July 18, 2013

What is the Best Mid-Life Crisis Family Vehicle? Part 1

I'm 32 years old.

In the eyes of my day job co-workers, I'm older than dirt.  My co-workers are 11 to 13 years old(I teach middle school.)...  In the real world (because as we all know, middle school is not the "real world.") I'm not old at all.

My oldest son is starting Kindergarten this year and my youngest is two.  Both are still in child safety seats.  Now that Kid 1.0 is headed into the school system, I'm starting to feel my age.

I'm been teaching for a decade, writing about cars for two years, and I'm still searching for that dream job.

I'd like to think that this is my Professional Mid-Life Crisis.  The one where I switch jobs, careers, nationalities, etc.  I probably won't switch nationalities; being American is pretty boss.  I'm definitely too old to say, "boss," but also too lazy to change it...

The Professional Mid-Life Crisis got me thinking about the best Mid-Life Crisis family vehicles.

If someone is in their 30's and had two young kids, what would they drive?

This is Part 1 in that series.  Here's my choice.


I don't know how many of these I can pull off.  I plan to pick vehicles for Mid-Life Crises in the age groups: 30's, 40's, 50's, and 60's. 

I'm assuming that the hypothetically consumers are car people.  At least car people who have the same sensibilities as me when it comes to cars.

These are my opinions and I reserve the right to change all of them. 

Thanks for watching!  Cheers.

2013 Fiat 500 Abarth



I’m never going to forget this car.


Base Price: $22,000
As Driven: $26,200
Engine: 1.4L Turbo 4-cylinder, 160hp
Transmission: 5 Speed Manual
Curb Weight: 2533 lbs.
MPG Rating: 28 city/ 34 highway
Crooked Finger Scale: 5 out of 5

The first reason is that a Dodge Dart had to have a small electrical hiccup for me to be able to even drive the 500 Abarth. 

The second reason is that Kid 2.0 (my youngest) decided to do something amazing in this car.

But let’s talk about the car first…

It’s small, Italian, loud, and has red seats.

 I think the red seats are very sexy.  They are not always comfortable, but neither is sex…  There was just enough room to fit both child safety seats in the back.  The boys did not have their usual “neutral zone” between them, but they behaved well and it wasn’t an issue.


It is Italian being that it’s a Fiat.  Fiat as a brand does not have the best reputation in the US.  The last time they were here all the cars rusted, didn’t work, or just fell apart.  I’ve driven two 500’s since they’ve come back to the States and had no issues with either car.  The 500 is a car that’s been around since 2007 in Europe and Fiat seems to have shed its unreliable reputation over there. 


The 500 is a small car weighing in at 2,400 pounds.  The small stature allows you to zip the Abarth in and out of traffic with relative ease.  You don’t have to worry about checking your blind spot because you are sitting directly in the blind spot.  The back of the car is just behind your back. 

The 500 is powered by a 1.4L turbo-charged 4 cylinder engine that makes 160 horsepower.  The power numbers are not overly eye popping for this car.  But the car does not weigh that much, so the power makes the 500 Abarth pretty quick.  It isn’t fast and I would not like to drive it at track speeds.  Seventy miles per hour on the Interstate is fast enough for this short wheelbase car. 


There was a weird moment in this car.  While accelerating, I noticed that it sounded a little funny…   This is unusual in the Abarth because the car sounds great!  I’m definitely a fan of the exhaust.  Turns out that Kid 2.0 was mimicking the sound of the exhaust behind me.  I realized it as I started going through the gears (#savethemanuals).  At the time Kid 2.0 was still pretty little like a year and a half.  He could communicate his needs, but he wasn’t quite old enough you really tell you what he likes.  This was one of the first moments when car guys have that connection. 

Just like the moment the summer before when Kid 1.0 was riding in a go kart for the first time and grinning so big that his face exploded.  We did go back to the karts this summer and took Kid 2.0 with us.  Both boys had an amazing time.  Kid 1.0 was not overly thrilled at first, but came out the last couple of times doing the sign language and saying, “More!” 

As for installing the child safety seats, the Fiat 500 Abarth rates 5 out of 5 on the Crooked Finger scale.  It’s a “scientific scale” that measures how messed up and crooked your fingers are after installing child safety seats.  The higher the number the more messed up.  I had some nicks in the skin and a number of irritated areas on my fingers after installing and uninstalling the seats.  It the 500’s defense; Fiat does not advertise it as a family car.


Overall, I really liked the 500 Abarth.  It’s not a four person family car, but can fake it in a pinch.  Because of my day job work schedule, I have to test the cars throughout the week, which means that both boys’ car seats have to fit in the back of the tester.  I was very worried about the 500 Abarth being able to accomplish this task.  They both fit; barely.  I was not in the most comfortable seating position when they were both in the car, but I wasn’t uncomfortable either.  It worked.

“Thank you” to the Fiat 500 Abarth for bringing me closer to one of my sons. I now know that Kid 2.0 is a budding petrolhead and will gently encourage him down that road.  I’m not going to drag him kicking and screaming, just nudge him a bit!  Kid 1.0 and I will always be able to talk about animals, the rain forest, and when we’re going to Africa.  Yes, the five year old has already asked when we’re going… 


I wonder if I can get a press car in Africa…  Land Rover, are you reading this? 

July 10, 2013

How Top Gear Almost Got Me Eaten by a Bear

*That is the most Jalopnik title I've ever written...  If you get that reference, cool.  If not, just ignore it.  It's a lame joke on my part.


My family and I are vacationing in the Rocky Mountains this week. 

It's a good time.  We hike some, eat a lot, drive go karts, take copious naps, and general enjoy the scenery, the weather, the wildlife, and each other.

Today the family headed down to town to accomplish numerous errands and entertainments for the younger members of the family.  I volunteered to stay home with Kid 2.0 (my youngest), who was overdue for his afternoon nap.  I figured I'd either get a nap myself or at the very least an hour of quiet time.

Turns out downing a coffee right before nap time is a bad idea for me...  Kid 2.0 crashed hard, but I couldn't fall asleep for the life of me.  Instead of tossing and turning the afternoon away, I decided to catch up on this week's episode of Top Gear UK


Like most petrol heads, I enjoy Top Gear.  People can argue about whether the show has lost its edge, if they should have stopped 5 years ago, or if it's still the best car show on the planet.  I don't care.  I like it.  I can see other's points about the show.  I just choose to ignore their idiotic opinions. 

Today I was watching season 20, episode 2.  It's an alright one.  I really liked James' segment, but I was completely engrossed in Jeremy's review of the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta. 

Screen shot, that I borrowed...  Sorry, BBC!  It's okay though, no one reads this stuff anyway...

 The looks of this car haven't won me over yet, but it's getting closer.  The power numbers from the V12 engine and the exhaust note have had my attention since Ferrari released their trailer for the car last year.  I was totally into Jeremy's review. 



So much so, that I didn't notice the two Black Bears that had made their way onto the porch behind me. 


My mom went out and stood in the same spot after they left.  We think the Black one is about 5'4" standing up.
I had heard some noise from outside, but our cabin is located near some others and I thought that one of the neighbors had been the source of the noise.  Turns out, I was wrong...

This is like a "blond" Black Bear.
Way wrong, in fact.  The only thing that separated me from the bears was the screen door just behind me.  I promptly closed the solid front door.  Then grabbed the camera and started snapping pics.  None of them are very good because I'm shooting the pictures through window glass and screens. 


We've been coming to the mountains every summer for the past 20 years.  I have never seen a wild bear before.  The closest that I had ever come was a Grizzly in Yellowstone when I was 14.  The Grizzly was in fact a pudgy dot inside a telephoto lens.  I don't know if it was real or not.  It could have just been dust on the lens...


These two today were very real and very close.  They were very interested in the hummingbird feeder, which has since been taken down.  We have small kids running around here and the feeder is what brought the bears to the cabin. 

Today's unwanted guests were chased away by a member of the area where we're staying's security team.  Both bears scattered when they realized they weren't alone.  They never noticed me...  The security man was so unconcerned he had his kids get out of the car and run the bears off with him.


It was cool to see bears this close and I'm very glad that no one was hurt. These two did rattle us for a little bit.  When my wife got back to the cabin, I told her the last thing to touch the gate on our deck stairs, other than her, was a black bear.  She was not amused. 

Please remember do NOT feed the wild animals.  It not only puts you in danger, but the animals too. 

Check out this Chipmunk who's had way too much contact with humans.  He isn't afraid at all... 

Isn't phased at all by the humans...
I'll post more once I get back to the land of real Internet speeds.  It took me a day and a half to download the German Grand Prix up here...

Cheers.