefully the owners bring rags to clean the copious amounts of drooling...

October 10, 2011

Ford Fiesta

words and photos by Ryan Kiefer
What's a Fiesta? 
Ford has made a lot of noise about the return of the Fiesta to its lineup. Many (me included) do not remember the original Fiesta, which was only sold in the US from 1978-1980 as a stop gap because the much-maligned Ford Pinto was woefully outdated and the Pinto's subcompact replacement, the Escort, was not ready yet. After 1980, the Fiesta returned to being an overseas-only model that has enjoyed an unbroken run of progressively-better models since.

Since then, Ford has done its best to make sure we hate American-branded subcompact cars. From the late 80's through most of the 90's, Ford offered the underfunded new car buyer Kia-engineered and -built subcompacts in the forms of the Festiva and the Aspire. Those vehicles were inferior to even the comical 3-cylinder Geo Metro, which is what many might picture when they read "subcompact."

In the face of permanently-elevated gas prices, increased city congestion, and the green movement, Ford has decided to bring the Fiesta (now in its sixth generation) back to the US. The Fiesta has always been a global car, being produced everywhere from Thailand to Germany to India, and Ford has not rested on its laurels with this one, steadily improving it with every generation without interfering with its main goal -- inexpensive personal transportation for the masses.

I worked with Wes Shields at Olathe Ford and picked up a black-on-black 2012 Fiesta SE hatchback. Olathe Ford were generous enough to allow me to take it for an overnight stay.

My wife was upset I did not bring home one in Lime Squeeze or Blue Candy.

Exterior Impressions
Ford calls its design language “kinetic.” The idea is that the car always looks like it’s zipping along, smartly achieving 40 mpg, even when it’s parked under the tree in your driveway being fouled by a flock of birds. I say it looks a bit like an aging Hollywood star with an extreme facelift.

It’s as though every line was once square or softly rounded, but is now being pulled back toward a point somewhere about 5 feet above and behind the rear bumper. It might have once been considered extreme, but now every styling studio is trying out this swoopy-lines-pulled-taut styling theme, and some (Hyundai, for one) are pulling it off better than Ford. In the end, like a god, the Fiesta demands that you either love it or hate it – no lukewarm feelings allowed.

Interior Impressions
The taut lines continue inside the car, where there is more room than the exterior size might suggest. All of the controls are within easy reach of the driver, and the driver's seat is 3-way manually adjustable – front to back, up and down, and seatback angle. With that range of adjustability, most drivers who aren’t members of the LPA or NBA should be able to get comfortable.

In the interest of keeping everyone inside alive when the inevitable SUV-driver-distracted-by-cell-phone mistakes the Fiesta for a speed bump, Ford did not skimp on the roof pillars. From the driver's seat, looking over your shoulder to merge or change lanes will reward you with a fantastic view of the Fiesta's interior, but not much of what's going on outside. Ford's work-around comes in the form of factory-installed blind spot mirrors, which give a great view of what's beside the car, if I could only get in the habit of using them. The more bunker-like cars become, the more I think we'll be seeing this type of mirror employed.

The outside upper corner of the mirror used to be useless. No more!

The entertainment controls are a minimalist’s dream. Only the most-used functions have buttons. You can select your entertainment source, one of six presets, turn the volume up or down, and scan. That’s it. All other fine-tuning adjustments are buried in the little menu interface controlled by the 5-way rocker button at the top. The red-on-black screen looks a little dated (like, the brick-sized, $1000 calculator your father used in college in 1975 that required a car battery to run and only did basic math dated), though it’s easy to read. I’ll call it a retro touch.

One curious element of the interior styling is the seemingly random use of chrome on the transmission selector and its chrome accent ring. It’s the only place inside the car where chrome is used. Otherwise, the interior is swathed in textured black plastic with faux brushed metal accents.

Bling, Bling!

Things calm down -- and shrink down -- quite a bit when you move to the backseat. Though the Fiesta has seatbelts enough for three in the rear, it is only usable for three people who have not yet passed through the throes of puberty. Otherwise, unless you hate the people you’re cramming back there, you might want to keep it to two. I was able to install two rear-facing Britax Marathons in the back seat using the LATCH anchors, but had to scoot the driver’s seat a bit closer to the steering wheel than I would have otherwise liked, and the lower anchors were buried infuriatingly deep in the seat cushions. There are three sets of LATCH anchors, but you cannot use more than two at a time. Duggar wanna-bes should shop elsewhere.

Belts for three, room for two.

In the hatch, there doesn’t appear to be much room. However, after No-Knuckles Freddie cracked me over the head, he was able to stuff me (225lbs) in there and shut the hatch without having to break any of my limbs. Unless you’re making a Costco run, you could easily fit a week’s worth of groceries.

It's a one-large-man, or one-and-a-half-dead-prostitute trunk.

If you’re not carrying rear seat passengers, the outlook is much better, as the seatbacks flop down and open up a cavern of space, enabling all but the most extreme packratty college kids to move to and from the dorm with ease. For this same reason, musicians will prefer the hatchback over the sedan – with the large opening, it can easily swallow drums, guitars, and half-stacks.

Insert lava lamps, gigantic stereo, beat up desk chair,
and a semester's worth of dirty laundry.

Ford has, in recent decades, shot for the moon when it comes to keeping everyone alive and in one piece should the worst happen. To that end, it has filled the cabin with every currently available airbag, and they come standard, even on the cheapest model. In addition to the usual driver and passenger airbags, the Fiesta also gets side-curtain airbags for front and back passengers and a driver's side knee airbag, none of which are new, but definitely not common at the Fiesta’s price point. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates it Good in all tested categories, which in this day of hyperbole everywhere might sound just middlin’, but Good is IIHS’s highest rating, so, translated to hyperbole-speak, it’s crazy-awesome safe.

Under the Hood
The Fiesta’s 120 hp, 1.6L 4-cylinder engine starts quickly and settles into an idle that sounds a bit diesel-y. That somewhat-untoward clatter is thanks to the high, 11.0:1 compression ratio. Despite that high-performance sounding specification, Ford makes use of it for good instead of fun. With a combination of variable valve timing on both cams and a cleverly designed head (co-developed with Yamaha), this engine makes the best use of every milliliter of fuel to squeeze out an EPA-estimated 39 mpg on the highway, and does it on regular swamp-water 87 octane fuel.

To get that might onto the pavement, Ford has brought racing technology to the occasionally-washed masses with a dual-clutch automatic transmission. Don’t let the techspeak bugger your brain; it behaves just like you’d expect an automatic transmission to behave. There are still just two pedals to operate. “R” goes backward, “D” goes forward, “P” and “N” go nowhere, and “L” goes forward, but differently (I’ll get to that later).

Dual-clutch means that you effectively have two transmissions shoved together like some Siamese sideshow. One has the odd gears; the other holds the even, and each is coupled to the engine with its very own clutch – hence, dual-clutch. The magic-trickery is that this enables buttery-smooth shifts with no awkward power interruption like a conventional automatic. One clutch engages while the other disengages, and it does it quickly, which is good for both economy and acceleration. Another advantage of this transmission design is that it only takes as much power to spin as a manual transmission, so there is not as much power and efficiency lost due to friction as with a conventional automatic.

Illustration shamelessly lifted from autospies.com.
My brain hurts just looking at it.

Let’s Drive!
One-hundred-and-twenty horsies sounds downright pokey – and it is, more or less. If you're really interested in achieving the 39 miles per gallon, you probably already drive like a nearsighted, rheumy octogenarian and won’t care. When plodding along like a good citizen, the transmission shifts quickly and at low RPM, which is great for efficiency, but about as sprightly as the aforementioned social security burden with his or her walker.

However, when you stuff your right foot into the long pedal, the Fiesta will come alive, but only after a moment of hesitation in which it seems to ask “Are you sure that’s what you want? Back off the pedal now and we can forgot about all of this moving-quickly nonsense. Really? Okay, here goes!” The ratios are closely spaced for efficiency, but it also benefits acceleration, enabling the engine to stay on the happy side of the tachometer when that oblivious jerk on his cell phone will not let you merge.

Hoon Mode
So what’s special about selecting L on the transmission? I'm going to guess that L stands for "Low," because it causes the Fiesta's transmission to always remain in the lowest possible gear for the speed you're driving, keeping the engine in the Feisty Fiesta zone at all times. I’m not sure exactly what the powertrain engineers envisioned when they programmed the L mode on the transmission, but I’m going to call it “batshit-crazy” mode. With the engine permanently buzzing at high rpm, the Fiesta transforms from a sedate econo-cruiser to a puppy you’ve fed a strict diet of Red Bull and meth.

And it was while driving with the transmission in L that I realized the Fiesta has an extremely competent chassis. The ride is well-controlled without being a bit harsh. When I threw it into a roundabout with reckless abandon, the Fiesta bit the asphalt sharply and hung on until its narrow economy tires started to slip into a four-wheel drift, at which point the stability control system stepped in to pull the Fiesta on course.

Stock Khumo tires handle sharp, but let go easily. At least they should wear forever.

The four-wheel drift was actually quite unexpected. Most cars have a suspension designed to understeer (or “push”) at the limit, meaning the front tires let go before the back, causing your turning circle to widen, but in a predictable and easy-to-correct manner. The Fiesta seemed to let go of all four tires at about the same time, which is something that is normally the provenance of very sport-oriented cars designed to be driven by someone less mutton-mitted than me. I suppose that Ford has tuned the chassis this way because it has gone and put an electronic computer in the car that can all but drive it in your stead, thus eliminating the need for a “safer” understeering suspension design.

Bottom Line
The car can be a hoot to drive, if you’re so inclined. And I hope a lot of people are inclined, because this is an excellent car -- one of a new generation of small cars that doesn’t deserve comparisons to the shitboxes of yore. I may not have gotten 39 mpg during my lead-footed test drive, but the car’s computer claimed I still achieved 32 mpg overall, so managing 39 mpg shouldn’t be that hard. And beyond – hypermilers have already reported achieving 45 mpg with careful driving. With permanent $3+/gallon gasoline, America needs more cars like this on the road, waving their middle fingers at OPEC.

October 6, 2011

Ryan's Bio

Please welcome our new staff writer, Ryan Kiefer.  He uses big words, so hang on, I'm still not sure what he's on about...

Whether he's building a metaphor that will make you want to both slap and hug him, trying to find the apex of a roundabout*, or snapping high-resolution close-up photos of a black car he didn't bother to wash first, Ryan Kiefer is always thinking, dreaming, loving all things automotive. While the self-aggrandizing buff book "editors" read the press release, pre-form an opinion, and drive the car around the block before phoning in a review, Ryan completely ignores press releases and seeks to strike at the heart of what makes each car noteworthy. He might occasionally throw a specification at you, but only when he's geeking out about it.

He lives in Roeland Park, Kansas, with his beautiful and brilliant ginger wife, three chilluns (all above average, but just one of them ginger), and a spastic and blightedly unintelligent ginger cat, drives a street-converted Raleigh mountain bike** (who's more eco-friendly now, Prius!?), and by day is an owner's manual scribe for a large technology company you've probably heard of, but the name of which he refuses to mention because it's irrelevant to what he writes here.

*If you're driving through it properly***, a roundabout shouldn't have an apex.
**But there's a Japanese-branded minivan in the family stable. Don't judge him.

October 4, 2011

Fiat 500

                The 500 has been around in Europe since 2007 and with Fiat’s purchase into Chrysler; they’re back.  The local dealer has an assortment of 500’s just waiting for you.  The “you” in that statement is a narrow window of customers.  Most Americans remember the “Fix It Again, Tony’s” from decades past.  Fiat has rectified the maintenance issues that plagued them in the past.  The new 500’s have a strong reputation for reliability and performance in Europe.

                The interior of the 500 is great for the amount of money spent.  The trim levels are the Pop (economy), Sport, and Lounge (as luxurious you can get in a car smaller than a clown car).  The Lounge only comes with an automatic transmission. 
                The instrument panel was interesting.  When you start the 500, there’s a loud screeching beep.  I have no idea why this happens.  The doors are all closed, the head lamps are off, my seatbelt was on, and I held my tongue in the correct position for starting a car.  But it’s loud and hangs around for a couple of seconds.  It scared the 3 year old the first time it happened.  The tachometer sits inside of the speedometer.  It feels straight out of Need for Speed.  There is a plastic piece that goes the length of the dash that’s color matched to the exterior color.  This could be something that really adds to the car, but for our Espresso (brown) test model, it was a con for the pro/con list.
                The two window switches are located on either side of the gear shift.  They are both auto downs, but not auto up.  The switches are so far apart that to raise them at the same time requires you to us both hands to activate them.  This is my one main objection.  If you are going to separate the switches, then at least have them both be auto up/down.

Orange means the doors are locked.

                Another odd button choice, no door lock/unlock button.  When the doors are closed you push the door handle towards the door until the orange rectangle appears and then the doors are locked.  When you’re ready to get out, just pull on the handle regularly and the door opens.  Pretty nifty, but it took me a full day and a mechanical engineer to figure this out.
                The media center was unfamiliar since I have never been in Fiat.  I was able to navigate radio stations and preset some, change to the satellite radio, and get the iPod plugged in.  The bass was raised on the Bose sound system and faded to the back.  The annoying teenager test was completed (volume up, ear bleed, test complete). There’s a “tuner” button for moving between the different FM and AM station lists.  The “media” button is to move between the CD, radio, satellite, and auxiliary input.  Still haven’t figured out how to shuffle my iPod while plugged into a car.  Give it time, I swear we’re smart guys.
It's short, so headlights are now your enemy!

                The seats were comfortable for the front passengers.  The back seat is there as a place to put extra stuff that wouldn’t fit in the incredibly small trunk.  I did fit both boys’ car seats in the back.  It was not pretty and I drove across town with my knees in the dash.  The transmission has enough gusto to start in second gear, which saved me a gear change.  I know there’s a clown car or Mexican joke here somewhere, but it is eluding me, so please fill in your own (This way the joke will be the right amount of racist for each of you.). 

                The look of the 500 feels like a VW Beetle that had the back end chopped off.  The Romans spent centuries showing us that the arch is an extremely strong shape, but they didn’t show us how fast they could be.  It’s a different look from the boxy Minis that are its main competition.  I swung it past the Mini dealer and they were extremely interested in the car (Could this mean more Mini reviews?  Hopefully…).
We were able to fit 1/2 a Steve in the trunk.
                The wheels on the Sport are standard 16in alloys.  I loved the look except for the red ring in the middle.  The exterior color and the red on the wheels nagged at me.  Italy is known for its fashion.  Why would an Italian car company allow brown and red together?  Too metro?  Got it. 
                The Sport also comes with a rear spoiler and fog lamps standard.  That’s right, less than $20,000 and they throw in the fog lamps.  Are we listening 30 grand sedans? 

                The 500 was fun to drive.  All models come equipped with a Sport button and it should be pressed as soon as you get into the car.  This button tightens the throttle and the steering.  The 101 horsepower 1.4L four cylinder engine was perfect for this little car.  I left every traffic light with the electronic traction control activated, until I turned it off and just spun the tires.  As hard as I drove this car, it averaged 35.4 mpg.  Given that driving side to side in Kansas City will get you some city driving and highway miles, a combined mpg of 35 isn’t bad.  Again, that’s flooring it away from every light and then letting the cruise control do the work once at speed. 
Yes, you’re right, the Prius can average higher mpgs than that, but not when you are gunning it away from every light.  The Prius’ advantage is that the electric motor gets you away from a standstill and hopefully to 25mph or higher before the gas engine has to kick in and help.   If you are roaring away from traffic lights, then the gas engine has to jump in faster and your 50 mpg quickly drops.  Don’t forget that we are talking a difference of price of $6,000.
The Sport has a 5-speed manual that was enjoyable.  The shifts were light and quick.  Even though the 500 doesn’t cost a lot, the car feels like a lot of money was spent designing the components, except for the window switches. 

Check out the "500" in the headlight! Details matter!

Overall, the 500 was a great car for $19,450.  We’re talking Honda Fit money for an Italian car (Pop trim retails around $16,000), which means something to some people.  This is not meant as a family car.  If you’re looking for a hybrid alternative that will still be fun to drive, this is it.  The 500 is a great city car and the comfortable seats make it function as a great road trip car for you and only one other medium-sized person.  Straight out of college, short on cash, dead car, go get a 500.  It will suit you.  Plus for a sporty, fun, little car its got 7 airbags and strong safety ratings.  The sales team at Fiat told me that there aren’t a lot of random walk-ins.  Their customers are familiar with their product and very educated about what they want.  If you’ve never given the 500 a chance, I would definitely give it a shot.  It might surprise you.  There is an Abarth version (Fiat’s tuning company) due to arrive in the spring of 2012.  As soon as they get here, the dealer has assured us we’ll get a shot at it too.

Thank you to Olathe Fiat for blindly trusting that I wouldn't ruin a brand new car.  I really did have a great time watching the mpg's stay above 30, while flooring the car away from every stop light.  Something to think about Prius owners, then again the Prius has a real back seat...

On a side note, Top Gear's Richard Hammond recently published these thoughts about men driving Fiat 500's.  We know our hair isn't as great as his, but we like to throw as many opinions your way as possible.

October 3, 2011

Top Gear Live

If you are a person of worth and are wondering what to do on your next trip to England. We suggest Top Gear Live.  Jeremy, Richard, and James are getting together for some stadiums shows complete with replica studio in London and Bristol.  Here's Jeremy and James talking about the shows, the upcoming Christmas special, and series 18, which I'm still lobbying to be an American correspondent for...  No breath will be held, but I might hiccup a little.