Thursday, January 31, 2013

Preview: 2014 Acura RLX P-AWS

Recently, while test driving the ILX, the opportunity arose to see in person the 2014 Acura RLX sedan. This was a true production ready car in FWD with the P-AWS (Performance All-Wheel Steer) and the Advance package. We took the opportunity to snap a few pictures and offer our thoughts on the car.

From the East
This is a car with much greater presence than I would have anticipated. It looks significantly better in person than the press photos or even any journalist photos can really capture and should make quite the impression when driving down the road. The interior looks much better in the rich black as it hides a few oddly placed cut-lines in the dash and the materials looked to be up to the standards of the class. I am looking forward to having the opportunity to drive the car when it becomes available at the dealerships later this year.

From the West

My first look at the RLX came during the Los Angeles International Auto Show (LAIAS), where the production version of the 2014 RLX made its debut. Upon laying eyes on the car, I was immediately drawn to the new “Jewel Eye” LED light cluster on the front of the car. The entire car itself blends nicely and is pleasant on the eyes, but it doesn’t seem to stand out very well in dark colors, like the black one that was available at LAIAS. Acura’s own press photos of the car in silver seem to work make the car stand out better. Unfortunately, the Acura representatives kept the doors locked, so I could only see the interior from the outside. From what I could see though, the interior looks very nice and upscale. Now we just have to wait and find out if the new Earth Dreams 3.5 liter, 310 hp V6 is up to the task of hauling this thing around.  

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Test Drive: 2013 Cadillac ATS

Update: Click here to read our comparison of the 2013 Cadillac ATS against the 2013 BMW 328i

The Cadillac ATS is Cadillac’s newest entry into the mid-size sport sedan category, currently occupied by long time mid-size heavy hitters like the BMW 3 series and the Mercedes C class. Cadillac’s objective with the ATS is to compete primarily with the top seller of the mid-size sport sedan class, the BMW 3 series. The ATS 2.0T is Cadillac’s answer to BMW’s all-new 2.0L turbocharged inline-four powered 328i sedan, but can it dethrone the entry-luxury sales champ?

Having never driven any Cadillac products other than a current generation CTS back in 2008, we were not sure what to expect. Cadillac's repuation for being built for the geriatric crowd loomed in the back of our minds. Our test drive of the 3.6 liter CTS back in 2008 did not help break the stereotype with its dull feeling, mushy handling, and overall dry and boring demeanor. Sure, the car looked pretty nice from the outside (we are suckers for the Art and Science design philosophy), but if that is all Cadillac has to offer, they were going to struggle to meet their goals. With the ATS, Cadillac wants to bring in a new demographic to their show rooms: the young professional. Can it draw in a younger crowd and help make Cadillac truly competitive in one of the most crowded classes in the automotive world?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Editorial: Lane-splitting should be legalized in the US

In 2011, we looked at the subject of lane-splitting when a motorcyclist was rear-ended by an inattentive motorist at an intersection and had the good fortune to capture the entire situation on his helmet cam (see that post here).

More recently, the guys at RideApart assembled another video discussing the merits of lane-splitting and trying to make the case for why lane-splitting and filtering are good concepts that should be legalized in more places in the US.

My take on lane-splitting is that if it is done right and properly regulated (that means people filtering up to the front in stopped traffic and only traveling between cars during heavy congestion and at no more than a 10-15 mph speed differential), it is a benefit to all motorists and would encourage more people to take advantage of a less congestion inducing mode of transportation. It seems that the biggest hurdle to this happening appears to be drivers who feel slighted by the possibility of motorcyclists getting to move in front of them. While that entire argument seems silly to me, I ride and have done lane-splitting before in California. It seems that with proper education on all sides, the potential benefits greatly outweigh the potential costs.

Why would you support or denounce the idea of lane-splitting and do you have a specific experience to support your point of view?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Test Drive: 2013 Acura ILX 2.4L 6MT

The ILX is Acura’s attempt at moving further down-market, offering a car that will, in theory, appeal to a younger, upwardly mobile, audience that is looking to get their first taste of luxury as a part of their increasingly affluent lifestyle. Acura calls this, “Moving up without settling down.” Based on the ninth generation Honda Civic’s chassis, the ILX does not actually share much with its Honda sibling, save for the 2.4 liter inline-4 sourced from the Honda Civic Si, as well as the 1.5 liter hybrid powertrain sourced from the Civic Hybrid. But is the ILX a compelling enough entry level luxury sedanto be able to convince potential buyers to choose the Acura brand over such competitors as the Audi A3 and even Honda’s own Civic Si?

The ILX presents and aggressive and handsome fascia
The Good
The version we drove is the ILX 2.4 Premium, which comes with a 2.4L inline-4 mated to a 6-speed manual transmission that is exclusive to this trim level. Since the Premium package is the only available package on the 2.4 model, standard equipment is quite generous. Items like keyless entry with push button start, multi-angle rear view camera, heated leather seating surface for the front seats, xenon HID head lamps, and a whole plethora of tech goodies all come standard on this car. And for about $29,000, it seems like a pretty good deal. This is the same 201 hp, 170 lb./ft. 2.4 liter from the ninth generation Honda Civic Si as well as the ILX’s big brother, the TSX. The extra torque in the lower reaches of the tach really does help with daily driving and the extra mid-range punch makes passing less of a chore compared to some of the older, high revving Honda motors. In fact, we feel this motor is well-suited to the ILX as its intended audience will want a car that is easy to drive, but will provide power when needed.

From the rear, the resemblance to the Lexus IS is uncanny
One of the ILX’s best features is that wonderful 6-speed manual transmission. With a snick-snick motion reminiscent of a rifle bolt sliding into place and matched to a well-balanced clutch, this transmission is an absolute masterpiece, making the experience of rowing your own gears ever more enjoyable. The fact that this excellent example of the manual transmission will only account for a miniscule fraction of ILX sales is a travesty, but it guarantees that those who select this trim option will see them command a slight premium on the used-car market due to their rarity. Now if they would only include the limited-slip differential that comes standard on the Civic Si, the drive train would be one of the best combinations on the market.

The ILX chassis soaks up bumps surprisingly well and tracks quite well, exhibiting ride that is noticeably stiffer than the TSX. Steering feel is roughly the same as the Civic Si, though I find the steering to be a little more boosted than in the Si, resulting in a slightly artificial sensation when turning quickly. Brakes provide strong feedback, but just average performance, a characteristic that shows itself in nearly every other Honda/Acura product we have driven (with the exceptions of the TL Type S and the S2000).

The center console is clean, simple, and attractive
On the outside, the ILX bears a resemblance to the outgoing Lexus IS from the rear, but is all Acura up front and carries what may be one of the best executed versions of the Acura “power plenum” grille. It is clearly different enough from its Civic sibling that the average person would never know that beneath the skin of the ILX lays the same foundation as the lowly Honda Civic. The premium package’s 17” alloy wheels fill out the wheel wells nicely and the overall stance of the car is surprisingly aggressive.

The interior is nicely appointed with nice quality leather and soft touch plastics in all the right places. The center stack is actually fairly clean and organized compared to some of Acura’s previous offerings. The iMID display is nice and useful, but still feels about one-generation behind the competition in both size and function.

The Bad
Unfortunately, for $29,000, the ILX comes up a bit short on value. Since the Premium package is the only package available for the 2.4 liter model, you will never be able to get the high-end, ELS sound system or the hard drive-based navigation system. Also, if you have no clue how to drive a manual transmission (you should probably learn!), you're out of luck as the larger 2.4L motor, as mentioned earlier, only comes as with the excellent manual transmission. Can't drive a stick? Then you are stuck with the incredibly anemic 2.0L, or the wheezy 1.5L hybrid. Acura promised that once the Earth Dreams series engines were ready, they would go straight into the ILX, and frankly, they cannot get here soon enough.

The interior is typical Acura and feels right for the class
Handling, while decent, is nothing special. For the trim that is being marketed as the “performance” version of the ILX, one would expect it to demonstrate handling characteristics that at least better the base model and hybrid siblings. Sadly, that is not the case as the ILX has the same suspension tuning all around, regardless of trim or engine size. This is not to say the car handles poorly, but an opportunity to provide a truly engaging driving experience was squandered here.

To be completely honest, the ILX is a car we want to like. We really wanted to like it enough to take it home to complement an S2000 as a daily driver. In the end, there are just too many small shortcomings to the ILX, many the result of Honda's marketing decisions about this car. When test driving the car, we could not help but wonder, “what would convince someone to spend an extra $5000 over a fully loaded Civic Si to get the ILX?” The Acura badge alone does not carry the brand cachet to drive those extra sales. By the end of our test drive, we still could not answer that question. The ILX 2.4, for all intents and purposes, is a dolled up Civic Si, but without the optional navigation system and limited slip differential. Hopefully, once Acura starts including the different variations of the K24W Earth Dreams engine from the 2013 Honda Accord, the ILX will be a more compelling vehicle. And if we hear another Acura salesman tell us that the ILX is better than the Civic Si “because it's an Acura,”we might just punch that salesman in the face.

View from the East
As I currently own the TSX, it was natural for me to make the comparison between the ILX and my daily driver. I found the steering shockingly light, comparatively, but there are genuinely a lot of things to like about the ILX and I think there is a market out there for this car. If they can fix a few things, especially as a true sport model, they would be able to rekindle some of the lost magic from the days of the Integra. Right now, the ILX feels just a tad flabby in certain places and is, in my opinion, not nearly as good a driver's car as the TSX. Acura, please do something to make this car better; make it the awesome entry-level sport sedan that it has the potential to be and would make it a serious contender in the marketplace.

View from the West

To be completely honest, the ILX is a car I want to like. I really wanted to like it and take it home to supplement my S2000 as a daily driver. It is hard not to compare this car to the new Civic Si, which with the recent redesign, is a much more attractive option than in prior years. I just am not seeing what the extra $5,000 you spend on the ILX buys in terms of standard equipment, technology, or even driving enjoyment. Acura seems to have realized that the 2.0L version of this car is downright anemic and should be adding the new Earth Dreams engines to the line-up soon and will likely be making the automatic transmission available with the 2.4L as well. Perhaps that will be enough for the average driver, but for me, it just is not enough.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

News Discussion: British Journalist Mark Hales Ordered to Pay $174,000 After Engine of Porsche 917 Race Car Blows Up

I spotted this article earlier today and thought it would be something interesting to share and discuss.

The story goes like this: British automotive journalist Mark Hales was given the opportunity to drive a replica of a rare, Porsche 917 race car on a British circuit back in April of 2009 for a piece comparing a classic Ferrari or the same era. The owner of the Porsche, retired race car driver and collector David Piper, agreed to lend the car to Mark Hales to drive and do a photo shoot. Hales, who apparently is not a racing amateur, took the car out, only to have the engine blow up on him during the track session when the he attempted to shift the gar from second to third gear. Rather than ensuring Hales that everything would be taken care of and that "shit happens," Piper chose to sue Hales in the amount of £111,000 ($174,000), £48,000 ($74,000) of which is for the damage to car, and the other £63,000 ($100,000) for legal fees.

Both parties agree that the engine failure was caused by over revving the engine, but Hales argued that the engine over revved because the car had popped out of gear. Hales points out to the British High Court that he had been having problems with the 917 all day. When he attempted to shift from second to third gear, the transmission popped out of place, causing the engine to over rev. Prior to the track session, Hales said he had a conversation with Piper, agreeing that he would be responsible if he crashed the car, but that Piper would be responsible for any mechanical damage. "It was a gentleman's agreement and I didn't write it down," claims Hales.

Piper, on the other hand, argues that he had instructed Hales to keep the car under 7,000 rpm, and that he had no conversation with Hales regarding his responsibility for mechanical damages prior to the track session. In the end, the court sided with Piper, claiming that it was Hales' driving, not the car, that caused the engine failure.

Unfortunately for Mark Hales, the cost of legal fees has forced him to sell his possessions in order to pay his lawyers. Hales also mentions that if the court upholds its ruling, he will have to file for bankruptcy. Luckily for Hales though, kind hearted British auto enthusiasts have set up a fund to help Hales pay off the £111,000.

So my question, dear readers, is this: do you think the court's ruling is just? Was Mark Hales' driving at fault for causing the engine failure, or was the age of the car the problem?

Link to original article:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Test Drive: 2013 Honda Accord Sedan Sport 6MT

Update: See how the Honda Accord did in our 2013 Mid-Size Family Sedan Comparison.

The 2013 Honda Accord marks the beginning of a perennial 10-Best winner’s ninth generation. Anytime an entirely redesigned Accord hits the market, it begs the question, “Is it as good as the previous generation; or better even better?” To find out, we looked at the Accord Sedan in Sport trim with the 6-speed manual transmission. This is an entirely new trim added to the Accord line up and slots in between the LX and EX models, adding a few items and tweaks to the LX, heavily focused around injecting a dose of sport to what would otherwise be just another mid-size family sedan.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Editorial: Courtesy, road rage, and driving in Massachusetts

Since relocating to Massachusetts last year, I have reduced the amount that I drive by over 50%, going from just over 800 miles a month to just under 400 miles a month. Yet, despite my reduction in miles driven, I have continued to encounter the same amount of poor, and oftentimes downright dangerous driving, that I did before when living in the DC area. While some of this trend can be attributed to the poorly maintained and often confusing roads in the area that I currently reside, a lot of it has to do with a general lack of courtesy among drivers in the greater Boston area.

One of the most recent examples that I encountered took place a matter of days ago at an intersection of two major arteries in the area controlled by a rather confusing array of traffic lights. Approaching the intersection from one of the roads that has two lanes, with a portion of the right lane splitting off into an island-divided right turn lane, I was able to catch an opening and accelerate briskly into the now empty right hand lane as the light was green and cross the intersection. However, as I approached the other side of this intersection, an SUV that had previously been in the left lane made a sudden, and un-signaled, change into the right lane that I was about to occupy, merely a few feet from the nose of my car. To avoid a crash, I promptly applied near full-force to the brakes, hit the horn, and dove for the now empty left-hand lane.

While the incident itself was enough to get me upset already, what happened next truly sent me into a rage. The driver of the SUV pulled up alongside and proceeded to yell at me, level a false accusation of running a red-light, and threaten to call the police to report the incident. Not only had this arrogant, and clearly clueless, individual nearly caused an accident, but was now making an effort to threaten me for the mistake that he clearly made. This set me off and I laid into him, reminding him just how dangerous his little maneuver actually was and sprinkling my tirade with choice swear words to emphasize just how pissed off his actions had made me. However, rather than having the intended effect, this moron then attempted to play the victim and used his family as a human shield to dodge my offensive of words. It was at this point that I realized I was dealing with a totally self-absorbed and entitled idiot, promptly rolled up my window and proceeded along.

But this incident illustrates one of my biggest pet peeves about driving in the US - the lack of accountability of American drivers. The fact that a man with a car filled with his family, including small children, would perform such a foolish maneuver and then proceed to get insane about it seems indicate that we as Americans have a responsibility to change our attitudes towards each other while behind the wheel. The entire situation could have been diffused had the irresponsible driver simply acknowledged the lapse in judgement, apologized for the mistake, and driven off. Instead, he put his family in even greater danger by approaching me and launching into his indignant, and completely fabricated, defense of his actions.
This is what leads to road rage and to people getting injured for no good reason except to defend their own stupidity.

A few days later, I pulled into the parking lot of a local shopping center and was still in the car, finishing a conference call for work when the driver of yet another SUV pulls into the vacant space next to me, performs a sub-par parking job, and proceeds to ding my door twice and starts to walk away. As I was sitting there watching this happen, I honked at him and gave him the "what the hell?" look to indicate my displeasure at what he had just done. This causes him to suddenly get defensive and he starts yelling about how he did not do anything, did not hit my car, blah blah blah, then walks off to the store. As I was still on the phone, I could not exactly chase after him.

5-minutes later, now finished with my call, I exit my car and proceed to the passenger side to inspect the damage. Two small chips in the paint on my door with clear red paint from his car clearly visible on the edges of the chips. I step behind our vehicles and confirm the miserable parking job, then step into the middle of the aisle, prepared to document the situation with my phone when a police offer happens to walk past me. I stop the officer, explain to him what I was doing and the situation that prompted me to do this. As I am chatting with the officer, the driver of the offending vehicle returns from the store and sees me standing there with the officer chatting.

All of a sudden, the driver's tone goes from dismissive to conciliatory. Now he says he is sorry for the incident, but insists no damage was done. I promptly walk him over and point out the two chips in my door with red paint in them to prove my point. He promptly apologizes and offers up a myriad of excuses for the benefit of the police officer who was standing there with a rather amused expression on his face. The officer kindly points out the rather crap-tastic parking job and the guy sheepishly admits that it was pretty bad. I kindly ask the driver to please be more careful in the future and we all part ways.

This is yet another incident where a little bit of common courtesy would have smoothed the entire situation over much more quickly. Instead of being dismissive and argumentative, had the driver simply demonstrated contrition and apologized, then I would have written off the situation and let it be. I understand that door dings happen. But because he was a jerk about it, I could not help but capitalize on the opportunity to waste some more of his precious time, keeping him there for an extra 5 or so minutes. If he was genuinely in a rush, he would have saved himself time re-parking his vehicle, exiting it without hitting my door, and still would have been able to leave faster.

My only point with these two stories is to point out that we, as a society, should hold ourselves to a higher standard of courtesy behind the wheel. So many of the inane and problematic situations we find ourselves in are the result of an unwillingness to take responsibility and to demonstrate contrition and courtesy to our fellow drivers. By making a change to how we think about things behind the wheel, we can avoid so much confrontation and collectively lower our blood pressure when driving, making everyone's collective experiences so much more pleasant.

What do you say folks? Let's try a little courtesy for a change.