Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Editorial: Is There Really No Replacement for Displacement?

"There's no replacement for displacement!" This was a common phrase I heard throughout high school, as most of my car nerd friends were into good 'ol fashioned "American Muscle." That phrase was their rallying cry. "Oh, you got a tiny little 2.0 liter turbo charged four-banger? You ain't got nothing on my 352 Hemi!" or some variety of that would be their attempt to put down cars with forced induction. I didn't really care much for the phrase, but I also didn't really care all that much for forced induction at the time either. In my high school years and throughout college, I was into high revving, small displacement, naturally aspirated engines. Honda's F20C, K20A, and B18C5 were my engines of choice. The largest displacement motor that had my attention was the Honda C32 3.2 liter V-6 found in the Honda/Acura NSX. 

Now that I live with a turbo engine for daily driving, I started to think about the whole "no replacement for displacement" argument again. Why? Because the 1.5 liter turbo four in my Civic Si makes nearly as much horsepower (post ECU reflash) as my S2000, and makes way more torque. Heck, after reflashing the ECU in my Civic, it almost makes as much torque as the V-6 in our departed 2016 Accord Touring. In the age of almost every vehicle coming off the factory line with a turbocharger, it almost feels like the argument for larger displacement should no longer exist. 

Of course, the troll in me always felt the "no replacement for displacement" argument was a load of garbage anyway. Even when I was in high school, I would always argue back, "well, what if I stuck a turbo or supercharger on your giant engine...wouldn't that make more power?" More often than not, my muscle car friends would always bring up the Dodge Viper's enormous V-10 as the "crowning achievement" of displacement over forced induction. I would always argue back, "but they make turbocharger kits for the Viper's V-10..." or "XYZ engine with less displacement and forced induction makes more power..." For those of you not familiar with Dodge's ginormous V-10, the 2017 version of the  admittedly old school 8.4 liter V-10 makes 640 horsepower and 600 lb/ft of torque. For comparison's sake, you can get a 2017 C7 Corvette Z06 with a 6.2 liter supercharged V-8 that makes 650 horsepower and 650 lb/ft of torque. Yes, more horsepower and torque from an engine that is an entire F22C size smaller, all because it has a (giant) supercharge strapped to it.  

In this day and age where factory forced induction is now the norm (for emissions/fuel economy purposes though), the "no replacement for displacement" saying really means absolutely nothing anymore. If you want to really get technical, a lot of today's electric cars are faster than big displacement muscle cars, and their electric motors aren't even measured by displacement at all! I love big block engines as much as the next car nerd, but even I know that the future of performance lies in forced induction, hybrid technology, and pure electric power. There will always be a place for good 'ol fashioned Detroit Iron, but I have to question for how much longer.      

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

News: The Acura RLX is Dead After 2020

It's official: Acura is killing off the RLX after the 2020 model year. The RLX, Acura's flagship sedan, replaced the aging RL (better known as the Honda Legend overseas) for the 2014 model year and soldiered on for six model years before Acura decided to drop the axe on the model entirely. Years of low sales numbers, despite a fairly attractive mid-cycle refresh and a reasonably power and efficient hybrid variant, put the final nail in the coffin for Acura's 5-Series/E-Class competitor.

To be honest, I'm a little torn about this announcement. We had a 2014 Acura RLX P-AWS Tech for three years starting from the end of 2013 all the way through the end of 2016. I personally like the car. It was reasonably powerful, comfortable, quiet, and handled surprisingly well despite its weight. That's not to say that the car was without its flaws. Much of the technology in the car was at least one generation behind parent company Honda's vehicles, specifically the ninth generation Accord that we acquired just before we retired the RLX. Ultimately, that seems to always be the problem with Acura's vehicles though. You can read our comparison of the 2014 Acura RLX P-AWS against the 2016 Honda Accord Touring here.

The main reason of why I'm torn over this announcement is because of the announcement of the next generation TLX. It's obvious Acura is ready to turn a new leaf, so why kill the model off completely rather than redesign it? Obviously, there's no guarantee that the model will go the way of the ZDX and stay permanently dead. At some point, Acura will need its flagship sedan again. My hope is that when the RLX does get a redesign, Acura will finally get it right and distance it from the highest end Honda Accord Touring. There seems to be enough distance between Acura's engines and overall handling capabilities versus its parent company cars, but I just hope Acura will finally get the packaging right so that the new RLX is actually a decent competition for the 5-Series/E-Class. 

As a final note, anyone who is interested in picking up a 2020 Acura RLX before it's completely gone can now get one for $12,000 off MSRP. Acura is really trying to get these things to move, so if you don't mind the somewhat old infotainment system and are looking for a 377 horsepower, hybrid luxury car, this could be your calling!

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Preview: 2021 Acura TLX

To say that I've been eagerly awaiting this car is a huge understatement. My current job has me working literally a block away form Honda's R&D facilities in Torrance, CA, so I occasionally catch glimpses of the camouflaged test mules roaming around my area. I once even tried to chase one down in the S2000 after work one day. My family has had two third generation TL Type-S (East Brother had a silver 6MT and I had a white 5AT) and it is still, to this day, one of my absolute favorite cars. When Acura finally announced the second generation TLX last week, complete with Type-S variant, I was ecstatic.

From the outside, the car looks fantastic. It takes a lot of its cues for the Type-S concept introduced last year, which is precisely what many people were hoping for. I think my favorite angle of this car is the rear three quarters. It looks like a grown up version of the current ILX, which isn't a bad thing. I like the current ILX A-Spec's look and think it's a a good look to build upon. With the Type-S quad exhaust, it just looks aggressive in the best way possible. The front of the car also looks great, with Acura designers doing a great job of integrating the new corporate front grille into the design of the car.

Now we get to the big one: power, handling, and content. This is where, for the last near decade, Acura has really done a disservice to the brand. In the early 2000s, around the time of the third generation TL, Acura was seen as an equal alternative to the likes of Lexus, and even in some cases, BMW, Mercedes and Audi. Despite being front wheel drive, the third generation TL performed as well and was as luxurious as its class rivals. The second generation RL, which was the first vehicle in its class to introduce torque vectoring all-wheel drive to the class, also blew its competition out of the water in its early years. But as the fourth generation TL was introduced and the second generation RL continued on largely unchanged, Acura began its long downhill slide. Its horsepower figures were no longer competitive, the luxury factor started to fall due to cost cutting, and the looks...oh lord the looks. Luckily, the MDX and RDX crossovers kept the brand alive, and Acura did see a brief resurgence with the introduction of the TLX and RLX. Unfortunately, the TLX was never considered a worth alternative to the 3-Series or C-Class due to its lack of power, and the RLX is effectively dead after this year (which will be discussed in a future article).

However, my biggest gripe with the Acura brand actually has to do with parent brand, Honda. Acura in the last few years has always been one step behind Honda's cars when it comes to new content. The reason why we ended up with at 2016 Honda Accord Touring instead of a 2016 Acura TLX was because the Accord had newer and better content than the TLX, not to mention nearly identical horsepower ratings and more room. Our last article before we bid goodbye to our 2014 Acura RLX highlighted the discrepancies between our Accord and the Acura flagship, showing that for over $25,000 less, you can get an Accord that out classes Acura's flagship in many respects. This is also the reason why I ended up with a 2020 Civic Si instead of a 2019 ILX A-Spec. Sure, the Civic may be missing a few luxury features, but it is in every other way, the superior car compared to the ILX.

With the introduction of the second generation TLX, this will hopefully change. Yes, the base vehicles will share some version of the 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder Honda currently uses in the Accord (and RDX and Civic Type-R), but what I'm more interested in is the 3.0 liter turbocharged V6 in the Type-S. Finally, Acura will get an exclusive engine not previously designed for a Honda application. We don't know how much power it's going to make, but rumor has it that it should make 35% more power than the current 3.5 liter V6 in the TLX. That puts it in the 390 to 400 horsepower range, which will be fantastic. Double wishbone suspension (which is making a return), the latest version of SH-AWD, and an interior featuring the latest technology Honda has to offer, Acura is finally making a divide between itself and parent Honda's vehicles. As far as I can tell, the only piece of equipment that might be carried over from the Accord is the 10-speed transmission, but even that should be significantly different from the Accord's since it'll need to be able to handle far more horsepower and torque.

It's still going to be a while before the 2021 TLX hits the market, but all things are pointing in the right direction for this car. The automotive press is hailing the TLX as a return to its early 2000 sporty roots, and boy I sure hope they're right. Acura needs a new renaissance, and they need it quick. Sure, the NSX brought some attention back to the brand, but Acura needs something more available to the masses, and they needed it yesterday. Let's see how things go...

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

West Brother's Top 5 Sport Sedans of All Time

For as long as our blog has been around, I can't believe we've never done a Top 5 or Top 10 listing. Why not start now? Let's begin with a vehicle class near and dear to my heart: the luxury sport sedan. My brother and I have driven quite a few sport sedans over the years, and have both owned at least one in our driving careers. So what are my top five luxury sport sedans?

Let's start by first defining what I classify as a sport sedan. Of course we have the classic definition of a sedan: four doors, standard trunk. The vehicle should have some kind of upgraded engine, suspension components, and anything that makes it capable of hanging with dedicated sports cars in a similar price range. This doesn't mean I'm going to be writing a list full of cars like the M3 or the CTS-V. I classify those cars as Super Sedans; a sedan that will decimate most sports cars of equal price. Plus, I've driven less than five super sedans so far, so that wouldn't make for much of a list. What do you say we get started?

#5 - Infiniti G37S

Back when I was in college, the Infiniti G37S was THE sport sedan to have. The second generation of Infiniti's G sedan was also my first real foray into sport sedans. Having not had much experience with sport sedans at that time, I went purely off looks and power figures. Sleek and stylish looks along with its 3.7 liter VQ37 V6 making 330 horsepower made it the car that I wanted right out of college. When I finally graduated back in 2008 and entered the workforce, I made it a point to go and take a look at the car that all my college buddies raved about.

I will say that the looks, power, and performance was exactly what everyone had talked about. This thing was quick and it looked the part too. But despite its fast looks and matching performance, the interior left quite a bit to be desired. This was supposed to be an Infiniti; Nissan's luxury and performance arm. What happened to the luxury part of the equation? Sadly, 12 years and a naming scheme later, it appears Infiniti still can't really handle the luxury part of what Nissan wants it to be (you can read my first post of our long term Infiniti QX50 here to see what I mean).

#4 - Cadillac CTS V-Sport

This car isn't what some of you think it is. It is definitely not to be confused with the Corvette powered CTS-V. That thing is what I define as a super sedan, and feels like you're driving a freaking sledge hammer (in a good way). This is one (big) step down from the CTS-V. It's essentially the equivalent of BMW's M-Sport line or Lexus' F-Sport line, just with added performance instead of a bunch of lame cosmetic stuff.

I got a chance to test drive the CTS V-Sport back in 2016 during the LA Auto Show. I was lucky enough to get into the car early in the morning so I didn't have to worry about the horrors of Downtown Los Angeles traffic. Aside from being one of the absolute best looking sport sedans on the market at the time, the CTS V-Sport had the grunt to go with it. Powered by a 3.6 liter twin-turbo V6 making 420 horsepower, this thing could absolutely haul ass. Magnetic shocks meant if you needed the car to handle, it could do it, but if you needed it to be comfortable, it could do that too. And the best part? Unlike the CTS-V super sedan, which definitely tries its hardest to look the part, the CTS V-Sport was far more subtle in its looks. This was a definite sleeper. The phrase, "not your granddaddy's Caddy" definitely comes to mind.

Unfortunately, and this was an issue across Cadillac's entire lineup at the time, the interior was...not great. Yes, it basically suffered the same issue was the G37S above, but unlike Infiniti, Cadillac knew what its brand identity (or at least what it wanted to be) was. It made no qualms about being available at car rental lots across America. So despite having an interior that left much to be desired, I still have to rank this car above the Infiniti simply just because Cadillac understands where it is in the market.

#3 - Alfa Romeo Giulia 

I honestly never though I would ever get to drive anything Italian in America that wasn't a Fiat. Getting the opportunity to drive a Ferrari or Lamborghini is unlikely given I'm not a member of the automotive press, and I don't know anyone that owns one. I did get the chance to test drive the Maserati Ghibli at some point, but I was very unimpressed. Enter Alfa Romeo. Alfa's first two cars in the US market were the 8C super car and 4C sports car, both of which were basically out of my reach. In an effort to win the US market back, Alfa decided to launch itself into the compact luxury sport sedan market. Boy was it quite the interesting effort.

The Giulia, by and far, is THE best sport sedan I have driven to date. Fast, responsive 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder, incredible handling, and looks to die for. Even the interior, while not great, was still better than what some other luxury manufacturers were working with. So why, despite calling it the best sport sedan I've driven, is it not in the number one spot? Reliability. There's an old joke among car enthusiasts that unless you've owned an Alfa Romeo, you aren't a true enthusiast. This is because Alfa Romeos are notorious for breaking down and just having issues. It's probably one of the reasons why the company left the American market the first time. With its re-introduction to the American market, you'd think that Alfa would work on the reliability. If you did think that, you're oh so very wrong. I guess being unreliable is just an Italian automobile trait because the Giulia, despite the heaps of praise from automotive press, just keeps falling apart. Reports of car after car after car going into dealers for warranty repairs, automotive press having cars simply stop running during testing, all were bringing back bad memories of the Alfa of old. The most notable breakdown occurred when an automotive magazine, I forget which one, was testing the high performance Giulia Quadrifoglio against the BMW M3 and Mercedes C63 AMG. Early into the track test, the Giulia just straight up stopped working and went into limp mode. If I remember correctly, Alfa sent a replacement car and even the replacement gave up at some point. The BMW and Mercedes performed all the tests flawlessly.

As I said in my review of the Giulia, I love the way the car performs and looks, and if money were no object, I'd get a Giulia. The problem though is that I'd much rather have a car that I can actually drive instead of one that will spend most of its life sitting in a dealer service bay waiting to have warranty repairs performed. 

#2 - Acura TL Type-S

We're definitely a bit Honda biased here, and I recognize it. So you thought a Honda or Acura would be in first place, right? Well you thought wrong! But that's not to see the third generation Acura TL Type-S is bad. Oh no, in fact, it's a fantastic car. Just that something else was a little bit more fantastic.

In 2008, both East Brother and I actually had TL Type-S'. His was a silver one with the six-speed manual, and mine was a white one with the five-speed auto. The third gen TL Type-S was an absolute fantastic looking car, was extremely quick, and handled like a dream, all despite being front-wheel drive. 286 horsepower (though rumor had it that it was probably closer to 300) from a 3.5 liter V6 being routed solely to the front wheels would usually spell trouble. Yet some how, the TL Type-S could keep up with the best in its class. I remember from an old Road & Track article comparing the TL Type-S against the Lexus IS350 and Infiniti G35S, the TL wasn't the fastest on paper, but actually beat both the Lexus and the Infiniti on track. Even the Drift King himself, Keiichi Tsuchiya, test drove the TL as was incredibly impressed.

In short, the third gen TL Type-S is an absolute amazing car. If I could find one with a six-speed manual today, I'd probably try and buy it. There is, however, one sport sedan that left a bigger impression on me...

#1 - Volvo S60 T6 R-Design

...and yes, it's a Volvo. Back in 2016, East Brother and I attended an event held by the Rusnak Auto Group that featured performance cars from all of the luxury brands in its dealer group. In the sport sedan segment, there was one car that not a lot of people touched, purely because of its badge. In a group with other makes like BMW, Maserati, and Porsche, most non-enthusiasts probably wouldn't even bat an eyelash at the Volvo. Boy were these people missing out. In the sport sedan group, the S60 T6 R-Design was easily the best handling, the best looking, and the quickest of the group. Around the short test track setup by the event organizers, the Volvo hauled ass. Its 3.0 liter turbocharged inline-six didn't make the most power, but its AWD system definitely utilized its power the best. To this day, I still remember how big the grin on my face was after getting out of that car.

The funny thing is, I still want a Volvo. I've always been a big fan of the V60 Polestar, and despite lacking a manual transmission, would still love to get my hands on one. There's just something about having a fast wagon that could blow the doors off of a lot of sports cars that really gets me going.

And these are my Top 5 Sport Sedans of all time. My brother may have a different list of his own, so don't take this list as our joint opinion. Let me know what your top five sport sedans of all time are in the comments below!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Long Term Test: 2007 Honda S2000 Post #9 (Happy Anniversary!)

Current Miles: 93,800

Happy 10th Anniversary to my beloved S2000! I know I joke about this a lot, but this is the longest, most stable, and least expensive relationship I have ever been in. A little bit of background on my S2000:

The Honda S2000 had always been a dream car of mine. I didn't really think about the prospect of owning one until my senior year of college, during which I was actually more focused on saving money to buy a new eighth generation Honda Civic Si. After graduating and starting work in 2008, I saved every penny I could to put a down payment on a Civic Si. I finally reached my goal around the beginning of 2010, when I started actively looking at getting a new 2010 Civic Si Sedan. After looking for a while though, I started to notice the price on used Honda S2000s. For the same amount of money each month, I could get myself into my dream car. My thought process was basically, "I'm in my early twenties, I live on my own, I'm not going to be starting a family with my girlfriend any time soon, and this is a dream car...why the hell not?" After a bit of searching, I found the beautiful Laguna Blue Pearl 2007 Honda S2000 you see here at Santa Monica Honda, being sold as a certified pre-owned vehicle. When I arrived, Santa Monica Honda also had a Berlina Black 2007 S2000 in their showroom, but I immediately drawn to the blue. And so, in May of 2010, I went home with my S2000 with 38,900 miles on the clock. Funny how I still ended up with a Civic Si years later anyway.

Since owning the S2000, I've driven it nearly 55,000 miles, gone through two job changes, moved three times, and went through a long and failed relationship. Yet, despite all of this, the S2000 has always been there for me. Sure, I've had a few minor issues with it along the way. The clutch master cylinder has given out twice since owning it (first time my local Honda dealer replaced it, the second time East Brother and I did the work ourselves). The soft top tore on both the passenger and driver side at the joints (which was thankfully replaced for a mere $100 thanks to an existing service bulletin regarding the top). I had to replace the original wheels with a set of Enkei RPF1 after an idiot decided he needed gas and nearly t-boned me, causing me to dodge and bounce off a curb. About six months ago, my alternator began suffering from the common issue of a bad rectifier in the alternator (causing my dash to flicker uncontrollably), so I purchased a refurbished alternator and replaced it myself. I have also unfortunately been involved in three minor accidents, two of which involved me getting rear ended and one of which a careless senior couple side swiped my car in a parking lot. Still, despite all of this, the car is still there and in great running shape. 

A couple of minor changes have also occurred since my last update. I purchased two interior items from a small company specializing in S2000 interior accessories called Modifry. One was a built in phone mount and the other was a built in cup holder (because, let's face it, you can't really call the space behind the gear lever "cup holders"). These items integrate very well into the S2000 and almost look straight out of the factory. The cup holder is nice as I'm now actually able to have somewhere to put a drink when I take the S2000 out and not have to worry about it getting in the way of my arm when I go to change gears. The phone mount is especially nice since I use Android Auto a lot and having my phone at an angle where it's in my peripheral vision is very handy.   

Since obtaining my 2020 Civic Si, the S2000 has gone back to weekend only duties. I decided that since the S2000 is becoming more rare and the price of the car is still slowly climbing back up, I might as well keep the mileage as low as I can. With what has been going on in the world as of late, keeping the miles low has definitely become a non-issue. I have, unfortunately, not driven the S2000 in about two months now. I definitely miss driving it, but the only reason I leave my house now is to get supplies, and the Si is frankly much more practical for that job. But, once we are allowed to leave our houses and go enjoy life again, the first thing I will do is drop the top on the S2000 and take it out for a nice, long drive.

Future plans for the S2000? I've been saying this for a while now, but the only immediate plans I
have for the S2000 are to get a CT Engineering cold air intake and a GReddy Supreme SP exhaust for the car. After getting the FlashPro for the Civic, I've decided that I might get another one for the S2000 as well. I have no immediate plans to lower the car (I scrape enough driveways at stock height) or do anything quite so drastic with it. If money were no object (which it is, unfortunately. I'm trying to save to buy a house in Los Angeles County...if you live here, you know what I'm talking about), I would definitely turn the S2000 into a track ready project car. CT Engineering supercharger, coilovers, Brembo big brake kit, a Seibon carbon fiber hard top, and the list goes on.

For now, I'm more than content with how the S2000 is, and I hope to enjoy it for another 10 years.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Long-Term Test Drive: 2019 Infiniti QX50 Essential

Let me start off by saying that this post is long overdue. We've had this particular vehicle for almost two years now, but here I am just getting to it now. Better late than never?

I also want to preface this post by saying that I genuinely dislike CUVs with a passion. Why? It's simple:

1. The average driver does not actually need the extra height of a CUV. Unless you plan on taking it off road at some point, which the average CUV driver never will, YOU DON'T NEED THE EXTRA HEIGHT!
2. The extra height actually makes the car less efficient and more prone to flipping over
3. If you claim you want the extra cargo space, get a wagon or hatchback, which are infinitely cooler than these stupid things
4. The price premium CUVs carry over their sedan, wagon, and hatchback counterparts is often ridiculous considering the loss of efficiency.

But enough about my own personal biases towards these rolling wastes of space. What do I think about this particular vehicle here? Let me start with what I actually do like about the QX50. I find it to be one of the best looking vehicles in its class. Infiniti, despite all their current shortcomings, can still design a good looking car. The lines of the car all flow nicely into each other, and create a very cohesive and classy look. Of note is the high center line, that starts at the hood and actually flows all the way to the back of the car. Another nice design feature is the kink on the rear three-quarter panel. This design element fits nicely with the rear hatch design, and creates a visual cue that isn't disjointed like a lot of other CUVs out there. Lastly, the QX50 is one of the few Infiniti vehicles that actually pulls off that bull shark looking front end well. Considering this was a new vehicle design, it gave the designers and opportunity to design the car around the new corporate front end instead of tacking it on, thankfully.

Unfortunately, the way the car looks is really its only redeeming feature. Everything else is subpar, at best. Let's start with the biggest glaring flaw of the QX50: its packaging. This isn't just an issue with the QX50, but with the general Infiniti line up all together. Looking specifically at the QX50 though, it's a pretty glaring issue. Our particular QX50, the QX50 Essential, is the highest trim package available. Yet, despite it being the highest trim package with a starting MSRP of $45,500 in 2019, it is missing A LOT of features that its competition has as standard features. In fact, many of the missing features of the QX50 Essential come as standard equipment on lesser, non-luxury cars as well. Despite its price tag, the QX50 does not have as standard equipment: heated seats, memory seats, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay (which was remedied in the 2020 model year, thankfully), full driver assist package (the car does have radar cruise but no lane keep assist), LED headlights with adaptive lighting, wood trim. In order to add these items, you have to add a bunch of packages to the car, which can easily bring the MSRP beyond $50,000. Just as an example of how absurd the QX50's lack of equipment is, our 2016 Honda Accord Touring, which had an MSRP of about $35,500 at the time, has all of the missing bits from the QX50 as STANDARD equipment. To add insult to injury, my current 2020 Honda Civic Si has most of the same features as our old Accord (no memory seats or wood trim) at an MSRP of $25,000.

But enough about the QX50's lack of equipment. How does it drive? I will say that the 2.0 liter turbocharged inline-4 is actually quite good. It definitely provides some good mid-range power and the turbo lag is thankfully not very noticeable. At 268 horsepower, it puts it around mid-pack for power in class. Unfortunately, it's strapped to Nissan's godawful CVT. I've experienced Nissan's CVT in various applications in the past, and while the CVT in the QX50 is admittedly one of its better iterations, it still sucks. In the car's eco and normal driving modes, the CVT feels lazy and slow. In sport mode, the CVT can't seem to figure out where it wants to be, making manual shifting a necessity just to get the darn thing to work normally. It's not that Infiniti doesn't have a regular torque converter automatic to use, it's that Nissan is absolutely infatuated with CVTs for whatever stupid reason. Oh yeah, and whoever worked on the intake and exhaust sound engineering for this car? What the hell were you thinking? The engine sounds like straight up garbage. To this, I say to you:

The handling of the QX50 is pretty much what most people would expect of any CUV in this class: just very "meh." Because of the added ride height, the car rolls quite a bit during cornering and can feel quite nervous when needing to execute quicker maneuvering. The biggest problem though is the vehicle's lack of adaptive dampers, which is now becoming standard equipment on CUVs of the same class (hell, my Civic Si has adaptive dampers). Some adaptive dampers would go a long way to making the car more sporty when the driver wants it, while maintaining the car's ride comfort when the sporty handling isn't needed.

Lastly, there's the problem of the interior. It's certainly not bad, but boy is there a ton of plastic for a $45,000 car. It would be forgivable if said plastic was of the soft touch variety, but it's not. A lot of the surfaces that are commonly touched are of the rough, hard, hollow sounding variety. Even if you got the package that includes wood trim, I'm not positive it would really class up the interior much. There's also the issue of that dual touch-screen infotainment system. My family has owned quite a number of Hondas and Acuras with their iteration of the dual screen system. They've all sucked, as far as I'm concerned. Infiniti's version sucks just as bad. It's slow, the graphics are outdated, and it's hugely distracting. Why anyone still thinks this is a great idea is beyond me.

OK, so I've shit on the QX50 quite a bit, and we still have the car for another year or so. In analyzing the QX50 though, I've come to the conclusion that Infiniti is not long for this world. Many of the company's decisions have been moronic at best when it comes to vehicle packaging and which models to keep. With former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn out of the picture, is there a chance Infiniti could recover? I'm not so optimistic. In fact, car blogger/reviewer Doug DeMuro recently put out a video on his More Doug DeMuro channel about how Infiniti is pretty much done for, and I more or less agree with it. Check it out for yourself below:

But as I've mentioned above, we still have the QX50 for another year. Even though it's not the most interesting vehicle, we will continue to post about it until we have to hand the keys back over to Infiniti. I'm just hoping in that time we'll find some sort of redeeming quality about the car that we missed the first time around.   

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Long Term Test: 2020 Honda Civic Si Sedan post #2

In my first post about my 2020 Honda Civic Si, I mentioned that I had decided to do some modifications to it. Today, I'm here to talk about what I've done and why I did it. My original plan was to leave the car completely bone stock as this was meant to be my daily driver. The more I drove it and the more I looked at it though, I wanted to make some small changes to the car that would improve its looks and performance. And so, a hobby (and extreme money pit) that I thought I had left behind in college reared its head once again. Unlike my college days though, where I wanted to modify almost every aspect of my then 1997 Honda Accord LX, I decided to be much more subtle about it. Here's what I've done so far.

As mentioned in my first post, I wasn't exactly a big fan of the updated wheels on the 2020 Civic Si. I felt they were too busy and probably heavier than they should be. Lucky for me, through an available connection at work, I was able to get a set of brand new Vöxx Lumi wheels. The five "Y" spoke design resembles that of the Civic Type-R wheels, but in a much more tire friendly 18 inch size instead of the Type-R's 20 inch wheels wrapped with rubber bands. What makes these wheels even better is that they are approximately four pounds lighter than the factory wheels. Though it might not seem like much, the total 16 pound weight loss netted me a very, very small gas mileage gain (probably around 0.1 mpg). With the wheels installed, the car was already looking significantly better. As my car made the social media rounds though, one common comment was, "wheels look great, car needs to be lowered," or some variation of that comment. 

After mulling on it for nearly a month after installing the new wheels, I finally caved to social media pressure and decided to lower the car. I didn't take this decision lightly though. Since the Civic Si has adaptive dampers, I would need to find a lowering spring kit that worked with the adaptive dampers and wouldn't negatively affect the car in any way. After much research and a calls to various suspension component manufacturers, I settled on the Eibach Pro Kit lowering springs. Eibach had done extensive testing with the Civic Si prior to releasing the kit. Knowing that the kit was designed with the adaptive dampers in mind, this made me confident in my purchase and I had them installed. With the car lowered around an inch front and rear, the car now looks much better and much more aggressive. The best part is that the ride quality has not suffered at all, and I can happily report that the adaptive dampers still work just as well as the day I purchased the car. Unfortunately, any sort of long term testing will have to be put on hold. Two weeks after the install, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced the shelter-in-place order to flatten the COVID-19 infection curve that was rapidly rising in California. As a result, the Civic has been sitting on my driveway for about a month now, with the only the occasional jaunt around the neighborhood to keep my sanity in check. Once the order is lifted and we can all move about somewhat normally again, I plan on taking the Civic out for a road trip to see how much the handling characteristics have changed.

More Power
Does the Civic Si need more power? Probably not. Even though the Si has not actually gained all that much power since the 8th generation, its torque has increased dramatically since then. Going from a naturally aspirated engine in the past two generations to a turbocharged engine meant a very significant torque increase. During the first few weeks of driving the car, I was admittedly intoxicated with the turbo torque. Freeway merging and passing is so much easier in this car, and Honda has done a very good job of keeping turbo lag to a minimum. Despite this, there was always that nagging feeling that the car had so much more potential with the factory components than what Honda was allowing. Of course, by this time, famed Honda ECU tuning company, Hondata, had already created an ECU flash for the 10th generation Civic Si. Curious at the Si's actual potential, I went ahead and purchased a Flashpro from Hondata. According to the Hondata website, the CARB legal tune increases performance by about 27 horsepower and 40 lb./ft. of torque. It also increases mid-range power delivery, allows for "full-throttle shifting" (being able to shift gears without releasing the gas pedal), and removes the speed limiter. All of these changes are made for the car's sport mode so that when driving in normal mode, gas mileage remains completely unaffected. Being the idiot that I am, I made this purchase about two weeks into the shelter-in-place order. I did end up receiving the Flashpro unit a week later, but with the looming threat of a hefty fine from law enforcement for being out when I'm not supposed to, I only managed to take the Civic out for a quick spin. Updating the car's factory tune was a breeze and took no more than 15 minutes. After taking the car out, my butt dyno confirmed that the extra power was for real and definitely serious. Turning VSA off, I was actually able to chirp the tires throughout all of first and most of second gear. While that was fun, I'm definitely not going to be doing it again any time soon. As things return to normal in the world, we'll see how much of a difference the Hondata tune has made in my car.

So the question remains whether or not I'm going to do anything else with this car. At this time, no. This is, after all, supposed to be my daily commuter car. I should be saving my funding for modifying and tuning the S2000, especially since I may have accidentally made the Si faster in a straight line. But as most of my fellow car enthusiasts know, once you start modifying a car, it's really hard to stop. Time will tell...

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Long Term Test: 2020 Honda Civic Si Sedan

I first test drove the current generation of the Civic Si almost 3 years ago when it first debuted. It was a 2017 Civic Si Coupe that I was actually quite impressed with and had sort of thrown around the idea of bringing home with me. Ultimately, I decided against it, especially since the S2000 was still in great shape, and the Accord Touring was still less than a year old at the time. In 2018, I test drove the Si again, except this time in Sedan form, and back-to-back against a 2018 Accord Touring 2.0T. I was still very much impressed with the vehicle, but there were some things missing that really kept me from wanting to take one home right then and there.

Enter the 2020 Civic Si. The 10th generation Civic, now having been on the market for nearly four years, was finally due for its mid-cycle refresh. For 2020, Honda finally added some of the features that I had been wanting on the Civic Si, including LED headlights and the Honda Sensing driver assist suite. Coupled with a revised and much more aggressive looking front and rear end, new wheels (which I am admittedly not a huge fan of), and some additional tech goodies, I finally decided that if I was going to get another daily driver, this would be it. As my S2000 crossed the 93,000 mile mark, my fear of the car losing a large portion of its value at the 100,000 mark drove me to the decision to bite the bullet and get the newly updated Si. And so, on a rainy day in December of last year, I ventured out to a local Honda dealer and took home a Modern Steel Metallic Civic Si Sedan.

It's now been four months since I've had the Civic and has been my daily commuter during this time. In those four months, I believe I'm able to sum up my thoughts about this car in one sentence: Despite some minor gripes, I believe this car is worth every penny.

OK...done...end of article...

Oh, you're still here? Well then, let me give you some more details on why I think this car has been worth every penny, and those minor gripes that I have.

When it comes to vehicle content, the Civic Si probably has some of the best content in its class.
Standard LED headlights, standard driver assist features (radar cruise, lane keep assist, collision mitigating braking), standard touch screen infotainment with Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, standard heated front seats, and the list goes on. Let's not also forget that this might be the only car that has adaptive dampers for under $30,000. Of course, this does lead me back to my old complaint about Acura and why Honda continues to sell Acura vehicles with less content than their Honda counterparts.

Then come the way the car drives. A smooth, turbocharged 1.5 liter inline-4 mated to a six-speed manual with limited slip differential, along with the aforementioned adaptive dampers make this car drive incredibly well. I mean, sure, it doesn't quite handle as sharply or quickly as a certain Honda sports car that I own, but for a front wheel drive people mover, it handles extremely well. The best part is the fact that despite its handling characteristics, the Si is not uncomfortable to drive at all! Leave the car in its normal mode, and it is just about as comfortable as the 2016 Accord Touring I once previously drove. Put it into sport mode, and the car really transforms with enhanced throttle response, tighter steering, and the adaptive dampers keeping the handling tight and flat.

And what about the car's looks? Let's put it this way. One of the questions I often get asked is why I didn't sell my S2000 and just get a Type-R instead. While I think the Type-R is a cool looking car, it does feel a little juvenile considering my age. The Si offers an aggressive and sporty look without looking like I've fallen back into my rice rocket phase of the early 2000s. It looks just sporty enough that people can tell the car is different in some way without drawing a ton of attention like the Type-R does. But, there are two design elements that I'm not a huge fan of, and so begins my minor gripes about the Civic Si.

The one major design element that Honda carried over from before the mid-cycle refresh is that large, center exit exhaust tip. At first, it didn't bother me much, but the more I looked at it, the more I thought it looked extremely familiar. Then, one day, when I told a friend that I was looking at getting a new Si, his first comment was, "oh, so you're getting the Honda HDMI?" At first, I was confused, thinking he meant Honda includes an HDMI port in the car somewhere. He then showed me a picture of the rear of the car and it dawned on me. He was talking about the exhaust. After seeing the car on a daily basis for four months, I've grown accustomed to it. There is, however, one more design element that I was not a fan of. In fact, it bothered me enough that around February of this year, I decided to go aftermarket with it: the wheels. The pre-refreshed Civic Si wheels were a very good looking split five-spoke design. For whatever reason, Honda decided to go with a much busier multi-spoke design for the refresh. It's something I probably could have lived with, but I decided to go in a different direction when the wheels became available. I'll reveal what those wheels are in my next post.

Two more gripes I have about the car are related to the transmission and exhaust (again). This was something I mentioned in both of my previous reviews of the Si, and I believe it deserves to be repeated once more: the clutch pedal is way too light. It takes barely any force for me to completely depress the clutch pedal and does leave the engagement point feeling a bit on the vague side. Once I was used to it, it was fine, but coming from driving the S2000 on a regular basis, it felt downright strange at first. Lastly, we have a secondary exhaust issue. The Civic Si actually sounds pretty good. I like that it has a fairly deep rumble at idle and makes some great noise at full throttle. My gripe has to do with putting the car into sport mode. Rather than a valve of some sort that opens up in sport mode to make the exhaust louder, Honda opted to pipe in additional sound via the sound system. So while the car may sound louder inside, it sounds exactly the same from the outside. In short, it's stupid and Honda should feel bad about it.

In the four months I've had this car, I have also fallen down the rabbit hole of modifying it. What started with just the wheels ended up with me going beyond what I expected to do with the car (which was supposed to be nothing). I'll reveal what I've done with the Civic in my next post, but let's just say I think I may have inadvertently made it faster than my S2000, but just in a straight line. At some point, when we're all allowed to leave our houses again, East Brother and I will go out and test this theory, but for now, I think I have the car at a point where I want it and I'm just hoping I don't start getting the itch again. Besides, I should be working on my S2000, not my daily driver! 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

East-West Brother's Garage Update

It has definitely been a long time since we last posted anything. With life generally catching up to both East Brother and myself, we lost touch with this blog and let it slowly wither away. Now that most of the country is in lock down due to COVID-19, there is definitely one thing that we all have much more of these days: time. Even though the automotive industry is at more or less of a standstill, there is still lots to report on, whether it's general industry news, or our own automotive adventures (that happened before California's shelter-in-place order).

When we last left you, we reported that we had parted ways with our 2016 Honda Accord Touring long term vehicle and some new changes were coming to our long term and personal garages. Since then, our long term fleet, which was technically empty when our last post went up, has seen the addition of a 2019 Infiniti QX50. We're definitely not big fans of any sort of CUV, but the decision was really out of our hand. Reviews for this vehicle were in the works prior to our leave of absence, but both East Brother and I struggled to find much good to say about the vehicle. With life happening, the reviews were shelved, but it still might be good to share some insight on this...fairly mediocre and somewhat overpriced re-badged Nissan.

Another addition, which is actually a personal addition to my own garage, comes in the form of a 2020 Honda Civic Si Sedan. This was actually a somewhat recent addition, purchased in December of 2019. My decision behind obtaining the Civic came because my S2000, which was being daily driven again after parting with the Accord, was starting to slowly lose its value as I inched closer and closer to 100,000 miles on the odometer. Also, maintenance on the vehicle was starting to become cumbersome, especially since I started doing much of the maintenance myself. I found myself having to replace some critical parts, which became longer than anticipated projects. Rather than running the risk of encountering a project that would take me multiple days to complete and being stuck without a vehicle, I decided to get a daily driver that would be fun and reliable while allowing me to take as much time as I needed to work on the S2000.

As for East Brother, his garage has not changed since we last posted. The Chevrolet Bolt and BMW K1200S are definitely still there. Will there be any changes in the near future? If there are, I'll let him write something up.

So that leaves the final question: are we officially back? Only time will tell. I may post sporadically throughout the next couple of months as time allows, but who knows? With the extreme uncertainty in our world right now, it's hard to say what's going to happen next...