Friday, May 30, 2014

Guest Post: Two Months with the 2013 Toyota Yaris LE

West Brother's friend, Eric L., just spent the last two months in Bloomington, Indiana on a business trip, where he was issued a 2013 Toyota Yaris LE hatchback for his daily use. Here are his thoughts on Toyota's subcompact hatchback. If you too would like to contribute an article, just contact us.

Hi everyone! So I drove a Toyota Yaris 2013 LE for about two months during my business trip in chilly Indiana during March and April. The weather was a mixture of snow, rain, thunder, and 15-20 mph winds. I was bit skeptical of driving the little car at first. My initial impression was, "it's so tiny! Will I be safe?" Over two months of use, I definitely discovered what this tiny car could and could not actually do.

The more I drove the Yaris, the more I realized the benefits of the car. During my first few trips to the gas pump, I confirmed that the Yaris gets well over 30 mpg on the highway. One of the best attributes of the car is the compact size, which makes parking and backing up a breeze. You would have to try hard not to get within the parking lines. The Yaris' interior has an intuitive design, so learning the controls and getting comfortable with them is easy. Even though this is a smaller vehicle, it has a rear window wiper, which makes it very convenient in snow belt states such as Indiana.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Driving 101: Interacting with pedestrians

Image courtesy of
Many years ago, during one of my first morning commutes into downtown Washington, DC, I happened upon a scene that continues to give me a smile whenever it comes to mind. Those of you familiar with DC know that the section of K Street around 18th Street is set up with the main roadway and a distinct parking/right turn thruway that is physically separated by a concrete island. This thruway is frequently backed up because of cars parking or making right turns and is often congested. Pedestrian and bicycle traffic are plentiful as well during the morning commute, adding to the confusion.

On this particular morning, things were no different. I was standing on the concrete island waiting to cross K Street when I hear a series of horn blasts followed by a string of epithets coming from behind me. I turn around to see a very late model gray Mercedes S-Class patiently waiting with its turn signal on as pedestrians crossed the street with the walk signal. The source of the ongoing string of profanity was a cabbie, who seemed none too pleased to have to wait. A few more blasts of his horn and a few more angry words finally ticked off the driver of the Mercedes. The door to the luxury sedan popped open and out stepped a rather large black man dressed like a gangster rapper - Timbalands, saggy jeans, long flowing dreads, and plenty of bling on display. Undeterred, the cab driver continued to spout off; at least, until the driver of the Mercedes started reaching into his waistband.

Now, the cab driver was in clear violation of the basic rules of interacting with pedestrians, especially given how pedestrian unfriendly many US cities are already. As drivers, we have an obligation to be more attentive to those road users who are more vulnerable than us. Bicyclists may move quickly and be maneuverable, but lack the protection of the steel cage of a car. Pedestrians move slowly have no protection whatsoever and it is therefore our duty as drivers to be evermore vigilant when we are around them. There are a few common scenarios where drivers will encounter pedestrians and this is intended as a reminder on how best to interact with them in these instances.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Editorial: Entry Level Luxury Cars Just Don't Seem Worth It

In the last couple of months, I have been looking to a adding a third vehicle to my garage. Being a young professional, I started by looking at the new crop of entry level luxury cars as they are mostly marketed towards the young professional crowd. After getting the chance to look at three entries in the entry level luxury segment (the Acura ILX, the Audi A3, and the Mercedes Benz CLA250), I am starting to feel like this segment of cars does not seem worth it.

Allow me to explain.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Long Term Test: 2012 Acura TSX Special Edition post #3

Third update
Current miles: 12,575

A few days after my two-year anniversary of ownership, I had the TSX running full steam down I-93 towards NYC for the New York International Auto Show. Heading down, the weather was threatening, but not once did the skies actually open up and offer any rain. While there, the TSX suffered the indignities of vehicles parked in one of many of Manhattan's parking lots - that is to say a few tiny, but noticeable scrapes on the bumpers from valets who refuse to be more careful. After NYAIS, the return drive was significantly smoother, with only one delay caused by a rather horrific looking accident on I-93 in Connecticut. Despite the 75 mph I kept setting the cruise control to, the TSX managed an admirable 32.0 mpg according to the car's trip computer. If we take into account the slight tendency of the car to overstate based on my hand calculations, that still amounts to around 30 mpg, which is just a hair better than the car's EPA rating. In fact, despite a fair amount of city driving, the TSX has pretty much hit the EPA's combined rating squarely on the nose, averaging right at 24 mpg. An impressive feat in this day and age where many manufacturers struggle to deliver cars that meet their EPA ratings.

Aside from the NYC trip, the TSX has seen a particularly harsh Boston winter and survived admirably, although not entirely without casualty. The second service, performed just days before my New York trip, resulted in the replacement of the car's battery, which I was told was failing. Luckily, Acura's warranty had me covered so I paid nothing out of pocket for a fresh new battery to be installed.

The TSX continues to soldier on, though it has developed a few rather annoying rattles that crop up only on the rough winter-beaten roads here in the Boston area. Despite this, the car continues to offer up an entertaining drive and has taken us to Maine for skiing as well as another jaunt to Newport, RI. Between longer trips, the car sees little action and as the weather warms up, my tendency is to continue to favor my two wheeled options. Nonetheless, the TSX proves itself a willing travel companion that has been relatively inexpensive to keep running trouble-free.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Test Drive: 2014 Bike Month Wagon Comparison

During the last couple of weeks, we have taken a look at each of the individual contenders in our bike friendly wagon comparison. You can click on each of the following links to take an in-depth look at each:

2014 Acura TSX Sport Wagon
2014 Audi Allroad Premium Plus
2014 BMW 328i xDrive Sports Wagon
2015 Volvo V60 T5 Drive-E Premier
These long-roof cars offer tremendous versatility, but try hard not to sacrifice the driving dynamics that make them fun for the driving enthusiast. Each vehicle won at least one category and the difference in score between the winner and the runner-up was just a few points and only one point separated second and third. The gap that separates the last place contender from the rest of the pack is a fair bit larger. Overall, there were several categories where it was so close, I felt it best to declare a tie. However, none of these is cars is terrible at all. In fact, I can honestly say that there is not a single bad car in the group and that the winner was decided largely by a matter of degrees.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Editorial: What is the point of motorcycle sound systems?

Image courtesy of Twisted Audio 
You are sitting at a stop light, minding your own business, listening to your favorite radio station. Suddenly, from behind you, you being to hear music and the distinct rumble of a motorcycle. Thinking it is just some kid with their car speakers turned up really loud, you ignore it. When the music finally comes next to you, you realize the music is actually coming from a motorcycle. The music coming is so loud, you can barely hear your own radio, much less your own thoughts. Once the light turns green, the motorcycle rumbles off off, the sound of its exhaust covering up any sound coming from the motorcycle's radio. You watch the motorcycle speed away thinking, "what the hell is the point of having a radio on a motorcycle if you can't hear it while the motorcycle is moving?"

The above scenario roughly describes my thoughts as I witnessed my first motorcycle mounted radio sound system. On my way to Marina Del Rey, a man and his wife pulled up on a large Harley Davidson cruiser next to my car. The music emanating from the couple's motorcycle was so loud, I could not hold a conversation with my fiancee. Once the light turned green, the couple's Harley pulled away, and the exhaust sound drowning out any noise coming from the radio. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Test Drive: 2014 BMW 328i xDrive Sports Wagon

Update: See how the 328i did against its competitors in our Bike Month Wagon Comparison Test.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with BMW. Most BMWs I have driven have been good fun and the engineering that goes into them to keep their weight balance as close to 50/50 is certainly nothing to scoff at. However, over the years, they have also gotten progressively less Germanic in their construction and there is always the negative reputation of BMW owners to contend with (we've all heard the joke about the different between a BMW and a porcupine). Still, when it comes to cars that offer solid driving dynamics, good power, and tons of customizability, few manufacturers can match BMW, with that annoying caveat of "so long as you can afford it." Still, with as few options as there are in terms of wagons, it would be remiss for me not to test the 3-series wagon in looking at this segment.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Test Drive: 2014 Audi Allroad Premium Plus

Update: See how the Allroad did against its competitors in our Bike Month Wagon Comparison Test.

Back in college, a friend of mine had one of the original Audi A6 Allroads, sporting the same 2.7L twin-turbo V6 motor as the S4 of that period, a six speed manual, and an adjustable air suspension. That wagon was plain awesome and saw many a trip to the local Target as well as the local storage facility between semesters. I always envied the versatility of that car so you can imagine my excitement when Audi announced that the Allroad would be making a comeback. The new Allroad, now based off of the A4 platform, still sports a turbo-charged engine, although it has shrunk from a 2.7L V6 to a 2.0L inline-4 and gone are the manual transmission and air suspension. Even so, the Allroad is still in an exclusive group as options for wagons with more than 200 horsepower are few and far between these days. Still, the limited competition in the segment is stiff with some great products, so is the current Allroad able to rekindle the magic of its predecessor?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Editorial: Is Making the I-10 and I-110 Express Lanes Permanent a Good Idea?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
A while back, I had written an article about the introduction of new Express Lanes to the I-110 freeway in Los Angeles County. At first, converting the carpool lanes on the I-105/I-110 connector I-110, and I-10 seemed to be a good idea. The express lanes were created to supposedly help increase the flow of traffic across the general purpose lanes by allowing solo drivers access to the high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes for a price, or carpools for free. In order to gain access to the express lanes as a solo driver or carpool, you would need to purchase a FastTrak transponder. Upon entering the lanes, a solo driver would also be assessed a toll based about distance traveled and the amount of traffic at the time you are using the lanes. Carpool and vanpools just have to flip the switch on their transponder to "carpool" to access the lane for free. The express lanes were also designed to encourage more people to use public transit as all public transit vehicles are exempt from needing the transponder or paying tolls.

Image courtesy of The Source
After personally experiencing what the general purpose lanes have turned into after the express lanes made their debut, I am no longer sure the idea was so good. Sure, carpool, vanpool, and public transportation usage has increased. The biggest advantage to the addition of the express lanes though was the supposed relief the lanes would create for the general purpose lanes. While LA Metro claims average speed in the express lanes have stayed above the proposed 45 mph, the average speed in the general purpose lanes has actually decreased. The reasoning behind this slow down is actually quite simple: people do not want to pay to access the express lanes and are being forced into the general purpose lanes. If you look at page seven of LA Metro's February 2013 I-110 performance update, you will see that even their own study indicates that speeds have decreased since the introduction of the express lanes. While the speed decrease is not significant, the addition of the express lanes is having the opposite effect from what was desired.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Test Drive: 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Drive-E Premier

Update: See how the Volvo did against its competitors in our Bike Month Wagon Comparison Test.

While Volvo has long had a reputation for making great wagons (the V70Rs of the last two generations come to mind), it has been many years since they had a proper wagon in the US. The last true wagon, the V70, was well received by the press and Volvo fanatics, but the general public just is not interested. The result was for the wagon to go on hiatus. Volvo continued to produce the SUV-ified Cross Country (XC) branded vehicles like the XC70, but there was not traditional wagon. But now, with an infusion of cash from its new Chinese owners, Geely, the wagon is back and it is better than ever. Best of all, Volvo's reputation for safety remains intact as well, but they have not forgotten how to have a little fun.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Test Drive: 2014 Acura TSX Sport Wagon Tech

Update: See how the TSX did against its competitors in our Bike Month Wagon Comparison Test.

The first wagon I ever experienced was a massive mid-80's Chevy Caprice Classic. During the brief period when we lived in New York, my father drove this absolutely absurd land yacht, complete with faux wood paneling along the sides. I have vague recollections of playing around in the spacious cargo space and taking many trips to the local grocery store with my parents. Sadly, it was stolen from us at one point. Yet, those experiences have had an influence on my taste in cars, even after all these years, because I still have a real affinity for wagons. They are versatile in their utility without all of the sacrifices in driving dynamics and fuel economy that come with even the best CUVs.

In recent years, as I got more and more into cycling, I have come to the realization that I really want a vehicle that allows me the flexibility to throw a couple of bikes in the back and drive out to some great cycling locations for a full day of riding. Plus, with the possibility of adding a pet to our family in the not too distant future, a wagon seems like the perfect match for my changing lifestyle. As a result, I have started my hunt for the perfect wagon that offers the cargo versatility I am looking for without sacrificing too much driving enjoyment. Most importantly of all, I should be able to toss my K2 road bike in the back without it being an impediment to my visibility.

So, the search began with the TSX Sport Wagon, the one that is closest to the car that I currently own.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Editorial: Happy National Bike Month

May is National Bike Month and we here at East-West Brothers Garage encourage everyone to join us in celebrating by using your bikes in place of your car for some of the more mundane tasks in your daily life. If you can safely do so, consider using you bike to commute to work or to go to the store to grab groceries. Grab a ride from someone to get to school? How about riding a bike instead? Heading to a buddy's place to watch the game over some beer and pizza? Actually, consider calling a cab for that one.

The bike is no longer a purely recreational means of transportation. Yes, there are many people who do ride on the weekends, decked out in full kit (I am certainly a part of this group), but there are also lots of people who use their bicycles as a primary means of transportation. In fact, it is likely that many of those people who ride hard on the weekends also ride a bike during the week. Whether that is commuting to work or running errands, many people in cities all over the country have discovered the joy of riding a bicycle. Half the fun is figuring out how you can get everything you need where you need to go without relying on a single drop of gasoline to do it. Best of all, do it enough and you can enjoy the added health benefits as well, such as weight loss, better cardiovascular health, and those rock hard calves that everyone will be envious of.

Of course, please be safe, especially if you do not ride regularly. Make sure to wear a helmet, even if your state technically does not require it for adults and make sure that if you are expecting to ride later in the day to get proper lighting for both the front and rear of your bike. Follow the rules of the road and make sure you share the road with everyone else. For more information on bicycle safety, check out your local bicycle advocacy group. In the Boston area, it is the Boston Cyclists Union.

For this month, we will be making our own effort to take part. We will revisit some of our more bike focused articles and will even be focusing our car reviews around some cars that are popular with cyclists. To kick things off, I have already logged 39 miles this month on the bike and I hope to have the chance to log many more. Throughout the month, I will be updating our Facebook page with my experiences from the road and hope that you too can share yours in the comments below or via Facebook.

Happy National Bike Month and we hope you enjoy the ride!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Product Review: BF Goodrich g-Force Sport Comp-2

With the rear tires on my S2000 going bald, and Dunlop no longer making their Direzza Z1 Star Spec tire, I needed to get a whole new set of tires. My original plan was just to get the Z1's replacement, the Z II. After some thinking, I decided on a different path. I had originally installed the Z1 Star Spec tires on my car with the hopes of finding time to do autocross, or even participate in a track day event. Unfortunately, my busy schedule never allowed me to partake in any automotive sporting events, which meant that replacing my current set of aggressive summer tires with another set of aggressive summer tires made no sense.

Considering my new driving needs, I was looking for a summer tire that still offered excellent dry and wet weather grip, but had a longer tread life and a slightly lower rolling resistance for better fuel economy. This essentially ruled out all aggressive summer tires, or what Tire Rack likes to call, "extreme performance summer tires." I had thought about going back to the OEM tires, the Bridgestone Potenza RE050, but despite being a less aggressive tire than the Dunlops, the tread life was actually shorter than the Dunlops. The Bridgestone tires are also needlessly noisy and expensive.

Image courtesy of Motor Trend
When East Brother was still driving his 2006 Acura TSX 6-Speed, he had mentioned that he chose the BF Goodrich g-Force Sport as his summer tire of choice. I also remember him saying good things about the tire. I decided to take a look at the g-Force Sport's successor, the g-Force Sport Comp-2. I was lucky enough to find reviews of the tire written by fellow S2000 owners, and the reviews seemed to be positive. With a much higher tread wear rating than the OEM Bridgestone tires, or the Dunlop tires I had on my car, as well as being quite affordable, it seemed that I had found my tire. I had hoped to order the tires from Tire Rack, but due to the poor shape my rear tires were in, I felt it necessary to get the tires changed out before it was suppose to rain in a few days. I called a local tire shop in Redondo Beach and got the tires mounted to my car.