Sunday, March 31, 2013

Long Term Test: 2007 Honda S2000 post #1

Update: Click here to read post #2

First Update
Current Miles: 58,885

Back in May of 2010, I purchased a used 2007 Honda S2000 in Laguna Blue Pearl. The S2000 had always been sort of a dream car for me, and I had vowed to some day own one, even if I had to buy it used. After graduating from college and finishing an internship in Taiwan, I had returned home and begun working, saving every last penny I could on a down payment for an S2000. When I had finally saved up enough money, the hunt for my S2000 began, and led me to this blue beauty you see here. I went to Santa Monica Honda in Santa Monica, CA to look at the car and there was a Berlina Black of the same year was also being sold. Both cars had roughly the same amount of miles and were selling for the same price. While I like the Berlina Black, the Laguna Blue simply called out to me. I also did not want the responsibility of taking care of a black car, especially after hearing various horror stories about it. One week later, I came back to sign the papers for the car that I currently still drive.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Test Drive: 2013 Nissan Altima S CVT

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

Less than a decade ago, Nissan got a second chance at life. After spending much of the 1990's struggling with some completely mediocre products, French manufacturer Renault swooped in and completely restructured the ailing Japanses automaker. Carlos Ghosn, who became Chariman and CEO, orchestrated a massive turnaround that not only saved Nissan from going the way of the dodo, but actually produced a number of major commercial successes in the form of a reinvigorated Nissan Fairlady Z and a completely revised Infiniti luxury brand.

However, over a decade after the near-death experience, it appears that Nissan has once again resumed some less than healthy habits. The time spent with the 2013 Nissan Altima S summoned up the familiar bile of mediocrity that nearly ruined Nissan before the alliance with Renault. This entry into what is easily one of the most crowded, though important, segments of the automotive marketplace should be a product that Nissan can be proud of, especially as it is likely to represent a large portion of Nissan sales in any given year going forward. Yet, if this is the kind of product that Nissan wants to put forward as being representative of the brand, then perhaps we should pull the plug now and spare ourselves further agony.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Test Drive: 2013 Kia Optima LX 6AT

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

Kia has seen quite the resurgence in the last few years, having been infused by parent company Hyundai with a dose of style, quality, and engineering. No longer is Kia a brand full of terrible cars, that people bought because they were just cheap transportation. Instead, people are now buying Kia's because they are actually legitimately good cars, that are still relatively inexpensive. Of course, the specter of Kias of yesteryear continues to haunt Kia, with many people still concerned about reliability despite having one of the best warranties in the business. But as Kia has established its beachhead with cars like the Soul, pitched to us with the help of hip hop hamsters, one area that will ultimately decide whether or not Kia will be accepted as a serious brand by the masses is in the mid-size family sedan class.

The 2013 Kia Optima, which shares its platform, motor, and many parts with the well reviewed latest iteration of the Hyundai Sonata, is Kia's entry into the class. The swoopy sedan, designed by someone who previously worked at Audi (ok, actually he used to head up design at Audi) is the best looking Kia Optima ever and has already given itself a leg up against the competition by being one of the most daring designs in this class of rather pedestrian looking boxes. Can this handsome new-comer really take on and take down some of the highly decorated veterans such as the best selling, and recently redesigned, Honda Accord?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Editorial: The car buying experience in the internet age

Buying a car is still one of the most painful experiences that a person has to experience. While most other things can now be purchased online and delivered to your door, to buy a car, one still must go down to a dealership and deal with a salesperson. Even in this day an age, where the Internet has become so ubiquitous that nearly every one of us has access to it from a device we carry around all day-every day, there is no way to truly simplify the car buying experience for the consumer. Sure, some brands have gone to so called "no-haggle" pricing, but even in those instances, there are options and dealer extras to hash out with the finance manager as you are signing the paperwork. But at the end of the day, many of us put up with this because we want to feel like we got the best deal we could and the satisfaction of knowing that we did not get taken for a ride.

Yet, as painful as car buying is for consumers, it is equally painful for the sales people.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Test Ride: 2011 Kawasaki Ninja 1000

Kawasaki has a long history of producing excellent race replica motorcycles, sport touring motorcycles, and commuting motorcycles, but in recent history, they have not had a single motorcycle that could fit the bill in all of those categories. That is, until 2011, when Kawasaki introduced the Ninja 1000 (sold as the Kawasaki Z1000SX in other markets). This bike, based off the hooligan favorite Z1000 super-naked, shares the same powerful inline-4 cylinder motor, excellent ergos, and strong suspension, but adds a full fairing for improved wind protection. I had the opportunity to take an extended demo ride of the Ninja 1000 through a variety of different roads and see for myself the amazing work that Kawasaki did to make this one of the best all-around motorcycles one can buy.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Test Drive: 2013 BMW 328i vs 2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0L

Cadillac came out swinging this time. Their new ATS sedan is aimed squarely at the venerable BMW 3-Series with dimensions that are nearly identical, a drivetrain that is nearly identical in specs, and interior volume measurements so close, you would think they were the same car inside. But can the the new guy really take on the reigning champ? Heck, can the new guy even land a solid enough blow to leave a mark? We have done individual reviews of the ATS and 328i, but we wanted to take a closer look at how these two remarkable cars stack up against each other. When we drove them, we had the chance to actually drive them back to back and get very direct comparisons between them.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Video: St. Patrick's Day Ride Highlights

So far, New England has proven chilly this year with a very limited number of days that are suitable for riding. Getting a little stir crazy, I decided that it would be fun to head down to Wood Hole, MA to the Pie in the Sky Bakery for some breakfast. Setting out in the morning, the air temps had barely crested 30 degrees, making for a rather brisk ride when factoring in the wind chill. I opted to keep things dialed back given the low temps and the amount of sand and gravel still left on the roads, but it was still a good day to be out riding.

Watch a selection of highlights from the ride after the jump.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Editorial: Can New Safety Technologies Make Lousy Drivers?

(Image courtesy of Audi and NY Daily News)
Walk into any car dealership today, and you will find at least one vehicle with a plethora of new "safety" technologies, aimed at making the car "safer" and "easier" to drive. New technologies such as lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, radar guided cruise control, and automated parking assist are implemented into new vehicles to take many of the stresses of driving off the driver. Many of these new technologies have become so advanced that auto makers are applying these technologies to cars that will drive themselves. The intention is that the technological marvels would make driving safer, less stressful, and even more "enjoyable." For me though, all these new technologies are a recipe for creating terrible drivers.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

News: Consumer Reports and the fuel economy of small turbocharged engines

Last month, Consumer Reports released a scathing piece on how small turbo-charged engines are not living up to their claimed fuel economy numbers. Many manufacturers have turned to the smaller displacement engines and bolting on the compressors in an effort to offer 6-cylinder levels of performance with 4-cylinder levels of fuel economy. The recent jump in the number of turbo-charged options has been a great boon for automotive enthusiasts offering great claimed horsepower numbers in conjunction with shockingly good claimed fuel economy.  However, the big caveat here is that we can only fiddle with the physics so much and the narrowly defined band of efficiency is difficult to maintain in even the most ideal driving conditions.

Internal combustion motors work by converting the energy of burning a mixture of fuel and and air into motion. Add more air to the equation and you will absolutely need to add more fuel in order to maintain the optimal air-fuel ratio to get the best burn. Add in the fact that most turbo-charged motors require either a lower compression ratio, thus reducing power output when no boost is being applied, or direct injection in order to offer higher compression ratios, the number of variables to control goes up quite a bit. It should come as no surprise that there is going to be some sacrifice in efficiency if we are relying on the boost to help generate the higher performance numbers. Mix in the American tendency to get heavy on the throttle and the general lack of discipline in traffic conditions and the fact that these cars are not living up to their claims in real world driving conditions.

Nonetheless, even if this is not the best answer to our desires for the combination of power and efficiency, it is a starting point and offers a place from which we can learn how to further improve our efforts. If you have one of the cars on the list that Consumer Reports tested, please share with us your experience.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Test Drive: 2nd Look at the 2013 Acura ILX

A couple of months ago, we test drove the 2.4L version of the Acura ILX. Fitted with a 6-speed manual transmission, that car offered an odd blend of decent power with mediocre steering feel and a middle of the road suspension that had us questioning whether or not it was worth the money over the latest Honda Civic Si. More recently, we had the opportunity to spend some time with its 2.0L-powered sibling for an extended test drive and we wanted to briefly revisit our thoughts on the ILX.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

News: Woman ticketed in Maryland for going 2 MPH under the speed limit

The title is a little misleading, but a woman in Maryland was ticketed for going 63 MPH in a 65 MPH zone due to the fact that she was driving under the speed limit in the leftmost lane of a freeway. Her reasoning at the time was that it was windy and she was taking extra precautions and driving carefully. However, her  actions may have actually posed a greater danger to drivers around her as they are forced to have to treat her as a rolling chicane and go around her. What she should have done was to keep moving right until she was in a flow of traffic that matched her desired speed or was in the right-most lane.

Most states have laws requiring drivers to stay right unless passing or designate the left-most lane as a passing lane. However, it seems that most American drivers completely lack the lane discipline to follow these rules or simply are ignorant of their existence and it is nice to see them enforced every once in a while. I agree with the actions of the ticketing officer and hope that most people have the sense of mind to see how forcing other drivers to go around a slower-moving object is more dangerous than if that slower-moving were not there in the first place. When I drive on any divided highway, I make an extra conscious effort to monitor my mirrors and to move over at the first safe opportunity when the traffic behind me is moving faster than I am. To me, it just makes sense to get out of the way.

Tell us what you think about this situation and if you exercise good lane discipline while driving.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Video: First ride of 2013

After putting my motorcycle away in December of 2012, a confluence of a busy work schedule and crap-tacular weather in the Boston area has kept me from riding in 2013. However, when an opening finally presented itself in early March, I jumped at the chance, took the battery off the tender, geared up, and headed onto a few local roads to work the cobwebs out of my brain and do a quick check-up on the bike to make sure everything was working correctly.

See a brief clip after the jump.

Test Drive: 2012 Chrysler 300

The Chrysler 300 has always inspired mixed feelings from me. When it was first introduced, the pill-box shape and slightly retro-charm of the overall profile felt sort of cool and unique, while the re-introduction of a Hemi branded motor inspired thoughts of tire-smoking hilarity. However, the garbage interior combined with the sheer number of rappers and posers driving around in the things sporting the fake chrome Bently style grilles and ginormous blingy wheels quickly quashed any desire to be seen within 10-feet of one. Yet, post acquisition by Fiat, the revised Chrylser 300 has managed to somehow shake off its reputation and has been subtly re-imagined as a proper gentleman's sedan. The changes throughout the car, inside and out, offer an opportunity for this once maligned bling-mobile to shed the image and once again enter the ranks of respectable businessman's sedans.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Editorial: Rental cars and the improving automotive industry

My job involves quite a bit of travel, resulting in my spending a fair amount of quality time with a wide variety of rental cars. In many ways, I always felt that the rental car industry is a pretty good indicator of the state of the entire automotive industry in the United States - as the automotive industry improves quality standards across the board, the change would be reflected in the rental cars that are available to the public. In recent years, I had begun come to terms that rentals cars had demonstrated a remarkable improvement with even the poorest quality cars showing a marked increase in drivability, material quality, and overall feel.

Image courtesy of
Then, a few weeks ago, I picked up a rental car at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky airport that left me a bit dumbfounded. The car in question was a 2012 Nissan Sentra in about as base a trim level as was possible. I have driven a number of competitors to the Sentra in recent years and nearly every one of them has been a relatively pleasant experience, feeling well sorted if price appropriate. Nissan, however, clearly did not get the memo. I simply have not had such a miserable experience in a rental car in a very long time; so long that I had completely forgotten just how bad a crappy car can be.

Friday, March 8, 2013

News: Near collision between motorcycle and SUV on GMR caught on film

This is probably one of the more absurd things that I have seen this week. A near collision between a motorcyclist and a couple of high school kids in a purple Toyota FJ cruiser was caught on film by both vehicles involved. Not sure what the kids in the SUV were thinking, but crossing a double-yellow on a blind corner is just not acceptable behavior. A further justification for why we need better driver education curriculum in this country? Watch both videos after the jump and judge for yourself.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Test Ride: 2011 Ducati Diavel

Cruisers are not for me. They are loud, crude, soft, and silly. Nearly everything a cruiser does can be done better with another kind of bike, except for hanging out with the cruiser crowd. To me, a cruiser is all about the image of riding and much less the thrill. So imagine my shock when Ducati announced in 2010 that it was going to be introducing a bike with the styling of a cruiser, but the performance of a sport bike. Everything about this bike seemed downright heretical to both cruisers and sport bikes. Color me intrigued. Luckily for me, Ducati was kind enough to offer several demo days specifically to introduce the Diavel, so I suited up, fired up my bike, and rode out to see what all the fuss was about.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Test Drive: 2013 BMW 328i M Sport Line 6MT

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

This is supposed to be the best generation the BMW 3 Series. Promises were made to the buying public that the challenges faced with the E90 generation sedan would be addressed and many of the latest innovations that BMW has developed in its larger and more expensive sedans would finally trickled down to BMW's volume seller. However, gone are some of the traits that BMW built its reputation on, such as the naturally aspirated 3.0L straight six engine, replaced by a new high tech 2.0L turbo charged inline four. The hydraulic steering system of the past has been replaced by a new electric power steering unit. But despite these changes, can BMW still live up to its slogan of being the "Ultimate Driving Machine?"

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Editorial: Is the I-110 Express Lane really serving its purpose?

On November 10, 2012, parts of the I-110 freeway HOV/Carpool lanes in Los Angeles were fully converted to Express Lane toll lanes, with a fee now charged for utilizing the lanes. To use the Express Lane, a driver must obtain a "FasTrak" transponder, the very same transponder used for the other toll roads throughout CA, and register it with the Metro Express Lane website. Tolls vary based on occupancy of the vehicle and volume of traffic at the time of travel. To distinguish between a solo driver or a carpool, the driver merely has to flip a switch on the transponder. In order to prevent solo drivers from abusing the lower cost of the carpool switch, Metro has installed cameras at various points along the I-110 as well as at Metrolink station bridges that cross over the I-110. Qualifying carpools and vanpools will be allowed to use the Express Lane free of charge. Metro has also guaranteed that the Express Lane will maintain a minimum speed of 45 mph. But is this really the best way to manage traffic flow and encourage carpooling behavior among metro LA drivers?