Friday, February 5, 2016

Drawing Board: Lightweight RWD sedan

Imagine this but with two more doors and a fixed roof...
We haven't done one of these in a while, so lets take this opportunity in this new year and pontificate about a car that currently does not exist on the market.

From 2007 until 2012, my wife and I were proud owners of a hand-me-down 1999 Mazda Miata. It was a special edition car made in limited quantities and packed with lots of performance goodies like the then new 6-speed manual transmission and a limited slip differential between the rear wheels. The car was an absolute hoot to drive thanks to a curb weight of just 2,350 pounds. Its raw and tossable nature always made me wonder why Mazda never attempted to translate the chassis into other vehicles to add to the line-up. Just imagine what a treat it would be to have a light weight compact four-door sedan that offered all of the fun of the Miata, but significantly more practicality.

So that got me thinking, what would such a car really look like?

Friday, January 29, 2016

Long Term Test: 2015 Jaguar F-Type V6 Post #3

Update #3
Current mileage: 7,520

Our newly adopted little dog hanging out with the big Jag
Unfortunately, I have not been able to spend much time with the Jag these last few months, mostly the result of a very busy year, more time spent on two wheels, and a new addition to my family (see the photo). Still, despite the minimal time spent, there are a few noteworthy items about our experience with the Jag since our last update.

First, just the other night, I was adjusting the positioning of the Jag within its garage space, which is in the third bay of a three-car garage, meaning it has its own dedicated garage door. I must say, it is kind of insane just how wide the Jag feels from behind the wheel at parking lot speeds. Low speed maneuvers, especially in tight spaces, really highlight the terrible rear visibility when the top is up as well as how tall the front fenders feel from the driver's seat. Mix in the generally low seating position, inching the big Jag forward into its garage space from a rather steep driveway was a tad nerve wracking as I definitely did not want to accidentally bump anything. Jaguar really should consider, especially on the convertibles, including the back-up camera as standard equipment and possibly an option for dropping both driver and passenger side-view mirrors down (versus just the passenger side one) to allow for easier parking and protecting the flanks of such a pretty car.

During the last six months, the Jag has also gotten its first proper service visit, the result of a need to address a few niggling issues, including a door rattle that had been present since almost day one. Jaguar, as a luxury manufacturer, does a good job getting dealers to provide a level of service befitting its customers. A Jag loaner, an XF 2.0t was provided, and the slinky convertible was taken in and they made an effort to be as timely about it as they could. But in thinking about the luxury service experience, it is hard to overlook the fact that some new players, such as Hyundai, have flipped the whole market on its head by starting to offer white-glove level service to certain customers. That includes free pick-up of the customer's car, dropping off of a loaner, and essentially making the service experience much less painful. Given the price premium that Jag's command, I cannot help think how much more enjoyable the ownership experience would be if Jag upped its service game even more.

With warmer weather on the horizon, although a potentially seriously wet rainy season due to El Nino, we should have more fun experiences to share at our next update.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Long Term Test: 2007 BMW K1200S Post #6

Update #6
Current mileage: 28,929

Oh the horror! After nearly 10k miles and over 3 years of ownership, I finally had my incident with the big Beemer. Of course, it would have occurred during a two-up ride with my wife, but luckily, it was a rather minor drop. What happened was that we were stopping at the intersection of Glendora Ridge Road and Glendora Mountain Road and I had ridden the bike onto a dirt embankment to try to turn it around. It was a bit steeper than I anticipated and misjudged the amount of clutch slip for the slow maneuver. Before I knew what happened, the weight of the bike had teetered dangerously far to the left and at what was basically a standstill, the Beemer tipped over onto its side like a wounded buffalo. Luckily, we both jumped off before the bike hit the ground, and the presence of the frame sliders meant there was basically zero damage, except to my ego. The only signs that something had happened was a slight bit of scuffing on the left frame slider and a bit of dirt trapped in the left side mirror housing.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Editorial: 2016 Detroit Auto Show illustrates the future direction of American motoring

Before it happened, this year's Detroit Auto Show was thought of by many as a real dud. Many of the usual auto journo channels had largely written the show off due to a lack of major announcements and those few announcements that were anticipated were vehicles that nobody thought would actually catch anyone's attention. Yet, this year's Detroit Auto Show ended up revealing a surprising amount of technology that seems to foreshadow the future direction of the automobile in America. There were a few alternative fuel vehicle announcements, a few autonomous vehicle reveals, and a whole lot of focus on turbos and horsepower.

Key among the alternative fuel vehicle reveals was the production version of the Chevy Bolt, the first expected electric vehicle with a 200-mile range, the Bolt is a 180-degree turnaround from the company that killed off the first commercially viable EV that it itself produced. Using battery technology from LG Chem, the 60-kWh battery pack fills the floor and works in conjunction with a set of electric motors to deliver solid performance in a passenger friendly package. It is unfortunate that Chevy has chosen to design the vehicle as a tall CUV style small car. The proportions are almost Seuss-ian in nature, appearing somewhat comically tall with a shortish wheel-base and wheels that look too tiny for the height. The design is trying too hard to hide its odd proportions by using tapering side windows and lots of surfacing and character lines along its flanks. Many may see the appeal of a tallish small car, but as an EV, the increased frontal area is a serious sacrifice of aerodynamics.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Editorial: Does Acura Need to Fix the 2016 NSX?

Image courtesy of Road & Track
When the Acura NSX made its debut back in 1990, people were skeptical that a manufacturer like Honda could build a super car. "What is a Japanese company that builds people movers for a living doing trying to building a mid-engined super car?" But rather than some tepid, boring, wannabe sports car, the NSX stunned the automotive world. This was a car that performed as well as, or some times better than, super cars from Europe. In fact, the NSX's performance was so stunning, that it actually made manufacturers like Ferrari and Lamborghini worry. "These guys from Japan built a car that rivals the performance of our cars, costs half the price, and starts every time!" If you own a modern European super car, you can thank Honda for the fact that your car will start most of the time.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Goodbye 2015. Hello 2016!

2015 turned out to be a much busier year for the two of us than either of us had expected. Our day jobs ended up consuming quite a bit of time, which meant there was not quite as much time to focus on test drives and the wheeled world in general. That does not mean that there were not moments in 2015 that really stood out for us when it comes to our favorite wheeled transportation methods. Here are a few moments that we truly enjoyed from 2015, some of our most popular posts, as well as a look at what to expect in 2016.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Long Term Test: 2012 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Limited post #5

Fifth update
Current mileage: 39,578

The Sonata just narrowly escaped being replaced. My in-laws, who daily drive the car, has seriously begun looking for possible replacements, spurred by one of those things that I consider an automotive pet peeve. The Sonata, like many of its competitors of the same generation, offers electric seat adjustment, but no seat memory. It seems like a minor thing, but when multiple drivers of different heights and body shapes share a single car, the driving positions can be equally dramatically different.

With manual seat adjustment, shifting between two driving positions is surprisingly easy because one can simply count the detentes in the various adjusters. That does not work quite so well with electric seats because there is an infinite range of adjustability between the two extremes. Also, it is often the case that electric seat adjusters offer substantially greater numbers it adjustments. That means tweaking the seat to fund just the right seating position to be truly comfortable can take quite a bit of finesse and patience. Without seat memory systems, it can become a hassle to relocate that exact position that was perfect. I know it sounds trivial, but as someone who has done solidly 8 hours behind the wheel without a stop, I can honestly attest to the virtues of a truly find-tuned seat position.
And so, because of this single shortcoming, the Sonata found itself on the chopping block. The car, which has been otherwise reliable and comfortable, was to be retired because the seats lacked a much desired, but not needed position. Funny how such a trivial detail can have such a major impact on a large financial decision.

Fortunately for the Sonata, its record allowed for cooler heads to prevail and it was eventually decided that a replacement was unnecessary at the moment, though I suspect this stay off execution will be short-lived. It is only a matter of time before some other reason crops up that places the Sonata's tenure in jeopardy. Such is the fickle nature of the automotive consumer these days.

* * * *

As the final article to run here on East-West Brothers Garage for 2015, we hope you have enjoyed our content from this past year and wish you a Happy New Year. For 2016, we are looking at scaling back our publication schedule to focus on the depth and quality of content and hope you will continue to offer us your feedback.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Editorial: All I want for Christmas...

It seems almost cliche to write a wish list for this time of year, but given that this is the first Christmas I am spending in my newly adopted home town of Long Beach, I thought it appropriate to share a few things that I would like to see happen in coming months. Most of this is borne of experiences since moving here in February, much of it slightly harrowing to say the least. I certainly do not expect any of this to change on its own and am working to participate in the civic process to try to help improve things, but it takes more than one person, even one organization, to really effect the kinds of change necessary to make things better.

So, all I want for Christmas is:

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Product Review: Kuat Sherpa and Torklift Central EcoHitch

As an avid cyclist, one of the biggest challenges is finding the right way to travel with my bike. When it is just me, throwing the bike in the back of the car and packing a light day bag is not an issue. However, add in my wife, her bike, her stuff, our dog, and our dog's stuff, things start to get a bit crowded pretty quick. With the Focus, there is adequate space for one person, but definitely not enough for two plus the dog, which means we needed to look for a suitable solution to carry the bikes on the outside of the bike. Having experienced a trunk mounted solution during our cross country road trip, I was not particularly keen on going that route in part because it is not the easiest to put on and take off on short notice. I knew I still did not want a roof mounted solution because of the fuel economy penalty, especially given the already limited range of the EV.

After doing some research, I decided that the best solution was going to be a hitch-mounted rack. Going that route offered all manners of platform options, which was an absolute must because of my carbon fiber bike, but presented the minor hurdle that the Focus EV is not offered with a hitch. More research and digging around on the web resulted in the discovery of a few aftermarket solutions that bolted right on, would not affect the warranty, and could be easily removed before turning the car in at the end of the lease.

A few months worth of research resulted in my decision to go with the EcoHitch from Torklift Central in combination with the Kuat Sherpa hitch mount rack.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Long Term Test: 2014 Ford Focus Electric post #3

Update #3
Current mileage: 7,523
Average MPGe: 114

A big part of EV ownership, especially of one if these first generation cars, is a need for planning ahead. Some people feel that is a huge limitation as they want the freedom to just jump in their car and drive anytime they want. I freely admit that I am still one of those people at heart, but a super busy schedule lately in conjunction with a number of personal obligations means I get to do that less and less. Add to that the fact that being in Southern California means I have the flexibility to hop on my motorcycle any time to satisfy my wanderlust and on warmer days, I can always take my bicycles out as well. Luckily for us, since my wife and I share a car, we are always planning our car use anyway, which means we are planning things out well in advance anyhow. That is not to say that we have not run into some slightly hairy situations.

Of course, our lifestyle and choice of residency location allows us to take full advantage of an EV. In the 13 months we have owned the car, we have encountered only one trip that we could not complete in the EV, and it was a longer road trip where we brought our bicycles along. Otherwise, getting around town has largely been problem free, although not totally range anxiety free. There has been one incident where we were holding our breath, hoping not to run out of juice. Luckily, we made it, if just barely. Fortunately, the public charging network in Southern California is quite good and relatively plentiful, so sometimes if a top-off is needed, it is usually possible to find a place to plug in for a bit. Some of the chargers are not in the most fun places, but that's when a good old-fashioned nap is the best choice.

During these first 13 months, the little silver hatch has already suffered some indignities to its pristine condition. Traveling anywhere away from home means things like door dings are inevitable, Aside from that, though, there was one incident that was the result of an inattentive driver rear-ending the car on the freeway in bumper-to-bumper traffic and another involving a low retaining wall. The resulting damage in both incidents was rather surprisingly pricey to fix. Fortunately, everything is fully repaired and there seem to be no ill effects resulting from the incidents.

In the meantime, the car continues to drive well and I am still regularly surprised by how dramatic a difference it is going from the EV into a regular car. The low-end torque and nearly silent travel are definitely going to be hard to give up to go back to gasoline. That and the 114 mpg equivalent.