Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Celebrate National Bike Month with us!

It is May again and, for many cyclists who do not live where it is warm year-round, it is the start of the cycling season. May is also National Bike Month and an opportunity to celebrate everything that cycling brings into our lives and community. Last year, for National Bike Month, we looked at a number of bike friendly wagons as a way of bridging the cycling and automotive worlds. This year, we want to focus on more cycling specific content so beginning next week we will be taking a look back at some of our two-wheeled, pedal powered adventures and adding some new adventures along the way.

Since returning to Southern California, cycling has grown to be an even bigger part of my life, becoming my primary mode of transit around town. With most days being warm and sunny, there are few excuses for not taking the bicycle instead of the car. As a show of my commitment, I have decided to set a goal to ride 2,000 miles this year on my bikes. Progress will be tracked via Strava, using my phone and my Galaxy Gear Live. The distance is about four to five times what I have ridden in past years, but that was living in places where I was not necessarily able to ride year-round. Since the tracking did not start until this April, I will have to ride an average of 50 miles a week to make the goal. I will post regular updates here on East-West Brothers Garage and you can always follow me on Strava to help me stay on track and motivated.

Hope all my fellow cyclists have a wonderful May and we wish everyone a great National Bike Month.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Editorial: These Auto Manufacturers Wants to Make It Illegal to Work On Your Car

Image courtesy of Eric Peters Autos
For most gear heads, one of the best parts about owning an automobile is the satisfaction you get from working on it with your own two hands. Whether it is doing something as simple as changing the oil, or something far more complicated like an engine swap, nothing beats the feeling you get once you have completed working on a project on your car. As cars get more and more advanced technologies though, working on them has proven increasingly difficult. More and more, cars are controlled by complex networks of computers, managing every aspect of the vehicle including how the engine performs. Even the level of sophistication continues to increase for even the most amateur of mechanics, it does not mean gear heads cannot learn to adapt and find ways to modify the car's computer.

Image courtesy of  Tricks Guide
Unfortunately, there is a group of auto manufacturers that do not want gear heads to be able to work on their own vehicles anymore, and to make tampering or modifying your vehicle a punishable offense. How do they plan to do this? Because cars are so computer dependent now, this group of manufacturers want to declare modern cars as "mobile computing devices." So these manufacturers want to basically call cars rolling computers, but how does that prevent us gear heads from working on our own cars? By using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA for short. Sounds insane, right? This group of manufacturers wants to declare modifying a car's computer software or anything that could have an effect on the car's computer a violation of the DMCA. I understand that there are safety issues involved in working on a car, but as the owner of the vehicle, should not that be owner's problem to worry about?

It gets worse though.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Test Drive: 2015 Acura TLX 2.4 Tech

MSRP: $31,445
As tested price: $36,420

It has been exactly eight months since we last looked at Acura's TLX, the replacement for both the TL and TSX sedans. In our first review, we looked at the base model equipped with the 2.4 liter "Earth Dreams" inline-four. We probably could have just mostly ignored the driving experience and focused on the additional tech goodies this Tech Package equipped model we are looking at now has, but that would not be much of a review, now would it?

In order to fill the void left by the TSX and TL, Acura, for the first time ever, chose to make two engines available in the TLX: a direct injected 2.4 liter inline-four, and a direct injected 3.5 liter V6 with active cylinder management. What we have here is the TLX equipped with the 2.4 liter engine and the tech package, which includes such additional items like navigation, a premium radio system, premium leather, and a host of additional safety features. Acura's goal with the TLX was to make a car that could, once again, truly compete with mid-size luxury heavy weights BMW and Mercedes Benz. Have they succeeded in building a proper successor to the much loved third-generation Acura TL?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Test Drive: 2015 Audi A4 2.0T FWD Multitronic

MSRP: $35,500
As tested price: $39,900

My experience with the Audi A4 in the past has been relatively positive. Thanks to the car rental company, Silvercar, I have gotten to spend extended time with the A4. However, all of the A4s in Silvercar's fleet are equipped with Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive system. Seeing as how every other mid-size luxury car we have tested thus far have been two wheel drive, it would seem unfair to find a Quattro equipped A4. Besides, testing a front-wheel drive model will help not with just the car's fuel economy, but with its price as the A4 is not exactly the most cost efficient mid-size luxury car.

And thus we run into a problem. Either Audi sells a ton of front-drive only cars, leaving only Quattro models in their inventory, or people only want Quattro cars, thus forcing Audi dealers to minimize the number of front-drive cars in their inventory. The Audi dealer we selected to visit was one of the largest in Southern California, yet they did not have a front-wheel drive A4 equipped as we were expecting. Instead, we had to settle for something close, which did mean the car was missing a few key pieces of equipment we were hoping it would have. Lack of equipment notwithstanding, would the front-wheel drive A4 drive as well as its all-wheel drive counterpart?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Long Term Test: 2014 Acura MDX FWD Tech post #3

Update #3
Current mileage: 8,374

The MDX continues to serve us well as the beast of burden. Our family vacation to the Monterey Peninsula in Northern California had five of us in the MDX for an extended drive of over five and a half hours, but we arrived in total comfort with a weekend's worth of luggage in tow. However, despite the long stretches on open highway, the MDX's fuel economy continues to disappoint, averaging a rather paltry 24 mpg over the course of the 330 mile drive that took place largely on flat, open, non traffic-congested roads. Admittedly, our average speeds were frequently around 70 mph and the added weight of five adult passengers plus their luggage are likely contributors to that low number. Of course, the massive fuel tank meant we did not have to fill up again until well into the return leg of that trip, although we probably could have done the entire trip on a single tank of fuel.

Unlike our several previous MDXs, this latest one is not fitted with AWD, which might have been a reasonable excuse for the reduced fuel economy. We opted for the FWD version specifically because there is little need for the extra weight and fuel economy penalty of an AWD system here in sunny Southern California and because the extra performance benefits would hardly be appreciated given that this car is basically a daily driver. Still, while it feels relatively spry for such a large vehicle, there is a torpidity to the way the car responds to changes in direction that was not present in the SH-AWD equipped predecessors. And without any kind of mechanical wizardry to try to make the big beast turn better, it simply lumbers through corners, squealing its tires in protest if pushed even a little outside its comfort zone. This behavior exhibited itself in droves when we pressed the MDX with any fervor through the famed 17-Mile Drive, a series of windy coastal roads lined by enormous homes with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.

Of course, a two-ton SUV should not be expected to handle like a sports car. As a daily driver, the MDX is absolutely fantastic, delivering a comfortable ride with safe and familiar car-like handling characteristics. Even the much maligned infotainment setup, which I discussed in detail in our recent RLX long-term update, is simple enough to operate on a daily basis without any real frustration. If you want a vehicle that can seat seven passengers in relative comfort but do not want the stigma of driving a minivan, but do not mind the glances of scorn for being in an SUV, the MDX stands out at the top of the heap of available choices.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Test Drive: 2015 Lexus IS250

MSRP: $36,550
As test price: $42,638

The first two generations of the Lexus IS were, at least to me, not exactly terrific cars. If I had to pick between the first and second generation IS, I would take a first generation Lexus IS300 with the five-speed manual. Why? Because inside its tiny body was the 3.0 liter, naturally aspirated inline-six from a Toyota Supra. Performance notwithstanding, the rest of the car was just merely adequate with an incredibly cramped interior. The second generation Lexus IS never really showed up on my radar as the interior space issue was never really fixed and it was quite boring to drive, aside from the insane IS-F.

Lexus clearly wants to make sure that the third generation of the IS more fun to drive as the first generation, but actually has enough interior space and new technology to compete with the rest of the mid-size luxury class. East Brother has already driven a version of the current IS, but I had yet to, so a proper test of this new 2015 model was in order. What I was really hoping to get out of this test drive was to help shed the image that the Lexus IS is this cramped, tiny vehicle that was only fun to drive because it shared a power plant with the Toyota Supra. Let's see if that happened.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Test Drive: 2015 Mercedes Benz C300

MSRP: $38,400
As tested price: $44,905

The Mercedes Benz C-Class is currently the second best selling mid-sized luxury vehicle, behind only the BMW 3-series sedan and 4-series coupe. But just because you are in the top three selling cars in a particular category, does it automatically mean your car is good? Both East Brother and I have driven various forms of the previous generation C-Class sedan, and with the exception of the C63 AMG, all have been pretty unremarkable. 2015 marks a completely new redesign of the C-Class with an new exterior and interior design, new engines, and lots of new tech. Can this all new model make a serious impression on me, unlike the forgettable previous generation?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Event: 2015 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

2015 marks the first year that East Brother and I were able to attend the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. It is an event that we have both been trying to find the opportunity to go in person to for a number of years now. With East Brother's return to California and a concerted effort to free up the Sunday in both of our schedules, we finally made it to the Grand Prix on April 19th, which also just so happens to be the main event: the Long Beach Grand Prix Indy Car race.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Long Beach Grand Prix, it is sort of like the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix in that the race is basically constructed using public roadways everyone drives [Editor's note: And rides bicycles on!] on every day. Every year, for a few days in April, the City of Long Beach closes down the roads near Shoreline Village to facilitate the transformation of city streets into a race track and brings in the spectacle that is an Indy Car race to the city that houses one of the largest ports in North America.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Test Drive: 2015.5 Volvo S60 T5 Drive-E

 MSRP: $39,600
 As tested price: $41,270

A few months ago, East Brother and I attended the "Rusnak Driver's Challenge" held by the Rusnak Auto Group. Out of all the cars there, we had the most fun driving the Volvo S60 R-design. To me, this meant that Volvo is indeed capable of building cars that are more than just safe and conservative. The S60 R-design was an absolute hoot to drive! It did get me thinking about the rest of the S60 line-up though. If the S60 R-design was so much fun, then the more basic models should not be too bad either, right? I decided to head into the local Volvo dealer to find out if my theory was correct.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Test Drive: 2015 Cadillac ATS 2.5

MSRP: $33,215
As Tested Price: $41,200

Avid readers of our blog will remember that the Cadillac ATS is another vehicle that we have test driven in the past. That one was equipped with Cadillac's then all-new 2.0 liter turbocharged inline-four cylinder engine. This time around though, we wanted to find out how well the ATS' base engine, a 2.5 liter naturally aspirated inline-four would perform in this car. During our first time around, both East Brother and I thought that the ATS was a decent vehicle that needed some polish before we felt it could really compete in the mid-sized luxury big leagues. With three model years under its belt, has Cadillac managed to finesse the ATS enough for it to go head-to-head with the likes of mid-sized players from BMW and Mercedes Benz?