Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Goodbye 2015. Hello 2016!

2015 turned out to be a much busier year for the two of us than either of us had expected. Our day jobs ended up consuming quite a bit of time, which meant there was not quite as much time to focus on test drives and the wheeled world in general. That does not mean that there were not moments in 2015 that really stood out for us when it comes to our favorite wheeled transportation methods. Here are a few moments that we truly enjoyed from 2015, some of our most popular posts, as well as a look at what to expect in 2016.

Mid-Size Luxury Mayhem

If memory serves, this is easily the biggest comparison we have done to date. With the mid-size luxury class crammed full of potential candidates, it was quite a task testing the seven vehicles we picked for this comparison. Our goal of only testing the mid-level, four-cylinder equipped models of each brand's mid-size ended up being a little more difficult than expected, mainly because the manufacturers want consumers to spend extra money on the higher trimmed, larger engine models. This problem became especially apparent when trying to locate an Audi A4 that was not equipped with either its highest trim, or lowest trim. Three trips to the local Audi dealer in Torrance, CA later, we ended up going to the McKenna Audi located in Cerritos, CA just to find the correct car. Even though it took us a while to get around to driving all of the cars, it was definitely a lot of fun. You can read the comparison by clicking here.

Mazda MX-5 Miata Test Drive at Auto Club Speedway

The first test drive we have ever conducted that did not involve us having to finagle a test drive out of a local dealer, this test drive event, hosted by Mazda, was a blast. It was definitely nice of Mazda to entrust enthusiasts with their brand new, 2016 MX-5 Miata, and let us flog the heck out of the tiny roadster. There were a few things about the event that were a little disappointing, such as the fact that we were only allowed to leave the manual equipped car in second gear during the hot lap event, but overall, both of us had a lot of fun at the event. What would have made the event awesome was if the event organizers let West Brother take his S2000, which was a Miata competitor during its life cycle, out on to the hot lap course. You can read our review of the all new, 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata here.

Behind the Wheel of the Batmobile

Being big fans of Batman, we have always wondered what it would be like to drive the Batmobile, if a real one were to exist. 2015 gave us that opportunity...sort of. In June of 2015, the last of the Batman: Arkham games made its debut, with the biggest selling point of the game being that players would finally be able to tear around Gotham City behind the wheel of Batman's most recognized wheels. For Arkham Knight, the Batmobile was redesigned to go from a tank-like sports car, to a literal tank, complete with 60mm cannon. While the Batmobile in car mode handled more like a wet noodle than a true sports car, it was still great to finally get a glimpse into what it would be like to chase down criminals in a big, gigantic, black, bat themed tank. Considering Bruce Wayne's collection of highly exotic super cars though, you would think he would know what good handling is. Read West Brother's review of the Arkham Knight Batmobile here.

Our Long Term Acura RLX
Surprisingly, despite its lack of popularity among mainstream auto journalists, our Acura RLX continues to draw quite a bit of attention from our readers. Our 3rd update on it was by far the most popular item this year as I suspect people are both intrigued by its mix of technology and comfort, but put off by the somewhat bland styling. Living with this car has shown that while it may not be perfect, it is a great car in its own ways.

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Looking forward at 2016, the big developments on the horizon seem to be electric/hybrid cars, autonomous driving, and greater integration of mobile devices into the automotive landscape.

More manufacturers are getting into the electric car game with ever greater range and ever shorter charging times as the holy grail that everyone is chasing. Those manufacturers who are still uncertain about electrification continue to hedge their bets with increasing use of gas/electric hybrids, though fuel economy is no longer the only time that hybrid technologies are coming into play as greater performance becomes a very prominent secondary objective in many cases.

Autonomous vehicles have been on everybody's minds with Tesla's introduction of their Autopilot system for the Model S being the closest we have come so far to some level of it being publicly available. Google's self-driving prototypes were in the news as much for the millions of miles of accident free driving as they were for the number of fender benders they were involved in because human drivers are still far from perfect. Early announcements in 2016 have already seen several major automakers state their interest in pursuing autonomous vehicles as a near term goal, but there are just as many legislative as technical hurdles to be crossed before self-driving cars ferrying people around becomes a reality.

As for mobile device integration, we are just starting to see the first iterations of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay make their way into the line-ups of several major automakers, but with the increased pace of development on autonomous cars, the infotainment experience is going to become an ever more important branding opportunity for automakers. Early reviews of Android Auto and CarPlay are promising, if a bit mixed, but the idea that our ever increasingly powerful mobile devices that are always with us can power the infotainment in our cars seems like a no-brainer.

Each of these developments also poses interesting challenges and questions for other road users, such as motorcyclists, cyclists, and pedestrians. Electric vehicles are lauded for their silence, but can pose a problem for pedestrians and cyclists who may rely on audible cues to know when a car is approaching from behind. Autonomous cars are going to have to be able to handle dealing with all other road users aside from other cars, which makes for a greatly expanded number of scenarios to test and develop for. Mobile device integration may increase convenience for drivers, but may add to distracted driving, which is already a major problem for non-car road users.

All of this to say that 2016 is shaping up to be an exciting year and we look forward to sharing our thoughts on it with you.

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