November 30, 2012

10 Segments in 10 Days: Hybrid

Hybrid: Honda CR-Z


Base Price: $19,695
As Driven: $23,055
Engine: 1.5L 4-cylinder/ hybrid, 122hp
Transmission: 6 Speed Manual
MPG Rating: 31 city/37 hwy

                There had to be a hybrid on this list and since Audi didn’t send me their R8 e-tron I had to find the most fun hybrid that I could.  The Honda CR-Z is a great little car.  It only has two seats, so forget kid seats in the back and large dogs for that matter.  Don’t buy it with the automatic CVT (Continuous Variable Transmission). The CVT improves fuel economy, but will drive petrol heads insane.  Just about the time that the power and torque really come on, it shifts.   Even in Sport mode the CR-Z is conscious that it is a hybrid and tries to help the environment.  The 6 speed manual transmission makes this car significantly better.  I whipped this car through rush hour traffic with ease.  It’s bigger than a Smart Fortwo, but just so.  It creates 122hp from its 1.5L four cylinder engine and has an electric motor to help with low end torque.  Fully optioned the price is very close to $25,000 just like another two door coupe…
 

                Thank you to Frank Ancona Honda (www.frankanconahonda.com) for letting me irritate rush hour traffic with this little wasp of a hybrid.

November 29, 2012

10 Segments in 10 Days: Sport Sedan

Sport Sedan: Cadillac CTS-V

The dealer had a sport wagon or a coupe.  I chose wisely.
Base Price: $63,215
As Driven: $73,000
Engine:  6.2L Supercharged V8, 556hp
Transmission: 6 Speed Manual
MPG Rating: 14 city/ 19 hwy

                The sport sedan segment has been dominated by the BMW M3 for a very long time.  Cadillac has been selling cars to elderly people for nearly as long.  The CTS-V is Caddy’s attempt to change that.  This car has caused me look at Cadillac in an entirely different light. 
The CTS-V comes with 556hp and a price tag that is similar to the M3.  The power plant is robust and can be tuned for even more power.  There is a package out there that will increase the power to 707hp. 

Even the automatic transmission will do easy burnouts.
The fuel economy is less than desirable (14city/19hwy).  It says 14 mpg in the city, but if you really drive the CTS-V the way a twelve year old would, then you end up closer to 11 and you could flirt with single digits.  Yes, there is a green movement and we’re all supposed to be driving e-hybrid plug-in’s, but this car is just too much fun.  The raw power, the angry exhaust, the back seat (36.1 inches of rear legroom), and the fact that you can have one as a sport wagon make the CTS-V an amazing machine.  There is also a coupe model.  To me, the coupe is too early-2000’s hiphop video, but it still goes like crazy.  If I had to pick, I would have a sportswagon.  I can’t afford it, but I definitely want it.  You can’t turn down 556hp of practicality.

I love the stance of this car! 
                Thank you to Superior Cadillac (www.superiorbuickcadillac.com) for trusting me with their CTS-V wagon.

There's an analogy here...  I just can't place it...
 

November 28, 2012

10 Segments in 10 Days!

I had my heart broken recently.  A website that I was going to write an Auto section for had to close their virtual and physical doors.  I was very excited for the opportunity to work with some passionate people and some amazing cars.  Shane, if you read this, I'm so sorry, man!  I wish you guys the best and know that you'll be back.

But I can't let that work go to waste.  I've got to get my thoughts and opinions out into the world, where the Internet can hate on them...  So here goes.

I picked my 10 favorite cars/trucks/hybrids over 10 different segments.  I'm going to present them to you now.  One-a-day for the next ten days.  Very boring exciting!

First up is...

Economy Car: Ford Fiesta
I prefer the hatchback because of the quick Rally modification kits, but the sedan looks good too.
Base Price: $14,100
As Driven: $19,255
Engine: 1.6L 4-cylinder, 120hp
Transmission: 5 Speed Manual
MPG Rating: 29 city/39 hwy

                I’m infatuated with small cars, so I love the Ford Fiesta. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m big and they’re little or maybe it’s the practicality of a hatchback. Whatever it is, I really like cheap, small hatches.  The Fiesta is at the top of my list for economy cars.  Ford’s kinetic design makes the Fiesta look like it’s moving even when it’s stationary.  The car has a sharp, angular look that makes me want to drive it fast.  
The 2013 models add a more Focus-like front end that Ford paid for while they owned Aston Martin.  There is also a 1.0L 3-cylinder EcoBoost (turbo-charged) engine that could break the 50 mpg mark and make 123hp.  That’s 11 more mpg on the highway and three more horsepower under the hood.  All by losing a cylinder and adding a turbo.  
                The Fiesta looks like it would be a blast on damp pavement with a liberal dose of handbrake.  The Team O’Neil Rally School in New Hampshire uses Fiestas to teach car control.  It’s pricey to attend, but when you think about totaling a Fiesta in the woods and walking away without a bill, it’s worth every penny.  I'm actively saving my pennies & nickels, the ocassional quarter to attend in the near future!  If you're feeling generous, I know a guy...

Oversteer, flying dirt, bright green car; it's like a Ken Block video!

The Fiesta isn’t the cheapest in the segment, but the higher price comes with a nicer interior that works well for medium length road trips.  Quick, light, agile, and economical all add up to a great little car.  I WANT a Fiesta R2 to rally if anyone is looking to invest in a rally team.
Thank you to Olathe Ford (www.olatheford.com) for letting me borrow a Fiesta which I then drove across country, literally.  That last sentence isn’t true, but I wish it was.  The thank you is sincere, though.

November 27, 2012

2012 Ram 2500 Heavy Duty CNG


While I like to write about my guilty pleasure, hot hatchbacks, I’m a truck guy.  I popped my truck cherry with a ’97 GMC Sierra short bed.  I added exhaust, tires, and completed numerous doughnuts.  I once got lost in the Rocky Mountains, missed my turn, and drifted my way through a gravel parking lot in that truck.  I miss her.
I moved from the Sierra to an ’04 Jeep Wrangler (the truck equivalent of a convertible) while I lived in FL, drove an ‘05 V8 Tundra for the life of that lease, and have finally settled with the truck version of the minivan; a GMC Yukon XL Denali.  I recycle, wear bamboo clothes, try not to fart too much, eat cows to help eliminate methane gas, and genuinely love the environment.  I don’t know where the truck guy comes from…  Maybe the truck guy is my dark side?  I need more metachlorians (if you get this reference, we can be friends.).

Well, I’ve found myself.  In a truck.
Base Price: $32,400
As Driven: $57,745
Engine:  5.7L Hemi V8 CNG, 383 horsepower & 400 ft-lb of torque
Transmission: 6 Speed Automatic
Wheelbase: 169.4 inches
Curb Weight: 5,995 lbs.
MPG rating: < 13 city/< 19 highway (This is a guess because no one has published the Ram 2500 mpg rating and it isn’t on the sticker).

Introducing the 2012 Ram 2500 Heavy Duty Compressed Natural Gas Crew Cab.  It’s a mouthful.  For a massively large truck, it isn’t a handful.  The Ram has Hemi power, burns natural gas, only costs $25 to fill the CNG tanks, and could flatten most family sedans without batting an eye.  It’s a set of 36’s away from being a Monster Truck.

Interior:
The interior of the Ram is styled as a work truck: utilitarian and functional.  The plastics feel rugged and not cheap.  Everything feels like it was designed to be abused.  It could be the perfect vehicle for my two boys.  We treat everything rough, but the Ram handled them with ease.
There is plenty of room in the 2500.  It has seating for six in the crew cab; three seat belts on the front bench and space for three more passengers in the back.  It is quite roomy, rear legroom is 42.9 inches.  Both of my boys’ car seats fit well in the back and left enough room between their legs and the driver’s seat to allow an adult to slide past them to sit comfortably in between.  Remember comfort is relative.  A sardine would find the fit in the rear middle seat incredibly relaxing, while a Bentley Mulsanne owner would be offended that they might have to come into contact with another human in the back.
*The Mulsanne reference is me sucking up to Bentley, so they’ll invite me on the next press launch.  They won’t, but I thought I should at least explain the reference.  If you don’t get the sardine reference, umm…
With the bench seat in the front you have the option of having your wife/girlfriend/mistress/hooker sit closer to you.  Antics could ensue…  Or you could use it like we did and just stash some of the shopping from the local bulk store between my wife and I.  When you lift the center armrest/console, there is a ton of room up front.  I eventually curled all 6’4” of me into the front bench for a refreshing nap, while my wife finished up shopping on Black Friday.  It was quite lovely. 
There are storage compartments everywhere.  The center console, under the front middle seat, on the floor in front of the rear side passengers, all four doors have storage cubbies, two glove compartments up front, and there’s also half a long bed open for storage in the back.  Human traffickers could increase their profits by at least three to four people per trip using the interior storage of this truck.  I’m so going to Hell…

 Exterior:
Ride height is very noticeable.  You must add the side step bars as a very necessary option.  If not, no one will ever ride with you.  The 2500 has amazing ground clearance and was taller than almost everything on the road.  The only vehicles larger were dump trucks and semis.  I did not fear any deer in this truck.  If I would’ve hit a deer with the Ram, there might have been a slight tremor, but I wouldn’t expect anything else.  While all other vehicles experience deer through the windshields; 98.4% of the carcass would be deflected under the truck.
This truck is long.  The reason is the crew cab and the 8 foot bed (half is taken up by CNG tanks) on the back.  While driving the Ram east, it feels like the cab is in the Central time zone, but the bed is back in the Mountain time zone.  It’s a very long truck.  It doesn’t drive like a long truck though.  The Ram handled well.  It was easy to navigate in traffic, but I wouldn’t want to try and win a race in it.  A calm, relaxed driving style is needed to navigate it through traffic easily. 
The side mirrors are the size of decent TV’s.   Part of the mirror is a regular rear view mirror and the outside three inches are blind spot mirrors.  Both provided a ton of visibility to aid in lane changes and reversing the truck.  The right side mirror does not have the “objects are closer than they appear” warning on it.  The warning isn’t there for a very good reason.  Ram, Dodge, or maybe the Italians from Fiat have worked some kind of dark magic on the mirror (or Science) that makes the image look bigger than reality. 
                I use a system of seeing both headlamps of the car I’m passing in the center rearview mirror to know if I have enough room to pass.  Normally this same system on the side mirror would cause me to side-swipe the other vehicle.  I started out using the regular system, but then noticed that by the time I had both headlamps in the center rearview; both headlamps would also just be showing up in the side mirror.  I could just use the side mirror to make passes, plus the outer edge of the mirrors helped me clear my blind spots without causing life altering neck injuries.  Needless to say, I love the mirrors on this Ram.

Tech:
The tech in the 2500 Heavy Duty is understated. You don’t notice the tech immediately because of the casual utilitarian look of the interior.  The Ram does have a 6 inch touch screen with the infotainment system in the middle of the dash.  It does have satellite radio, a CD player, an auxiliary input, 2 USB jacks, a 110 Volt electrical outlet with a ground, and AM/FM radio.  Navigation is included in the infotainment package.  The navigation is powered by Garmin and very easy to use.  Small Garmin GPS units are so prevalent that having the same software in Dodges makes the factory Nav very easy to use.
The backup camera was very helpful in navigating “Black Friday” parking lots.  Using the camera, I exercised an amazing amount of patience and generosity.  I didn’t run over or bump anyone’s cars, even though the rage monster inside wanted to…  
The instrument cluster is easy to read.  The dual fuel gauges for the unleaded and CNG fuel are front and center over the information center.  There is a lack of information in the information center, so it’s more of just a center.  There are two trip computers and an odometer.  There isn’t a current or average mpg meter anywhere that I could find.  I even had to RTFM (that’s “Read the F-ing Manual for the uninitiated.)!  Nothing anywhere on a mpg meter.  The only way I know my average for the CNG is because I reset the trip computer, filled the tanks, and did some Math.  You do get tire pressures, transmission temperature, and other fun statistics for when you’re pulling a heavy load.  Hehe, load.  I like Ford’s cluster better than the Ram’s.  Ford’s has high-res graphics, displays, mpg meters, trip computers, vehicle diagnostics, etc.  I haven’t seen GM’s cluster in their heavy duty trucks.

Performance:
The performance of the Ram 2500 HD CNG varies.  It really depends which fuel you are using.  Other than that I had zero issues with the performance for the Ram.  It was assertive, but not overly aggressive.  Poised, but not flashy and I only hit one curb with it over the whole week.
The 5.7L Hemi V8 makes 383 horsepower and 400 ft-lb of torque.  That’s a lot, but the 2500 weighs as much as a small whale.  The mpg numbers are also harder to find for the Ram.  The Hemi V8 is listed at achieving 14 city and 20 highway, but that’s in the 1500 4x2 regular cab.  The 4x4 version achieves 13 city and 19 highway.  The 2500 is probably averaging close to the 4x4 numbers.  No one lists mpg numbers for the 2500…  No one.  Not even Dodge, Ram, Fiat, Jeep, or Chrysler.  Not a good sign.

The 5.7L Hemi v8 that I drove was actually an upgraded option.  The 5.7L V8 does come standard with the 2500 Heavy Duty, but my tester had the $11,000 optional 5.7L Hemi V8 with CNG compatibility.  There are twin 3600psi CNG tanks in the bed behind the cab.  I drove on Compressed Natural Gas for a couple days before having to refill the tanks.  There is only one CNG station in the Kansas City area.  One.  Talk about a monopoly…  I paid $1.69 a gallon to fill the CNG tanks.  I put in 14.36 gallons of CNG for a total of $24.41.  I drove 180 miles on the first tank of CNG and drove about 195 miles on the second. 
There is also an optional 35 gallon regular unleaded fuel tank.  The standard regular unleaded tank is only 8 gallons.  This is an option that you must check.  With CNG stations so spread out and only eight gallons, you’d be lucky to travel more than 350 miles between the two fuel types. 
                Now for some Math.  With a 35 gallon tank and an average of 19mpg on the highway, that’s a range of 665 miles.  At $3.19 a gallon (the price I drove past this morning in KC), that’s $111.65 for a full tank.  I bought CNG for $1.69 a gallon for a total of $25 and travelled an average distance of 185 miles (combine city and highway) for a full tank.  That’s four fill-ups with CNG to get to same amount of money spent as the regular unleaded and a distance travelled of 740miles.  That’s 80 more miles and you saved $11.65.  It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a start.  The best thing about all of the alternative fuel technologies is that they will get better.  More miles, even more torque with EV’s, and more money in my pocket are all possible outcomes in the future.

Overall, I liked the Ram 2500 Heavy Duty CNG.  It’s got a long name, and that’s fitting on a truck that feels like it is a thousand feet long.  The Natural Gas is a very good option.  As it becomes more readily available and the technology refines itself, we should see more of these vehicles.  The CNG does require you to fill up more frequently, but you’re still saving money.  It just matters how much your time is worth.
                The Ram handled well with the regular unleaded gas.  The acceleration was crisp, but not jaw dropping.  This truck made me want to go tow a race trailer filled with my own imaginary rally car or just get it really dirty.  The cargo area in the bed is less with the CNG tanks, but this is pretty close to being a great “End of the World” truck: powerful, huge, and mostly zombie-proof.  I don’t have $57,000 lying around to buy this truck, but if I needed a work truck that could help me save a little bit of money, then this is that truck.  Thank you to Ram for dropping this truck off at my house.  Seriously, I only clipped one curb.

November 26, 2012

This!

This has nothing to do with car reviews, but it does have a heavy duty pickup truck in it, so that counts, right?  I have no idea on back story and I don't care.  It made my heart feel better about humanity for watching this, so I'm sharing it with you.  Enjoy.


November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

On Thanksgiving last year I was headed to London for Top Gear Live.  It was my version of a hajj to Mecca (the once in a lifetime trip to a very important Muslim icon).  My pilgrimage was not overly difficult, but I ended up missing my family terribly.  It wasn't so much the distance, but the lack of connectivity.  I don't have a "world" phone and could only talk to them through Skype in the evenings.  I'm very fortunate for the family that I have and wouldn't trade them for anything.  Who else would let me spend a lot of time re-reading a lame post about an obscure vehicle that no one is interested in?!?!  I've got a Ram 2500 CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) right now.  After a week in the Fiat 500 Abarth, the Ram feels like it could run-over anything and not miss a beat.  More on that to follow.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.  Even if you're not in the States, be thankful.  It suits you.

For some reason I have a budding obsession with rally driving.  Maybe it's the availability of gravel roads nearby, but rallying looks amazing.  Small hatchbacks, great engine noises, dust, sometimes fire, millions of near misses, and some not misses.  I love it and want to do it.  Dirtfish or Team O'Neil, I'm coming.

Watch this highlight reel from last year's World Rally Championship (WRC) if you don't understand what I'm talking about.  Watch for the telephone pole to come down!  Enjoy.  What happens at the 1:54 mark is priceless!  Watch the door handle...
Seriously, I want to do this.  Now, to make it happen.

November 20, 2012

Quick Drive- 2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

Volkswagen has stated that they want to be the #1 car brand in the world.  They are trying to follow the Toyota model of automotive world domination.  VW owns Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini, Bugatti, SEAT, Skoda, Ducati, and Porsche.  The best part is they want all of their brands to compete against their other brands.  That means that eventually we’ll get better cars and hopefully a Lamborghini Urus SUV.         

Almost all of the cars I drive are top of the line models.  It’s great to get to play with all the knobs, buttons, touch screens, navigation units, Sirius/XM radio, but this time I asked for a base vehicle.  I wanted to know what I could get for a base price.  Crown Volkswagen kindly obliged.  I drove a 2013 VW Jetta TDI that only had splash guards, Monster Mats, and a first aid kit on the options list.  The automatic transmission, Candy White paint, and Cornsilk Leatherette interior were all included in the base price for the trim level.
 
The front end shares many of the same styling cues with the Passat

Base Price: $22,990, the 6 Speed Manual TDI
As Driven: $25,275
Engine: 2.0L 4-cyliner Turbo Diesel, 140hp
Transmission: 6 Speed Automated Manual
Wheelbase: 104.4 inches
Curb Weight: 3210lbs.
MPG Rating: 30 city/42 highway

This was a quick test drive.  I had spent the previous week driving a Fiat 500 Abarth and made a special trip out to drive the Jetta.  Perspective is relative, right?  If you spend a week driving the 2nd smallest car in the U.S. and then get in a Jetta; the Jetta then feels enormous. 
 

The ride of the Jetta was impressively smooth.  The wheelbase is much longer than the Abarth’s so all of the usual bumps were smoothed out giving the Jetta a relaxed feeling.  I drove quite a ways to test the Jetta and the ride in the Abarth had tired me.  The adjustable seats in the Jetta were a welcome relief.
 

 
The turbo diesel engine makes an unimpressive 140 horsepower.  The same engine makes 236 ft-lbs. of torque(how quickly the car accelerates) at 1,750rpm.  That’s a great amount of torque for a car that weighs just a little over three thousand pounds.  It isn’t the fastest off the line, but it isn’t slow.  The TDI Jetta is more of a cruiser than an athletic sedan.   If you’re in the market for athletic, VW does make a Jetta GLI.

There is rubber padding under the plastic cover to cut down on vibration noise.
 
The range for this turbo diesel is A-mazing.  The tank carries 14.5 gallons of diesel fuel.  At highway speeds, that’s over 600 miles on just one tank.  Even in the city, that’s still over 425 miles on a single fill-up.  My daily driver has a 32 gallon tank and can go over 400 miles, but it costs 2.5x more than 14.5 gallons of diesel… 
 
Lots of room for cases of be.. Diapers and strollers.

Now for some fun Math.   The Fiat 500 Abarth gets 28 city and 34 highway and has a 10.5 gallon tank.  That adds up to about $30 for a full tank, but at the most that tank is only getting you 340 miles on the highway and 280 in town.  The Jetta’s 30 city/42 highway extends the ranger out to a maximum of 600 miles, but only costs ~$25 dollars more to fill.  For the 500 to attain the same kind of range you would have to fill the tank again, for $30.  The Jetta saves you around $5 a tank for the max range.    Even if you’re traveling in the city with the Jetta, you’re still travelling farther on one tank than the Fiat.  The best part is that the 500 Abarth is $1,700 more expensive than the Jetta as tested.  That’s an immediate savings of $1,700, plus you get a usable backseat/trunk, and then save ~$5 a tank for the life of the vehicle.  No one is cross shopping the 500 Abarth and the Jetta TDI, but the 500 is known as a great commuter vehicle which is why I’m using it here.  I really like the Jetta as a commuter vehicle.  It would be great for long road trips with small families (2 or less kids).
 
 
The rear seat is very usable in the Jetta.  The measurement is 38.1 inches, which could hold at least two gorillas and a medium-sized orangutan in the back.  Okay that’s hyperbole, but the Jetta has only an inch less legroom than the much larger Dodge Charger.  The Jetta has by far the most rear legroom of any compact sedan.  The 2013 Ford Fusion has 38.3 inches of legroom in the rear, but has eight more inches in the wheelbase.  The backseat is very functional.  The trunk has more than enough room for a double stroller.

Rolls Royce should know the Jetta's coming for it!
The infotainment system is the standard VW system.  Satellite radio is included with the base radio.  It isn’t an upgrade to get Sirius/XM.  The unit comes with a single CD (Name the last CD you put in a vehicle.), AM/FM, auxiliary input, and 6 speakers.  The rest of the interior includes what VW calls leatherette.  It’s like leather, but not.  If you have kids, this material will be easier to wipe down than any cloth seats. 

 
Overall, I loved the little bit of time I spent with the TDI Jetta.  This was a very quick test drive.  If you’re interested in a TDI Jetta, I know a guy.  Contact Rob Weiner at Crown VW in Lawrence.  I’ve known Rob for years.  He is not your average car salesman.  He’s a good person and doesn’t smoke.  Yes, I realized I just called all other car salesmen “not good people”.  Too bad, I like Rob.  Go try a Jetta; you might be surprised.

If you get bored, check out Rob’s photography at Antilles Treasures!

November 12, 2012

Ford to unviel "All-New" Vehicle on Tuesday

The press release says "people mover," so I'm not overly excited. Then again, aren't all cars technically people movers...

The big reveal will take place tomorrow at 10:30am. I'm assuming that's EST, but you know what you get when you assume...  The web address to see Ford unveil a new vehicle is Livestream.com/Ford

Maybe it's the new Fusion Wagon that Europe is getting.  Why do I have an infatuation with station wagons?!?!  It'd be even cooler if it had a diesel.  A diesel Fusion Wagon in America; never gonna happen.

"It’s a new multi-purpose vehicle for people with multifaceted lives." Hau Thai-Tang, Vice President, Engineering, Global Product Development will be doing the honors. 

It's probably going to be underwhelming, but I'm secretly hoping for the Fusion Wagon!
The Mondeo Estate, which is the European version of the Fusion Wagon.

November 5, 2012

2013 Ford Focus ST

                I just renewed my driver’s license.  This one won’t have my 25 year old face on it, but the 31 year old model…  I’m emotionally distraught (not really, but I’m faking it.).  I’m using that as an excuse to have a guilty pleasure.
I have two kids, two car seats, a double stroller, and a spouse to fit in the car.  I drive a large SUV, but I have an affinity for hot hatchbacks.  I love the little things.  I don’t know where this passion comes from.  Maybe it’s because I’m not small (6’4”, 195lbs.) and that I’ve spent most of my life driving trucks or SUVs.  Maybe it’s the same reason as why people love puppies; they’re small, cute, vulnerable, and cuddly. 
I almost bought a hot hatch last week.  The Ford Focus ST has been in Europe for a couple of years and now it’s in the States.  Ford is building them in Michigan and I want one. 

Base Price: $23,700
As Tested: $28,690
Engine: 2.0L EcoBoost (turbo-charged) 4 cylinder, 252hp
Transmission: 6 Speed Manual
Curb Weight: 3250 lbs.
Wheelbase: 104.3 in.
MPG Rating: 23 city/32 hwy

                 The Focus ST has one hundred more horsepower than the other gas powered Foci.  The extra horsepower is immediately noticeable.  The power is sufficient to achieve ludicrous speed (If you get this reference, make sure you come back and read more.  If not, go watch Spaceballs.).  The car weighs only 3250 lbs., which is 300 more than a regular Focus and very reasonable for a modern sports car.  The ST has anti-torque steer technology which means the extra horsepower isn’t pulling you sideways.  The power pulls you through all of the gears.  This car wants to do 100mph (allegedly).  The weight and extra power come together to make an agile, nimble, and athletic car.  Since driving it, I’ve wished that I’ve actually bought it three or four times over the last week.

                I love manual transmissions (#Savethemanuals).  It’s mainly because I love to drive, and I love feeling like I’m a part of the driving experience.  This transmission epitomizes all of the reasons why I’m fond of a manual gearbox.  The shifts are smooth and mechanical.  I love the GTI’s gearbox and the ST’s is better.  I just wished the rest of the American market would share my love of manual transmissions.  And station wagons, but this is American and you are free to not like fun things.

                Winding up the transmission is fantastic.  On long straights, it feels like I’ve been teleported into the YouTube in-car footage from track days.  The open road, high rpms, and the engine all come together to make a great driving experience.  The ST really moves between 3,000 and 6,000 rpms.  Peak horsepower is achieved at 5,500 rpm.  I drove this car repeatedly to redline.  The gearbox responded wonderfully.  It wanted to be driven hard.  The power was smoothly applied throughout the gears.  This is the kind of car that when you buy one, you’ll be counting down the hours at work till you get to drive it again.

The Turbo blow-off noise is brilliant.  It isn’t overly loud, but it is audible.  I had dreams about it after driving.  Gunning the engine turns to cooing when you shift.   Combining the sound of the engine with the turbo blow-off noise makes the ST sound wonderful.  I had my ST on a rainy day, but left the windows down the whole time.  I loved the symphony of the turbo, motor, and exhaust.

                The ST’s Recaro seats are going to be restrictive for a lot of ‘Mericans.  We’re an obese country and I would lose weight if it meant I would fit in these seats better.  The driver’s seat only moves up/down, forward/back, and reclines.  There is no lumbar adjustment.  The seat did a superb job of holding me in place while I was driving the ST hard.  The seats gave me a feeling that actually made me more confident in the car.  For long road trips, I’d suggest more of a GT car.  After a couple of hours in the Focus ST your back would be reminding you that there isn’t lumbar support.  The bolsters on the seat would be consistently reminding you that they are doing their job too.  The ride of the ST is very good.  For a car that is setup to handle, the suspension is normally way too firm, but not so with the ST.  Compared to the Mini Coupe S that I drove last year, which was overly firm, the ST rides like a dream.

                This particular Focus ST had the package to upgrade to the FordMyTouch by Sony for $4,000.  You do get other options like HID headlamps, but you have to buy the whole package.  The MyFordTouch is a system that I’ve had quite a bit of experience with.  The sensitivity of the touch screen can be infuriating.  Ford did recently upgrade its OS for all of their customers, but the system as a whole can have the same frustrations.  I’d save the $4000 and get a base ST for $24,000, that’s one thousand less than a FR-S and 50 horsepower more…

                Overall, it isn’t the faster car I’ve driven, but the ST is in the Top 5 of “Cars I had the Most Fun In.”  It is great as a daily driver.  Its performance characteristics outweigh its quirks.  The MyTouch is only irritating when it’s on, but some analog buttons couldn’t hurt.  The noise this car makes when you’re whipping it is great.  You don’t sound like someone who put some loud exhaust on their Civic LX.  The ST sounds great, drives great, and should be considered in any new car search. 

I saw the ST I drove recently.  Someone bought it. Sad face for me, but amazing for them.

Thank you to Olathe Ford (www.olatheford.com) for trusting me to borrow their ST.

November 3, 2012

Top Gear before 2013

Because there always needs to be something to look forward to...

We aren't supposed to get new Top Gear UK episodes till 2013.  At least the boys have been busy making their annual DVD's.  Last year when I was in London for Top Gear Live, the Underground was covered in Jeremy Clarkson Powered Up and Top Gear at the Movies (with James & Richard) flyers. 

This time Jeremy and James get together to film The Worst Car in the History of the World.  My only complaint is that the BBC never seem to upload a video with higher resolution than 360p... 



Can't wait till 11/19! 

P.S. Happy Birthday, Mom!  That's actually the most important thing happening on the 19th, not stupid car videos of tires screaming, V8's roaring, and Fiat Pandas getting crushed...