March 29, 2012

Google's Self-driving Car

It feels like it is still too early to say, "I told you so!"  I've been saying for a number of years now that we will see cars that drive themselves in my lifetime.  My first profession was to entertain and educate middle school adolescents about the wonders of Science.  That being said, we talked about technological innovation a lot.  Every year we would discuss cars that drive themselves.  I paid attention to the DARPA Grand Challenge and am really looking forward to a vehicle that will allow me to sleep while it drives me to Colorado for a quick ski weekend.  Looks like all it took was Google to put its colossal weight behind the idea to see real and true results.



I'm sure that Google looked at a lot of the research from the universities and colleges that participated in DARPA.  I'm really curious to see how the vehicle navigated the drive thru.  The video raised a lot of questions for me.  Obviously, the program is still early on, but it seems like they've reached a point where the car is safe on public roadways.  Now it wasn't a bumper to bumper stereotypical California highway, but it was a four lane road.  This car could easily fit in around Kansas City with all of our un-congested highways, roadways, and back roads.

It would be nice to eat a taco without having to worry about controlling the vehicle with my knees. Here's to hoping that eventually this car makes the rounds as a press car.  I will be way at the end of the line, but it's nice just to be in line.

Erich Merkle Interview

Erich Merkle
I sat down with Ford Industry Analyst, Erich Merkle, at the Greater Kansas City International Auto Show.  I love asking car people about their 1st cars and what their favorites are now.  Erich is a car enthusiast through and through.  We had a short conversation (only 20 minutes) about Ford's forecast for Kansas City, Electric Vehicles, and we talked a lot about Mustangs.  Please enjoy the sultry sounds of our voices!  Well, at least his sounds good.  Mine sounds like I have allergies and I'm underwater...






P.S. Let me know if you enjoyed listening to this.  Podcasting has been sitting in the back of my head since London (I wanted to interview TGL and Top Gear UK executive producer Rowland French, but ran out of time), but I'm not sure I'm ready to let it out.  Talking to every one without proofing my words in scary.  You guys might actually get to know the "true" me...  Could be scary.  Probably not.

March 26, 2012

2012 Ford Edge Sport

The Edge is a Crossover Utility Vehicle or CUV. 

Base Price: $27,770
As Driven: $40,425
Engine: 3.7L V6, 305 hp
Transmission: 6 Speed Shiftable Automatic
Curb Weight: 4,291 lbs.
Wheelbase: 111.2 inches
MPG Rating: 19 city/ 26 hwy

Interior
                The interior doesn’t quite have the awesome spaceship feel of the Taurus.  The seats are leather and heated.  The driver’s seat has 8-way power adjustments and the front passenger’s seat is 6-way.  The lumbar support was sufficient and helpful.
                The rear seat legroom is a respectable 39.6 inches.  The Nissan Murano measures at 36.3 and the Chevrolet Equinox is 39.9 inches.  There is more than enough room for two child safety seats in the back seat.  The cabin of the Edge feels airy and inviting. 
With all the seats in place the cargo capacity is measured at 32.2 cubic feet.  With the seats down the numbers soar to 68.9 cubic feet.  Murano’s capacity with seats in place is 31.6 and Equinox’s is 31.5.  Folding the rear seats down is an easy and efficient process. 
                The panoramic “Vista” sunroof tilts to allow in fresh air, but doesn’t slide open.  It was pretty cool when it started raining to see the drops streak across the whole roof, but eventually we closed the cloth cover to block out the sound of raindrops hammering the roof at 70mph.
                The overall interior of the Edge had the feeling of good quality plastics mixed with leather and comfort.  The visibility out the back can be a little limited, but it wasn’t something that restricted our driving pleasure.

Exterior
                The Edge looks good, but it looks even better with the 22 inch black & chrome wheels, LED running lights, and the black Sport grille. 
                The Edge’s overall shape reminds us of an egg.  Not in a bad way, but in the “Romans used shapes like this to build aqueducts that have lasted thousands of years” kind of way.  Its shape is wider than the Equinox.  We’ve always thought the Equinox looks too tall; like it will tip over.  The Edge has 3.5 inches more width and it really benefits the overall look of the vehicle.
                The LED running lights are located on the lower outside edges of the bumper and look modern.  Offsetting the LED lights are Xenon headlamps, which help the Edge to look like an accountant dressed up for a night at the clubs.  Simple and functional during the day, but at night they shine (Who writes this stuff?).

Tech
                The Edge, like every other Ford we’ve driven recently, came with My Ford Touch.  Our dealer associates have told us that there is a software upgrade for My Ford Touch.  He also mentioned that this would be about an hour free service to upgrade your vehicle, or you could pick up a flash stick and do it yourself.  We assume the flash stick comes with detailed idiot-proof instructions.  So far we’ve seen a number of tweets that have been retweeted by Ford associates of customers’ positive reactions to the update process. 
The ability to browse your media device on the touch screen is still a welcome feature.  Other manufacturers make this option nonexistent or so difficult that the manual, a service tech, and a witch doctor can’t figure it out. 
The interior lighting color can be controlled through the touch screen.  The overview screen allows you to see the climate control settings, the audio information, simple navigation data, and your Bluetooth-paired phone information.  Pairing a phone has become relatively easy in almost all makes and models, but Ford was the first to make it simple to us.  They were also the first that we experienced, so that might be why it makes so much sense to us. 
                There is a digital tachometer when you switch the car over to manual mode to use the paddle shifters.  The tach served its purpose, but fortunately for it, the Edge is not a performance vehicle.  The tach wasn’t sensitive enough for our preferences of aggressive driving.
                The safety feature that really makes the Edge a competitor is the stability control with rollover avoidance logic.  This feature is similar to the Curve Control that is on the Explorer.  The vehicle will brake the appropriate tire when it thinks you’re about to push the vehicle out of its ability levels and off the road.  A really great feature that we felt activated in the Explorer, but didn’t push the Edge to that breaking point.
               
Performance
                The Sport comes with a 3.7L V6 that turns out 305 horsepower.  The Limited, SE, and SEL come with 3.5L V6 that produces 285hp.  The 3.7L averages 19 city and 26 highway, while the 3.5L averages the same city, but one mpg better on the highway.  Both engines have more than enough power to move the Edge through traffic with ease.  Optional on all models, except the Sport, is a 2.0L Ecoboost turbo-charged four cylinder engine that produces 240hp and averages 21 city and 30 highway, which is higher than the Acura RDX numbers that we recently tested.
The 6 speed shiftable automatic transmission has two drive options.  There is an automatic mode and a shiftable manual mode.  The shiftable manual mode uses the paddle shifters located on the steering wheel.  The manual mode allows you to select which gear you would like to stay in longer.  The shifts are slow and you have to plan ahead when you are really pushing the performance limits. 
The short wheelbase in the Edge makes it very maneuverable in city traffic and able to navigate rush hour traffic nimbly.  We didn’t push the limits that often in our Edge.  The weather decided to spend our test drive dumping buckets on us.  The curves of our favorite test road (K-5 between I-435 and Leavenworth) can be frightening when dry, but terrifying in the rain and none of us wanted to buy an Edge that we wrapped around a tree. 
Driving moderately and defensely, the Edge performed well.  The 3.7L V6 provided enough power and had good acceleration.  An AWD Edge Sport has been clocked at 7.0 seconds in a 0 to 60 test. 

Overview
                If you’re looking for a vehicle that raises your sight lines and makes you feel safe from that a Suburban will not be able to put you through a wall, then the Edge could be right for you.  If we were to make a move on owning an Edge, we would head towards a Limited model.  The Sport looks good, but the Limited has a slightly smaller engine with one mpg better on the highway and the same city mileage.  Plus the stock wheels on the Limited are not as low profile, which would increase the ride quality just a little and improve the ride from noticeably good to great.
                A similarly equipped Nissan Murano comes in at $38,710 and a Chevrolet Equinox is only $29,220, but only comes with a non-turbo 4 cylinder engine.  Don’t forget the Acura RDX is still out there with the chance of getting a deal right now. 


Thank you to our associates at Dick Smith Ford, who loaned us the Edge. 

March 20, 2012

2012 Acura RDX SH-AWD

The Acura RDX is a Crossover Utility Vehicle (CUV).  It's not quite a full sized SUV, but it's bigger than most CUVs.   The 2.3L engine has great power and torque.  In sport mode the transmission holds the gears longer, uses more turbo, and feels quite quick (Quite Quick is the name of my next sex education self help book). 

The RDX drives like a car, but has the all wheel drive and ground clearance to handle moderate snow and ice with ease.  The model I drove had the SH-AWD system.  The SH stands for "Super-Handling."  This is a smart system that applies power to the wheel that will help you power through the corners.  At regular city and highway speeds it worked wonderfully.  I fear that on a track that understeer might be a concern, but I have no evidence to back that up. 

Safety is packed into the RDX.  There are the usual anit-lock brakes, two 4 inch steel beams on the side, and a hood that's desgined to form an "A" and protect the passenger compartment during a head on collision. The RDX is solid and feels immensely safe.  I really enjoyed the RDX.  Hope you enjoy the video portion of the review.

Base Price: $32,895
As Driven: $37,995
Engine: 2.3L 4-cylinder Turbo, 274hp
Transmission: 5 Speed Automatic
Drive Type: AWD
Curb Weight: 3,942 lbs.
Wheelbase: 104.3 in.
MPG Rating: 17 city/ 22 highway Edmunds lists at 19 city/ 24 highway



Chad Leathers at Jay Wolfe Acura in Kansas City, MO has around 30 RDX models that he is looking to move.  The new redesigned RDX is being released this spring.  There is a large supply in the area, I'm not going to insult your intelligence and lecture on supply and demand.  Enjoy an RDX test drive and find out for yourself.  Cargo capacity, power, nimble, and all wheel drive.  A great combination for a touring car or city traveler.

March 14, 2012

2011 Shelby GT500

When I started this site, I started putting cars on a "Wish List."  It's a long list that still includes the Mercedes C63 AMG, the Porsche Panamera Turbo S, any Ferrari, an Audi R8, a Boss 302 Mustang, the Ford Raptor, and a Camaro ZL1.  The Shelby GT500 was at the top.  This was an amazing car to drive and I can't wait to drive even more insane cars.

I will continue to pursue cars and trucks on the "Wish List."  There is no car out there that I won't drive.  Scion iQ, I'm looking at you! 

March 12, 2012

Living in the Future

I love living in the Future.  Without the Internet, everything on this site doesn't exist.  America went to the moon with computers that had less power than the calculator I used in high school.  And now our phones are more powerful than all of the desktops that I grew up with.

I can't tell you all how grateful I am that I live in this day and age.  Yes, it's a recession and times are tough, but imagine all of this without the ability to instantly view all of the new vehicles released at the Geneva Auto Show.  At the end of next month I will have been running this site for a year, and it's been amazing.  I've been able to travel to London and Detroit to attend events I've only dreamed about.  Thank you to Ford Motor Company for giving me access to their fleet of media vehicles. That's the reason 85% of the content on this site is Ford related.  I am pursuing access with all other manufacturers and over time I expect to see more of their content up here.

If you are new to the site, welcome!  I give objective auto reviews for all auto manufacturers.  Sometimes availability is a limiting factor on the vehicles posted, but that is going to improve.  I love driving different cars and I'm always looking for something new and different.  Supposedly there's a Fisker Karma in town...  I'll let you know if that becomes a possibility.


Here are some bonus pictures from the Kansas City Auto Show:

Fiat 500 Abarth

Range Rover Evoque. In my "Top 5" of cars I need to drive.
We don't surf in the Midwest, but I can find a use for this tricked out Tacoma.

Corvette ZR1 Supercharged V8
The only way to get a guy to look longingly at a Prius is to place a pretty girl next to it.
Chrysler 300

Keep checking back for more reviews and random car news.  The New York Auto Show is coming up in April.  Be sure to check out Business Insider's Transportation page for updates and news.

March 9, 2012

Senna

I don't know a lot about F1 pre-Schumacher.  Senna is a documentary about the racing career of Ayrton Senna.  He was a Brazilian driver that dominated F1 during his time.  Definitely check it out if you're looking for something different to watch.  The footage is amazing.  Some of the most compelling images I've seen on a screen.  I was choked up way too often during this film, but good films will do that.  Check it out!  Here's the trailer.

March 7, 2012

Kansas City International Auto Show Preview

The Greater Kansas City International Auto Show gets under way today.  I was able to sneak in and get some quick shots this morning.

The layout is pretty straight forward and you shouldn't get lost due to a massive Jeep experience track.

Here's the pictures that I was able to snap before any one noticed.

2013 Escape shares similar lines with the Focus on the front end.
Back dat up!                       Wait, what?
The new LED taillights are just sick.  Am I cool enough to say "sick"?  Probably not.
2013 C-Max Energi, plug-in hybrid
A Transformer.
Literally.  Autobots, let's roll!
Ferrari 599 GTO, only 599 were made.
Audi R8 V10 Spyder. I drooled on this car.
Fiat 500 Abarth.  I didn't even know they made Silver ones!!!  WANT!
A computer chip away from 190 horsepower!
Mercedes SLS AMG Roadster
Mercedes McLaren SLR
Make sure you get down to Bartle Hall this weekend.  $10 for adults and $5 for kids.  Really is a great layout to see everything and all the dealers would love to talk to you.

Ferrari F12 Berlinetta Launch

Ferrari's are not on the list of every day vehicles that most of us will have an opportunity to drive.  Which makes this post a version of car porn.  It is safe for work, but I suggest waiting till no one is around so you can really turn it up.  The style they shot this launch video made me feel like Russell Crowe was about to leap out from behind a tree in full Gladiator "battle-rattle."  I believe the word is EPIC.

The F12 Berlinetta has an absurd name; a letter, numbers, and then a whole word.  It looks fantastic though.  Sweeping lines down the sides, the slight impression of a Nike Swoosh on the doors, and it all ends what looks to be the car version of a thong on the back.  There is also an F1-style brake light to let everyone in America know that, "Yes, I am pretentious and NASCAR is for Rednecks." 

The power plant is a V12 that turns out 730 horsepower and makes the F12 the fastest production Ferrari ever.  V12 engines are probably headed out because of all the carbon and fuel restrictions placed on manufacturers, but if this is the V12's dying gasp; it is so worth it!

The steering wheel looks like it still has way too many gadgets on the wheel.  It would not destroy Ferrari's reputation to put more buttons on the dash or those levers that we all use to indicate which direction we are going to turn.

Enjoy!  Be sure to turn up the volume because Ferrari understands that the engine note is important on an introduction video and there's a lot of engine noise.

March 5, 2012

Dick Smith Ford Interview

I had a sit down with the men of Dick Smith Ford.  I talked briefly with Mark Smith (President), Phil Smith (Vice President and 1st in line if Mark is assassinated), and Paul Richards (New Car Sales Manager).  Being guys we discussed sports, world events (Settled down, Iran.), the price of gas, horsepower, and cars. 

Light Blue Fusion is the Energi plug-in Hybrid, 100mpge.
The price of gas is affecting customer behavior more than any other factor.  Today the price of gas is closer to $3.60 and I expect their salesmen are going to have long days of customers asking about hybrids.  The customers aren’t concern about which one particularly; it just needs to say hybrid on the side.  Hybrids are great vehicles for improving fuel efficiency, but under the proper conditions.  This summer will bring the arrival of the 2013 Ford Fusion with its Ecoboost engine, hybrid model, and Energi plug-in hybrid (coming next fall).
 When the price of gas goes back down, Kansas City customers will be quick to head back to the Mustangs, large pick-ups, and SUV’s.  I always recommend the Ecoboost F-150: 364 horsepower, great acceleration, available power, and I achieved 27 mpg on the highway (a non-typical result). 


2013 Escape

One topic of hybrids that we discussed is the number of hybrid options in the Ford line.  The Escape Hybrid was pretty revolutionary when you look at hybrid styling and size.  It looked nothing like a Prius that’s for sure.  The sad news is that the Escape Hybrid is going away with the move to the third generation 2013 Escape and its Ecoboost engine.  Replacing the Escape will be the C-Max hybrid.  The C-Max is a global platform that has done very well around the world that we should start to see here in the States real soon.  This is another move to increase Ford’s globalization. 
The Fusion Hybrid has been near the top of the Consumer Reports ratings on hybrids for a couple years now and the new 2013 Fusion Hybrid promises to be even better.  With a higher electric-only top speed and higher mpg numbers than the Camry Hybrid and Sonata Hybrid, the new Fusion Hybrid looks to be very competitive.  Plus it looks aggressive and I admit to having inappropriate thoughts about it.
The trend that the gentlemen from Dick Smith discussed that stood out was their openness about trying to get Kansas City customers into more Ecoboost cars.  The reason for the Ecoboost emphasis being that hybrids get the amazing mpg numbers at lower speed and in city driving as the hybrids are using electric power.  Turns out Kansas City has a large percentage of highway driving and not a lot of stop & go traffic.  In fact the Ecoboost engines for the smaller cars can achieve similar numbers to the hybrids on the highway and cost thousands less.
We will not be seeing a lot of the electric vehicles any time soon here in KC.  The city does not yet have the infrastructure compared to the East and West coasts.  Plus Kansas City is in the top five of geographically large cities.  The whole loop of 435 with I-29 across the top can take over two hours to travel. 

Another trend that we discussed is that most dealers are having less selection on the lot.  This has become an issue because Dick Smith has been selling so many cars that they are left wanting for more at the end of each month.  Ford cut production in 2009 to make the accounting numbers work and get the company on good financial standing.  Ford has been increasing production in baby steps.  The economy is rebounding; it’s just going to take longer as everyone is playing it safe.  What this means to the customers is that you might have to wait longer than you are used to get the specific car that you want.  My advice right now is to get into a Ford dealer at the beginning of the month for the best selection.  Production will increase as Ford continues to post better sales numbers, but they are not going to jump at just one good year.  No one wants to see a repeat of 2009 and all manufacturers are playing it safe right now.
2013 Ford Fusion

                The Gentlemen of Dick Smith Ford have been having some great months; the consistent being that each month is better than last year.  In fact Ford just released its corporate numbers for February and they reflected the increase in gas prices.  If you’re looking for a car to save on gas, check out the Ecoboost engines.  If you’re looking to scare yourself, they had a Shelby GT500 on the lot.  I know I keep teasing the GT500 video and hopefully it will live up to the hype.  If you are looking for a hybrid Dick Smith has them or you could get information on the 2013 Fusion.  Either way, give these guys a call.

Mark Smith- President
Phil Smith- Vice President
Paul Richards- New Sales Manager

March 3, 2012

2013 Ford Fusion Debut

On the heels of Consumer Reports coming out with the Ford Mustang as the Best Sports Car of 2012, this post is late, about two months late.  No, seriously, at least two months late.

The new Ford Fusion debuted at the North American International Auto Show in January.

Everyone that I talked with expressed interest in this car.  It also helped that Ford was the first press conference of the show and they did it in nearby Joe Louis Arena where the Red Wings play.

The Fusion looks fantastic.  The love child of an Aston Martin and an Audi A7 was the running joke, but everyone liked the exterior styling. Even Europe rejoiced because they could see the lines of the new Mondeo.  The lines are sharp, sexy, and just about irresistible.

The best part of the new Fusion is the engines.  There is a large selection.  Two Ecoboost choices, a hybrid, and then there's the 100mpg equivalent plug-in electric.

Ford says the 1.6L Ecoboost will achieve 26 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway and comes with a start stop system.  Turning off the engine when stopped and smoothly turning it back on when it's time to go.  The 2.0L Ecoboost will be matched up with a six speed shiftable automatic, which means there will be paddle shifters (I'm still not a fan of paddle shifters.) and will be the performance option for the Fusion.  My suggestion was the 3.5L V6 Ecoboost, but no one listens to me.  You might be the only one reading this in fact.

The new Fusion Hybrid is getting new lithium-ion batteries helping it to stay on electric-only power up to 62 mph.  The previous top speed for electric-only was 47 mph.  The new engine for the hybrid is a 2.0L Atkinson cycle four cylinder engine.  The smaller engine is still able to achieve the same performance as the old 2.5L engine.  Ford lists the new hybrid as outperforming the 2012 Camry Hybrid by 4 mpg city and 5 mpg highway and also states that the new Fusion Hybrid gets 12 mpg better in the city and 4 mpg better on the highway than the 2011 Sonata Hybrid.  The Fusion Hybrid should get 47 mpg city and 44 mpg highway.  Those numbers are impressive especially in it feels powerful, but we'll see.

The Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid is aiming to be the most fuel efficient car In The World (Hopefully you heard Jeremy Clarkson).  Ford has released a 100 mpge number for the Energi.  This is 8 mpge better than the Volt, which had production halted this week, and 13 mpge better than the projected efficiency of Toyota's plug-in Prius. 

Pricing hasn't been released yet, but I expect it to land between the Focus and the Taurus.  That puts it competitively in the range with Camry's, Accords, Optimas, and Sonatas.  This is about to get real interesting for the Japanese manufacturers.

Local dealers are hoping to have the new Fusions by this summer with the Energi not arriving until the late fall.

The old Fusion was in need of a redesign to update its styling, but the rest of the car is still fantastic.  Fusion owners are rabid in their love of the older models.  If you are looking for a family sedan in the next six months, a 2012 Fusion would be a great place to look.  As the 2013 arrival gets closer, you might even get a great deal on one.  The sales associates at Dick Smith Ford or Olathe Ford would love to talk to you about any of the Fusions.  Neither of them paid me to say that; I just enjoyed the interactions I've had with both dealerships.

Here's the short video from the debut in Detroit.  It wasn't even cold, probably because the weather knew how hot the new Fusion was going to look!  I can't believe I wrote that last sentence.  I'm sorry, so sorry.

March 1, 2012

2012 Fiat Abarth Commercial - House Arrest

I never want my brand associated with Charlie Sheen, but Fiat has decided that enough time has passed and that pop culture will accept him again.  At least they brought Catrinel Marlon back!  P.S. She's Romanian.  Can't wait to see an Abarth moving in person.  Oh, wait, I already did in London at Top Gear Live, check out about 48 seconds.  It was racing a Ford Transit van driven by Sabine Schmitz.  Enjoy the new ad!