Saturday, November 30, 2013

In Memoriam: Paul William Walker IV (September 12, 1973 - November 30, 2013)

Image courtesy of HD Wallpapers
The automotive world lost an icon today. Actor and famed gear head Paul Walker, best known for his role as Brain O'Conner in the Fast and Furious franchise, died in a car accident today in Valencia, CA.

Walker was in the passenger seat of a Porsche Carrera GT leaving an event for his charity, Reach Out Worldwide, when the driver lost control of the car and crashed into a light pole and a tree. Reports have stated that the Porsche burst into flames after the impact. Walker and the driver were declared dead at the scene by fire crews.

Walker himself was an avid car enthusiast, often taking part in the Redline Time Attack racing series. Walker was also well known for being the owner of a Nissan R34 Skyline GT-R V-Spec II, the same one which was featured in the second film of the Fast and Furious franchise, 2 Fast 2 Furious. Walker had been filming the seventh film in the Fast and Furious franchise, Fast & Furious 7. This is currently listed as his last film.

East-West Brothers Garage offers our sincere condolences to Walker's family and friends. He will be missed.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving: Things we are thankful for in 2013

It is Thanksgiving and there is much to be grateful for. To celebrate, we wanted to take the opportunity to give thanks for all of the things that we have in our lives and the opportunities we had this year.

East Brother

I am thankful for the opportunity this year to have had a chance to drive a number of amazing cars, but none were quite as memorable as the Tesla Model S and the Jaguar F-Type V6S. Each of these cars still sticks in my mind as the funnest test drives I had all year. The upcoming coupe version of the Jag is going to be a blast and should be on everyone's shopping list next year. Tesla's impressive Model S sets the stage for the soon to be released Model X SUV and as yet unnamed mid-size sedan.

I am also thankful that I got to participate in the Pan Mass Challenge this year. This was the first time I have ever done a charity ride and my first full century ride. Training for it motivated me to improve my cycling and focus on growing my skills as a cyclist. That has led to a lot more fun riding for recreation as well as for transportation and a greater appreciation of what it takes to be a cyclist year round.

West Brother

I am thankful to have met folks like Bronson Wright of Subaru Pacific. The  Subaru BRZ was easily the most fun car I had test driven all year and thanks to Bronson, I was able to get the full experience of wringing out the car in a supervised test drive that most salesmen would never even think about doing. But it is not just the test drive I am thankful for. The Subaru BRZ, and its sister car the Scion FR-S, have injected life into a car segment that has been dying a slow and painful death. With the success of these two cars, I am hoping that other car manufacturers will now get their act together and put out more enthusiast oriented, reasonably priced sports car.

This year, I am also thankful to have had the opportunity to visit the Honda and Acura Collection. This was an event that I had been looking forward to since the day the event was posted on Acura's Facebook page. It was great to be able to meet one of the long time veterans of American Honda, as well as get the history behind some of Honda and Acura's best known cars. It was also a somewhat sad event as well, as the collection tour served as reminder of an era of Honda when the company truly cared about its enthusiast following, and not just making money.

Finally, we are thankful to have had the opportunity to share our experiences and adventures with all of you. We hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving with their friends and family.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Road Trip: Road to (Newport) Rhode Island

Gilded Age mansions are hardly my thing. The level of ostentation, to me, feels rather outrageous and plainly absurd. Of course, that made a trip to Newport, RI a must, especially since it is such a short trip from the Boston area. With its wealth of history, New England seaside culture, and great boutique bed and breakfast options, Newport is a great place to go just to spend a nice weekend away from the hustle and bustle of work and school. Packing up the TSX for a weekend, my wife and I made some dinner reservations, booked a room at a nice B&B for a couple of nights, and took a scenic drive down to the seaport town that was once the summer home for America's wealthiest robber-barons and politicians.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Editorial: Luxury car makers could be even better

Luxury is a very subjective term these days. It gets bandied about with near reckless abandon, applied to everything from pet supplies to apartment rentals to fancy cars. When it comes to cars, the mainstream manufacturers are moving ever increasingly upmarket, adding features that were traditionally the distinct purview of luxury car makers, blurring the lines ever more. In fact, companies such as Hyundai have taken the entire market and turned it one its head, offering the Hyundai Equus, a V8-powered RWD long-wheelbase luxury sedan with features that were once only found on chauffeur-driven cars such as Rolls Royces or the upper end of the Mercedes S-class range. So with the definition of a luxury car becoming increasingly unclear, what are some things that luxury manufacturers can do to differentiate themselves from the riff-raff and justify the extra expense?

Here are a few ideas that I believe luxury manufacturers must do in order to maintain their standing and brand equity in the luxury marketplace and keep themselves from being overtaken by the invasion of mainstream manufacturers into their space.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Test Drive: 2014 Chevrolet Impala 2LT

The Impala, once a fabled muscle car in Chevrolet's line-up, and available in SS trim with all of the performance goodies, was relegated during its last two generations of existence to a totally substandard front wheel drive platform that mostly saw duty as taxi cabs, police cruisers, and rental cars. It was much despised for its sloppy handling and packed about as much power as a lawn mower. Without even exaggerating, it was very likely one of the worst cars on the market. Chevrolet made an effort to spice things up a bit by shoehorning a 5.3L V8 motor, but it was woefully under-powered, offering about as much performance as the V6 of most competitors, and made the terrible handing land barge even more of a handful to get around a corner. Thankfully, that version proved so unpopular that GM promptly axed it, although not before having done a nice job of tarnishing the SS brand.

When it came time to develop the all new 10th generation Impala, GM smartly went back to the drawing board and started over from scratch. They used a brand new platform, the Epsilon II that is shared with the all new Cadillac XTS, and did a clean-sheet redesign that incorporated the newest design cues from the brands recent resurgence. Under the hood, they added a slightly de-tuned version of the 3.6L direct-injection V6 motor from the Camaro and ATS and spent considerable time reworking the suspension to make the car feel more premium. Inside, the old interior was thrown out entirely and a whole new design was penned around the MyLink infotainment system, ensuing that all cars now have a 4.2-inch touchscreen display as the focal point of their dash.

However, is all of this effort enough to push out the lingering impression of the rental car specials of the last two generations? Has GM done so much damage to the reputation of this storied nameplate that it cannot recover from its terrible mediocrity?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Test Drive: 2014 Honda Accord Plug-In

MSRP: $40,570
Price as tested: $40,570

Hybrid cars are not really my thing. I admit, the only hybrid I have driven to date is a Toyota Prius and yes, it is as boring as all the automotive publications claim it to be. Hybrids have always been seen as appliances by the enthusiast crowd and while there are manufacturers working on making enthusiast friendly hybrids and hybrid super cars, the bulk of hybrids will still always be people movers. But can a manufacturer straddle both sides of the fence and make a hybrid that is both practical and fun?

With the lease on our long-term 2011 Acura RL about to expire, East Brother and I discussed what cars to consider. Given the driving habits of the primary driver, we felt that a hybrid was worth considering, especially given the long stretches of purely city driving that will be done. The problem is that most hybrids are, for a lack of a better word, boring. They are incredibly slow, and handle as well as a wet noodle. When Honda announced the specifications of the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid, East Brother and I both perked up our ears and after reading the initial impressions of the car by various automotive publications, our interest was genuinely peaked. It would seem that Honda has created a hybrid that is not only practical and efficient, but fun to drive too. Maybe not quite a 4-door CR-Z, but certainly more fun than any Prius.

Unfortunately, as of this writing, the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid was not available for us to test, but we got the next best thing, a 2014 Honda Accord Plug-In. Seeing as how both East Brother and I enjoyed the 2013 Honda Accord Sport sedan, and how impressed the automotive press is with upcoming 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid, I figured I would give the Accord Plug-In a go. Maybe Honda is able to capture the magic of being efficient and fun in this car as well.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Long Term Test: 2012 Acura TSX Special Edition post #2

Second update
Current miles: 9,452

After 18 months with the TSX, the car is still a joy to drive and has been dead reliable mechanically. Since I put very few miles on the car during most weeks, the majority of my driving is now coming in the form of longer road trips, usually for all too brief vacation stays on weekends to various places around New England. Combine that with the fact that during the warmer months trips tend to take place on my motorcycle, it is not hard to see why even after 18 months, I have not yet hit the 10k mark.

The nice thing is that these longer trips really allow me too enjoy what I appreciate most about the TSX: the driving experience. From behind the wheel, the steering feels well-weighted, accurate, and is reasonably communicative for an electronic power steering setup. I do still miss the ultra-communicative steering of the two first-generation TSXs that I owned, but considering that there are fewer and fewer cars with traditional hydraulic power steering these days, this arrangement is one of the better ones. Of course, the 6-speed manual is one of the best in the business and offers crisp engagement, slick action, and short throws. Clutch engagement could stand to be a bit more pronounced, but on whole, it is great to be able to enjoy shifting for yourself. Suspension tuning is actually quite good, proving properly stiff for sporty driving, but compliant enough to be comfortable on long trips. Understeer is present, but not so pronounced that it interferes with driving on a regular basis, only rearing its ugly head when pushing the car hard or when the road surface is slick.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Test Drive: 2014 BMW 535d xDrive

Diesels and sport together seems counter intuitive. The oil burning motors are better known for providing superior torque for towing and superlative fuel economy in passenger cars. But when a manufacturer best known for its sport sedans throws its weight behind diesel motors, any enthusiast worth his salt has to at least sit up and pay a bit of attention. This is why I recently found myself behind the wheel of BMW's latest entry into the sport diesel market, the 535d. Combined with BMW's xDrive AWD system, the twin-turbocharged inline-six, this luxury sport diesel (that seems like quite a contradicting mash-up) seems to be the model that BMW is banking on as its volume seller in the 5-series line-up for New England.

However, given BMW's reputation for providing excellent sport sedans, can a car that plays on so many contradicting ideas continue to deliver the ownership experience that make BMW's so popular with their buyers? Or is this just the latest in a long line of odd disappointments from what was once the most storied sport sedan manufacturer on the planet?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Test Drive: 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring - Power Retractable Hard Top

MSRP: $29,450
Price as Tested: $30,245

Since its introduction in 1989, the Mazda MX-5, better known as the Miata in the United States, has taken on the stereotype of being the quintessential "hair dresser's" car. With it small body and cute looks, many people ignored the great driving qualities possessed by the Miata. This stereotype seemed to persist throughout both the first and second generations of the car. Mazda was able to partially shed this stereotype during the Miata's second generation with the introduction of the Mazdaspeed Miata, which came with a turbocharged engine, revised suspension, and aggressive aero parts. However, as the third generation Miata was introduced, the cuteness factor returned with the Miata's "smiling" front fascia. In 2008, Mazda gave the Miata a much needed refresh, which introduced a far more aggressive version of the "smiley face" front end.

Fast forward to 2013. The third generation Miata has been on sale for eight years now, with minor face lifts and equipment changes along the way. For 2013, changes include another front end revision (this one more aggressive than the last few revisions), Bilstein dampers, new 17 inch alloy wheels, a bit of weight loss, and a whole host of other changes. The Grand Touring model I drove also includes a revised and more powerful version of the 2.0 liter MZR inline-4 engine. All these changes are supposed to make this one of the best and most aggressive MX-5 Miatas to date, short of the second generation Mazdaspeed Miata.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Editorial: Riding motorcycles made me a better cyclist

Like many people, I learned to ride a bicycle pretty early in life. The basic skills came easily, like pedaling and steering, but things like balancing or more advanced skills, like jumping off of home-made ramps, took some time, and some injuries, to really nail down. However, once these skills were pretty well ingrained, there was not a whole lot of progress made towards furthering my biking skills, especially since it was largely recreational to me, having grown up in car dominated Southern California. That all started to change when I began to ride my bicycle more for transportation after moving into DC proper a few years ago. Conveniently, it also coincided with when I started to learn to ride motorcycles. Without even realizing it, there were a number of skills that I carried over from the motorcycle to the bicycle.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Test Drive: 2014 Lexus IS250 AWD

Lexus has an aging problem. Its buyers tend to skew towards the older side and attempts to attract younger buyers with cars like the IS300, based on the Japanese home market Altezza, resulted in small surges of younger buyers. Unfortunately, those youngsters quickly left the brand due to a lack of suitable upgrade options within the brand as they got older, as they were still seeking fun cars to drive. The second generation of the IS went in an entirely more conventionally Lexus direction, focused on luxury and ride, with only the slightest of nods towards performance. However, just to throw a curve ball, Lexus also took the opportunity to introduce the F-Sport sub-brand to sell performance parts and even entire cars, like the absolutely bonkers IS-F and LFA. As Lexus has decided that drawing a younger audience is increasingly important, they have also sought a significantly edgier image with the aggressive predator-face spindle grille that is being applied across the line-up and a full-fledged push at a true motorsports division.

All of this effort, intended to capture younger buyers, who are increasingly discriminating in their buying habits, may be for naught if Lexus's all new 3rd-generation IS fails to capture their hearts, minds, and dollars. So does the newest entry luxury sport sedan meet the high bar set to attract the moneyed youth to what has been a traditionally stodgy brand with squishy-driving cars?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Test Drive: 2014 Infiniti Q50 AWD

The Infiniti line-up has always been sporty and is oft considered the Japanese equivalent of BMW, offering performance oriented cars with a touch of luxury. It's volume seller of the last decade, the G sedans and coupes, were among some of the best driving cars among the Japanese luxury brands. In fact, I nearly bought a G35 and a G37 when each car came out, the only thing holding me back being the slightly sub-standard interior materials and the poorly executed manual transmission shifter and clutch. However, if you were looking at the cars with automatic transmissions, they really were fantastic cars to drive. However, to replace the G37, Infiniti has developed not only a whole new car, but has also adopted a whole new naming scheme. What was once the G37 is now the much more non-sensical Q50. However, a lot more than the name was lost in this transition. The new Q50 may be a step up from the G37 in terms interior quality, but seems to have sacrificed some of its sporting character at the altar of luxury.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Editorial: Americans have given up on being better drivers

Image courtesy of
It saddens me to even compose this, but this study by the AAA Foundation seems to point towards more Americans taking bad driving behaviors less seriously that in past years. What worries me the most is not just that we are less aware of how these bad driving behaviors affect other drivers on the road, but the fact that an increasing number of individuals seem to suffer from "do as I say, not as I do" syndrome. The fact that there are so many people who are quick to condemn, but not alter their own behavior just goes to show the ever increasingly selfish streak that our society seems to be developing. I realize that I sound like a ranting, crotchety old man, but it frustrates me to no end because of how often I have recently had run-ins with people who were so inattentive or dangerous behind the wheel that they nearly caused an accident. The worst part is that this is entirely preventable.