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...