Thursday, August 29, 2013

Test Drive: 2013 ES300h

Update: See how the Lexus ES300h performed in our entry luxury hybrid head-to-head.

We continue our look at luxury hybrids with an entry from Lexus. Falling into a similar price as the MKZ we tested earlier, the ES300h is also a platform shared vehicle, developed off of the newest version of the Toyota Avalon. The advantage to stepping up to the Avalon's platform from the Camry's is that it offers a much longer wheelbase, allowing for greater interior volume and potentially greater comfort. However, as with many platform shared vehicles, it becomes a challenge to differentiate the "luxury" branded vehicle from its lesser brand platform sibling. So has Lexus managed to pull this off and produce a platform shared car that can truly justify the price premium? Let us take a closer look.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Test Drive: 2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

Update: See how the Lincoln MKZ performed in our entry luxury hybrid head-to-head.

I struggle with hybrids. My biggest issue is that most hybrids sacrifice so much performance in the search for every last MPG, resulting in a miserable driving experience that often makes me want to pull my hair out. However, the earliest popular hybrids (I'm looking at you Toyota Prius) have long been replaced by a whole slew of new generation hybrids that look more like normal cars and are finally starting to drive like them too. In fact, they have been refined enough that luxury manufacturers have started to incorporate hybrids into their line-ups in various ways. In this brief series, we take a look at two of the luxury hybrids competing for the dollars of American buyers, with very different focuses despite being in the same vehicle class and price range.

Today, the subject under our microscope is Lincoln's toothsome MKZ. Sharing a platform and drive-train with the Ford Fusion hybrid, the Lincoln offers buyers who want all the advantages of a hybrid, but do not like the handsome Ford's look or feel that the Fusion lacks the luxury brand cachet the Lincoln supposedly possesses. Lincoln has gone through a great deal of effort to differentiate the MKZ from its lesser platform-mate, giving it distinct body panels and interior pieces in order to widen the gap as much as possible. But is it enough to justify the added cost that comes with purchasing the Lincoln over the Ford? Let's take a closer look.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Editorial: The Slow Demise of the Portable Navigation Device

Image courtesy of
For all intents and purposes, the portable navigation device (PND) is on its way out, soon to be replaced entirely by in-car integrated navigation systems, or more likely, our smart phones. A lot of factors are leading to this change, key among them the sheer proliferation of smart phones in our lives and the availability of smart phone apps that, in the last few years, have sprouted all of the functionality that used to be exclusive to PNDs and many features that go far beyond. A portable device that we have on our person nearly every waking moment that is capable of providing near limitless detail, endless point of interest data, and maps that are always up to date.

In fact, just this weekend, my wife and I took a trip out to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. Almost out of habit, I grabbed our 4 year old Garmin navigation device and threw it in the car with us as we hit the road. I bought the Garmin 765T years ago because it was an easy to use interface, included Bluetooth connectivity, and had traffic data with no subscription fee. At the time, Garmin did not offer a lifetime maps subscription so map updates were going to be a potentially costly maintenance fee over the years. Still, for the price paid, the device definitely worked well enough, especially in our last car, a Miata, with its small amount of windshield space.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Innovation: Augmented Reality for the 2-Wheeled Lifestyle

Image courtesy of Indiegogo
As long as I have been a motorcycle rider, I have always thought that it would be awesome to be able to get some sort of a heads-up display that could project an image onto the visor of my helmet. The display could help track speed, gear, and possibly even provide directions if linked to a GPS unit or smart phone. Other functionality that we can already get with existing helmet communicators should be integrated as well, allowing hands-free calling via a Bluetooth connection to a mobile phone and also music playback. There have been a few solutions that have attempted to accomplish pieces of this, but none that provide a truly integrated experience that is safe and easy to use.

Lucky for me, LiveMap and Reevu are two companies looking to change the way we think about helmets.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Road Trip: Haunted Waltham, MA

Imagine a sterile hallway, painted a soothing shade of off-white to calm the frayed nerves of the patients locked behind metal doors. The eerie sounds of whimpering, crying, laughing, and talking, dampened by the steel, glass, and concrete, permeate the hallways. Down at the other end of the hall, a pair of double doors swings open and a pair of hulking orderlies escort a young patient, eyes glued to the floor, towards his windowless room. The reflection off the polished floor of the hallway shows the young man's dead eyes, limpid inky pools, like staring into a singularity.

These are the images that came to mind as I read about the Metropolitan State Hospital, one of the many supposedly haunted places within the town of Waltham in Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. As someone who has always been intrigued by the occult, digging through a variety of sites to locate some background on the exact locations of the various haunted places in this small suburban community tickled my sense of adventure. I was stunned to find so many potentially haunted places crowded into a single stretch of one single road, each location with its own rather sordid history. Out of sheer curiosity, and perhaps a bit of thrill seeking, I decided to take a morning ride to visit a few of these sites.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Editorial: Does Honda need to find their Bob Lutz?

Image courtesy of
Honda has lost its soul.

As a long-time owner of Honda and Acura vehicles, it brings me no pleasure to have to point this out, but as an enthusiast, I feel it is my duty to do just that. Nothing that either brand has introduced of late inspires much enthusiasm and the upcoming 2015 NSX has yet to hit dealerships, so I am not counting that chicken until it hatches. After all, we all saw what happened with the vaporware that was the last supposed NSX successor. In fact, the rest of the automotive market does not seem the least worried by the 2015 Acura NSX, prompting Audi to start a Twitter war with Acura and calling the 2015 NSX vaporware just like its V10 powered predecessor. And even if it does materialize, that still only leaves a single car with any serious performance profile in the entire line-up, which is nothing to be proud of.

Looking back through Honda's history, there have almost always been a number of more performance oriented models in their line-up, either in the form of nearly race-spec versions of conventional models, a la the Integra Type-R, or dedicated models such as the S2000 and Honda Prelude. Light weight, sharp handling, and an engaging driving experience were characteristics that spread to all models and the company's racing lineage shone through in the continued use of double-wishbone suspensions front and rear to provide chassis dynamics that were exceptional. However, as the years went on, the Prelude and all Type-R models disappeared from the American market, the Integra was replaced with a strut suspension based RSX, and both the S2000 and NSX were allowed to fade away without successors. Now, we are left with only a very mediocre Civic Si to carry on the Honda performance car banner in North America, with the rest of the global market having absolutely nothing performance oriented coming out of Honda's factories.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Test Drive: 2013 Hyundai Equus Signature

Hyundai has had a brand resurgence like no other in recent years, with the tremendous magazine comparison successes against the segment stalwarts, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Other big successes in the form of the Genesis Coupe and Sedan, the Elantra, and the cool looking Veloster. Each of these vehicles made a splash when they were introduced and continue to be treated as darlings of the automotive magazine editors, but Hyundai was not satisfied and wanted to set the bar even higher. With the success of the Genesis Sedan, Hyundai set its sights on BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus with its homegrown full-size luxury sedan, the Equus. Targeted squarely at LS, S-Class, and 7-series, the Equus was out to try to repeat the same splash that the Sonata had made. Unfortunately, things did not go so well this time...

Update: We heard back from Hyundai on Twitter about our review. See their response after the break!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Test Drive: 2013 Chrysler 200 Touring

It had been a rough morning already. The first rental car of the day experienced engine trouble and the second one had the misfortune of being rear-ended shortly after leaving the rental lot. I had just spent the better part of the morning sorting out the details from the accident and finding my way back to the rental car agency to pick up my third car of the morning. By this time, I was looking for something that would be reliable transportation and, knock on wood, would not attract any more bad luck. Imagine my disappointment when the options I got presented with included another Nissan (my history so far that day with Nissan had been far from confidence inspiring) and a Chrysler 200. Seeing as how my options were basically non-existent, I accepted the Chrysler 200, hoping that some of the magic Chrysler had managed with the 300 had rubbed off.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Editorial: What Does the Average Car Buyer Look For?

Image courtesy of Sunbrite Auto Works, Inc.
I am an auto enthusiast. Anyone who knows me knows that I am an auto enthusiast. When I search for a vehicle, I know exactly what I am looking for in terms of performance, safety, gadgets, etc. Being an auto enthusiast though, I find that when people come to me for advice on buying a car, I have a bad tendency to tell them about the things I would look for in a car, which in some cases is not very helpful. This got me thinking about what the average car buyer would look for when searching for a car. Afterall, buying a car can be a daunting task, especially today's newer cars with all sorts of electronic gadgets and safety measures.

In order to help me gather data, I devised a short survey to see what the average car buyer looks for when looking for a new car. After passing it around to friends and family, here are the results of the survey. Keep in mind that this is an informal survey and is in no way scientific, but does show how one broad group of people approach buying a new car.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

News: Melbourne's Motorcycle Paramedics

Photo courtesy of
As a motorcyclist, I have always wondered if there are ways in which the motorcycle might make a greater contribution to society in ways that have not been thought of yet. Recently, I read about a TED Talk given by a man in Israel had started a company to provide ambulance service using motor scooters. The benefit provided was the ability to carry everything that an ambulance has, except for the gurney, albeit in more limited quantities, and to ease through traffic much more easily than a full-sized ambulance. The concept itself is not a new one as several countries have been testing these motorcycle ambulances or have been using motorbikes as medical transplant organ transports for years now.

One such city is Melbourne, Australia. They have launched a new trial using several fully kitted out BMW GS motorbikes that carry full scale medical kits in panniers and cases on the bike. In addition to the kits, the bikes have been outfitted with the flashing lights, sirens, and radios needed to do the job. The rider of tone of these bikes was kind enough to allow a photographer to follow him during the course of a day and record various moments. What resulted is the photo-diary linked below.

The rider points out several key advantages as well as disadvantages of using motorbikes in this capacity. Key among the advantages is the ability to utilize the bikes smaller size to squeeze between cars and filtering through traffic. Additionally, the bikes are narrow enough that they are able to use some trails and sidewalks that no full-size ambulance could ever take advantage of, saving time and allowing the paramedic to arrive quicker to the scene of an incident. However, there are definitely a few drawbacks. The nature of the motorbike makes it far more vulnerable than the traditional truck based ambulance and that they are more prone to being ignored due their smaller size. Of course, the advantages seem to outweigh the disadvantages and the program seems to be something that is likely to live on in Melbourne and in many other places around the world.

But would something like this work in the US? Is this an idea that could be implemented in some of the large American cities where traffic often does cause delays for first responders? Are American drivers disciplined enough to allow a motorcycle riding paramedic to pass or is this potentially a recipe for disaster? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below! Links to the photos and and TED talk after the break.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Test Drive: 2013 Ford Fusion SE Hybrid

Read our review of the non-hybrid Ford Fusion by clicking here.

Despite arriving at night, the heat radiated up from the Arizona dessert, creating a sweltering sauna of an evening as I slogged the 50 feet between the rental car shuttle and the massive rental car complex. It was late and I was already a bit tired from my flight from Boston, but the nice young lady at the rental counter, who promptly recognized that my colleague had come through earlier in the day, plus a nice chilled bottle of water helped keep my grumpiness in check as I trolled the aisle in search of my ride for the next 24 hours. The faux Aston Martin grille of the Ford Fusion caught my eye and I promptly gravitated towards it, which the rental car associate in tow, emptying a load of barely intelligible words that simply bounced off my brain without leaving so much as the slightest impression. Collecting the keys, I promptly thanked the associate for her assistance and threw my bag in the trunk before doing a quick walk-around to inspect for damage. Hopping in the car, I eased it silently away into the Arizona night.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Long Term Test: 2011 Honda Fit Sport 5AT post #1

My fiancee has had her 2011 Honda Fit Sport for over two years now. In those two years, the Fit has performed very well, both as a people mover and cargo hauler. When we were searching for a car to replace the aging 1997 Honda Accord LX that I had sold to her, the Honda Fit was not actually her first choice.

The first car we looked at was a certified pre-owned (CPO) 2006 Acura TSX. My fiancee enjoyed the car, but the price was unfortunately a bit out of her price range. Another car that piqued her interest was the Acura RSX. Unfortunately, at the time we were looking, the only two Acura RSX that were available near our area were both Type-S models. This meant that she would have had to learn how to drive a manual transmission in two days, which she did not have the patience or the time for. Having to spend extra money on 91 octane fuel also bugged her. In an effort to find her something sporty, roomy, had an automatic transmission, and did not drink 91 octane, I thought of the Honda Fit. It was a car that met all of her criteria, and I thought she would find it cute and would fit her bubbly and fun personality (a point that to this day, she still will not let me live down).

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Test Drive: 2013 Nissan Rogue S AWD

I swear that it is not my intention to be hard on the folks at Nissan. My last few reviews and posts have all put Nissan in a less than positive light, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for the company that dared to defy convention and introduce the likes of the GT-R to the United States. However, while the GT-R is an incredible piece of engineering, most of the rest of the Nissan line-up leaves something to be desired in one way or another. My most recent experience with a Nissan product was during my trip back to the Washington D.C. area and was cut short by an ill-timed bit of misfortune.

Upon arriving at the rental counter to pick up my car, I was presented with a fairly fresh 2013 Nissan Rogue S AWD. Looking at the odometer, it registered just over 13000 miles, but I figured that this should be a fairly uneventful trip. Talk about being spectacularly wrong...