Archive for the 'Test drive' Category

04
Sep
10

Gonzo Was My Favorite Muppet: 2010 Nissan Cube SL

Let’s address the obvious first: The Nissan Cube is pretty eccentric looking. If cars attended middle school, the Cube would be mercilessly teased of its foreign appearance and ousted from any association by the cool cars. It would be forced to hang out with the other misshapen outcasts. The Cube would have lunch with the Aztek.

But out in the real world, it’s a different story: The Cube has many fans. Those that have gotten to know the Cube have found out how interesting it is. The Cube is “unconventionally attractive” and, unlike the Aztek (who, sadly, truly had some birth defect), people want to party with the Cube.

Read the whole  review at AutoKinesis

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02
Feb
10

2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor Review

The majority of us, if not all who read this, spend a great deal of their day on the endless cement network of highways, back roads, main streets, parkways and parking lots. Regardless of whether or not we’re in the most mundane of family shuttle or face-melting speed machine, there is always, at some point, the inescapable sense of confinement. Traffic, road work, or even the errant deer will throw a monkey wrench in the transport system, immediately awaking the reality that ultimately, we’re no more free to roam than a slot car on the living room floor.

But there is a class of car that is designed to drive clear off the grid, which we see every day, driving among us like a subversive rebellion who operate within the system but can hop clear out of it when at a whim, and it’s them that we envy when our little world is disrupted by the elements. When work needs to be done, and when the unforgiving world needs to be traversed, we will always turn to the 4×4 truck. I climbed into the latest example of the breed, the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor, and immediately saw the world around me in completely different way.

While being off-road capable is almost synonymous with brands like Jeep and its Wrangler here in the states, and the globe-trotting Land Rover, Ford has outdone both marks in the “sheer brazenness” category by having their Special Vehicle Team re-tool the DNA of the F-150 and produce the Raptor, a truck dedicated for wild off-road adventures. Most of the Raptor’s promotional images have it leaping with two or all four wheels catching air through a cloud of dust. In instances like these, one usually has to take into account that photos like these are designed to get your hopes up and the sense of action conveyed will result in a more underwhelming reality. For example, you know they Veryron will exceed 200 mph, but if you were fortunate enough to take one for a spin, the likelihood you’d experience the accompanying legend would be quite slim, with all your friends asking “did you?” afterward while you disappoint them.

Seeing the Raptor for the first time, live, and in “Molten Orange,” the exuding charisma is palpable. Standing at 78.4 inches and in the audacious paint scheme, coupled with the vinyl slashes, the Raptor is imposing. The blue oval may be solely allocated to the tailgate, but the grille still makes it clear who produces this truck. The grille also sports LED marker lamps that inexplicably add a genuinely interesting quality to the way the Raptor looks when it’s lit up. The hood has a pair of functional vents, with another duo of air extractors that are SVT badged on the front fenders, just before the A-pillar. Below the Raptor-specific bumper, you’ll find the skid plate protecting the underbody from terrain, debris, or anything that will be thrown towards the truck as you surmount the world before you. The cab of the Raptor is the F-150 SuperCab that holds six passengers with two full-sized doors and two half-doors to access rear seating. There may only be a small 5 ½ ft cargo box, but it’s still functional enough to satisfy most pickup needs, and the Raptor is a truck that is purchase more for play than for work.

The engine in my test vehicle was 5.4 liter 3-valve Triton V8 that puts out 310 HP @ 5,000 rpm and 365 lb-ft of torque @ 3750 rpm, with a small increase to these numbers if you’re burning flex-fuel. There ‘s also be a 6.2 liter V8 on deck for the near future that will undoubtedly trounce these numbers . All this power is managed through an automatic 6-speed transmission with overdrive. The truck sports a double wishbone front suspension with coil springs on the front, with leaf springs on a semi-floating rear axle. These are coupled with internal triple-bypass Fox Racing Shox and ride on 17”painted machined cast-aluminum wheels adorned with 35” all-terrain tires as standard.

In the normal world, before any grand expeditions are made, the Ford Raptor most definitely has a presence. To start with the obvious, it is quite tall and quite orange. The Raptor carries enough prestige that enthusiasts in the know will do a double take, and may even warrant an impromptu Q & A in the mall parking lot by one or two giddy truck fans. This leaves you with a reflective sense of being the champion of all that falls in your path, lord of the road and slayer of medians. Other weaker cars tremble at the sight of you and your mighty Raptor.  You are aware of being seen exiting and entering the truck and your inner monologue is a gravely, whiskey-honed narration of your every action. If Patton were around to drive a pick-up, he would choose the Raptor. It all goes straight to your head.

Reality will set in at moments like the gas pump. At 14 mpg city and 18 mpg highway the Raptor, given its function, expectably guzzles a fair amount of fuel. The relief here is that it runs optimally on regular, and is ethanol capable if you have a nearby provider (I don’t). Also being so noticeable does leave you with a sense of detachment and concern when you’ve parked it somewhere. Your imagination runs away with itself in-between the moments your large audacious extension is out of sight, worried some vandals might bite at the irresistible lure. Lest we forget, there’s also the flip side of the law, highway patrolman with quotas to fill.  Parallel parking does seem as dubious as expected, but an optional rear mounted camera makes this task very manageable with guideline graphics displayed on the screen and light enhancement at night. On the subject of options and the clarity of thought a tug on the wallet brings, a great deal of the accoutrements effect the bottom line. The F-150 in its pure Raptor incarnation starts at an MSRP of $38,020. Luxuries like the power seats and adjustable pedals, as well as heated mirrors bring the price up nearly $2,000. The vinyl graphics along the side and the accented interior can also be left out. These do add to the lunacy, but at a cost. Adding up the features my test truck had installed, the bottom line amassed to $45,045, not including any delivery fees.

Ford Raptor is equipped with SYNC, Ford’s award-winning touch screen interface. While this could warrant an article on its own, it most definitely complements the Raptor’s functionality. Bluetooth connectivity allows for integration of various devices, both phones and media. It’s simple enough to do, and multiple phones can be saved into the system and chosen easily if you share your truck with someone. And thanks to the 700-watt Sony audio system, the volume can be raised considerably when talking via the speaker system. It was a refreshing rare occasion where calls were potentially too loud instead of vice-versa. If you have a phone that’s capable, there is the ability to send and display text messages on the display. Despite pairing multiple phones with the blessing of their various owners, none had this functionality, so I unfortunately couldn’t experience this for myself or discover if this allows you to text while driving. I’d imagine not as SYNC does lock out typing for other inputs while on the move. (Update: Ford HQ tells me that SYNC will read messages on certain phones that allow the text feature or allow a pre-programmed response, presumably ones like “can’t text- ridin’ the RAAAPTOR!!!” safety first, folks.)

Other than Bluetooth, there’s an auxiliary jack as well as a USB to plug in various media devices and manage them through SYNC. There is, of course the AM/FM radio and 6 disc CD-changer, in which is housed a 10GB hard drive where over 2,000 songs can be stored in the Raptor’s “jukebox.” SIRIUS satellite radio is offered, as well as its Travel Link that incorporates itself in the navigation functions. The map screen becomes replete with gas station glyphs when your fuel level starts to run a bit low. At any point, you can also search for nearby gas stations and arrange your search results by price range. Travel Link also allows you to look up weather info, search for nearby sports activities, and browse movie times for nearby theaters. SYNC is well balanced between the touch-screen functionality and the physical buttons that adorn the dashboard. It’s easy to familiarize yourself with the functions and to decipher at quick glances, allowing you to focus on the road. Most of these features are voice activated as well, which can streamline the process with a little practice. What I found to be the greatest feature that many fixed-screen interfaces seem to lack, is that not only can the display switch to a black screen with the most minimal information on it, it can be turned just plain off. It sounds like a no-brainer, but a perfect example would be the display in the Dodge Challenger that can at best be switched to a black “stand-by” screen while still dominating the interior with an unwanted ambient glow.

Beyond the dash, the rest of the interior can be replete with molten orange highlights if orange or black is chosen for the exterior, and just black leather trimmed if the truck is painted blue or white. The rest is either rubber or hard plastics with a great deal of silver paint to go around, which looks better here than in most, but a spade is still a spade. The cabin is expansive, and easily houses 6 occupants with ease. The front seats, with optional ten-way power adjustment, include two much-appreciated seat memory buttons which interestingly can only be engaged in park. Your Raptor interior will come standard with an auxiliary switch board by the gearstick where the hill decent and off-road modes are activated, as well as four pre-wired switches to activate any aftermarket parts you may want to install into the system. With the optional tow package, the interior will also have a trailer brake available by the steering column for maximum towing control. The best feature on the inside? A good ol’ fashioned cigarette lighter. I don’t even smoke, but it just being there seems right for the Raptor’s persona.

Being based in New York, and not the big, expansive part, tests of various vehicles tend to take me through a variety of places like town roads, highways, and usually Manhattan (and yes, it’s loads of fun watching NYC pedestrians at crosswalks leap back onto the sidewalk at the sight of the oncoming Raptor). This truck demands more than a road test and luckily, had knowledge of series of trails through an area I wasn’t supposed to tread. Emboldened by the recalcitrance of the Raptor, I went anyway.

The path was a network of varied trails cut through the woods. The direction taken at the onset was mostly flat and sandy, and it was here that the Raptor was in its element. While highway driving was comfortable, the truck felt slightly out of place, like a creature in captivity. Here, the Raptor was bounding across the bumpy path with ease and speed. Our route gradually took me uphill, and the area became much more boney. Putting the truck in 4WD and activating off-road mode gave me the confidence move forward. Off-road mode eased the traction and stability controls while languishing in gears a little longer. The throttle response became more cautious, allowing me to ease and creep over rocks and out of troughs with care. This mode also activates the ELD or electronic locking differential and, as you can guess, locks the differential until you exit off-road mode, or manually disengage it with a pull of a knob. The 29.8 degree approach angle and 22.8 departure angle allowed me to take the Raptor higher up the terrain where the uneven ground had significant ditches cut into it. Obstacles were approached with held breath, but each time, the Raptor handled each without concern.

I finally reached the top of the hill where I lingered with the truck and watch waves of heat emanate from the hood vents. Evidence of a camp fire, coupled with the journey up there, reinforced my impression of the Raptor as a capable companion to take beyond the borders of the daily grind. Hill decent mode (and the breadcrumbs map option) saw that we returned back to the highway, making short work of a few mud puddles along the way. Back among the populous, passers-by, seeing a mud-splashed, orange behemoth, were inclined to ask “did you have fun?” as they saw the Raptor at a cursory glance as the big plaything that it is, and not simply a dirty truck.

Could the same journey have been done in a Jeep or a Land Rover? I’d say no. Both are certainly physically capable of the same trip (possibly superior in the case of a wrangler), the Rover, with its cameras and automated everything would seem too serious as it faithfully carried you aloft. And with the Jeep, you sort of expect it to handle various terrains like a good piece of equipment, whereas the Raptor amazes you each time it crawls out of some rocky maw. The Ford Raptor is a fun truck that has its faults but doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the good times do well to sooth the sting of the price tag. And if you ask “did you?” about catching air, in the middle of secluded private property, in a borrowed truck? Well, I wouldn’t want to disappoint.

-Alex K-

It will read messages on certain phones that allow the text feature
18
Jan
10

Clever Girl….

Check back in a week for the full skinny.

-Alex K-

21
Dec
09

Lexus HS 250h Review

Read this review and others at Autosavant.com

We’ve come a long way in a short while, when climate change and carbon footprint entered the lexicon, and the helpless automobile was borne aloft as the anathema to all things pure and natural. Naturally, alternative fueled cars had their time to shine, and to the staunch petrolhead, this was something to turn ones nose up at, be it out of pride or, more likely, fear that this heralded the end of “proper” cars.  So here we are, at the precipice of a new decade, and powerful, dinosaur-burning thumpers are still here (for now), supercars have begun to embrace electric power, and in the middle of the spectrum we find, puttering along, with no sign of relentment, is the hybrid.

The Lexus HS 250h is the division’s first foray into the realm of hybrid power plants, an inevitable direction with the highly successful Prius close in Lexus’ lineage. Those of us without a large amount of hybrid experience (much like your humble, luddite reviewer) will approach the HS with a sense of trepidation and, more optimistically, a fresh perspective on the automobile as we have come to know it. One would first expect the shape to be as bulbous as its Toyota cousin, but the profile of the HS is not as pronounced, just a slightly bloated departure from more familiar sedan shapes. Despite being round, it still incorporates enough moderately clean lines to give certain aspects an element of seriousness.  The HS features proximity sensors for keyless entry to the car and push button start, which tends to confuse things in one’s first starting of an unusual car since with push button start, the general methodology is holding start button, electronics switch on, and listening for the engine kicking off.  This is not the case here where it is “hold start button, electronics activate….now you can leave.” I’ve always been the type of driver that warms a car thoroughly before heading out, regardless of a car’s vintage, and this came to mind as I wondered how this would be possible if the HS decides to start the engine a few minutes into my journey. Lexus, as I discovered would be a recurring response, had thought of this in advance. The car has no visible temperature gauge, but starting the HS first thing after a cold night will prompt the engine to turn on as it will sense the need to do so on its own.

The engine in the HS 250h is basically the same 2.4 liter inline-4 power plant optimized to complement an electric motor that one will find in the Camry Hybrid, which produces a decent 147 horsepower on its own without its electric companion. Between the two power systems, the car produces 187 net horsepower, which is plenty of adequate performance for a car of this size to get around without too much thought for the punch that it lacks. Buttons by the wheel allow you to select from the standard ECO mode to either “power”, which favors output to fuel consumption, to EV, that will have the electric motor do much of the work. While one might not feel a substantial difference between the various modes, an available info screen in the gauge cluster will show the driver in real time which system is doing what between the battery, the engine, and the wheels. An arrow from the engine symbol will show that it is currently sending power to the wheels, while the battery will do the same every once in a while for extra help, and braking will display an arrow from the wheels to the battery indicating kinetic energy reclamation.  There is no regular tachometer in the HS 250h, but a gauge that goes from “charge” to “power” instead. Ride quality is comfortable as the Lexus is carried by a fully independent front and rear suspension that clearly prefers comfort to nimbleness and does well in that regard, while also having decent braking performance. Front visibility is excellent, but the blind spots are chillingly bad, and not being able to adequately see in various directions makes parallel parking a chore. The HS 250h has optional park assist cameras and sensors, and while they help slightly, they could do with improvement. The sensors, the most particularly useful parts, tend to have a very short reach, and only beep when one gets precariously close to something. The cameras would be helpful, but without an on-screen graphic like guide lines, it’s difficult to tell just how close the curb is to the side of the car, so the HS 250h tends to be on it, or nowhere near it.

Beyond the start button, the interior of the HS 250h is replete with a near overwhelming array of displays, buttons and interfaces for various systems, prominently presented on the center console that sweeps vertically down from the dash to the armrest. At the base is the input device for the Lexus driver information center, which is as near as a full-fledged computer mouse as a car will ever get. The size of this in relation to the gear shift as well as the shifter’s ousting from its traditional spot is indicative of the dominance of gadgetry in the HS 250h over the actual driving experience.  The driver information center allows access to all major car functions as one might suspect. What it does well is navigation, where clicking and zooming across the map feels natural with the mouse-like interface.  Upon entering a major highway, a sidebar panel will appear with the distance of the next three upcoming exits and what services one could find at them. What it doesn’t excel at is more detailed interaction in the midst of driving. On the subject for navigation, the system will lock you out from inputting any search parameters while on the move, and this also applies to dialing a phone via Bluetooth connection if you haven’t uploaded it in the phone book, or have it in your call history which lead me to the potentially less safe solution to bypass this nanny-ness by dialing the number on my phone anyway instead of using the car’s dial pad, which is at least near the driver’s line of sight in the flip-up nav-screen.  Plenty of the rest of the functions are accessible while driving, but almost ironically, the interfaces are too home computer-like to be easily used on the go. ipod music menus, for example, are very much set up like file folders with tabs at the top of the screen that can be clicked on with the cursor, all perfectly fine when standing still, but take a large heap of the attention the driver budgets from his or her primary duties behind the wheel.

Lexus seems to have noticed that there is plenty to take your mind off of driving in the HS 250h and has a tech package available with loads of driving assists to pick up the slack. Most fascinating is the Lane Keep Assist, which uses various sensors to keep the car in the lane if the driver’s lack of focus causes the car to slightly veer. When activated and approaching the edge of a lane too much, the HS 250h will pull towards the center ever so slightly to compensate. It won’t be a dramatic, self-driving moment, but the driver will feel a subtle amount of force feedback in the steering wheel. The system will also display a steering wheel graphic on the LCD screen in the gauge cluster to remind the driver that one or both hands are absent from it, as well as have two lanes illustrated that become bold when one seems to be wandering near them. On top of the steering column are sensors that monitor the driver’s eyes as well when the Lane Keep Assist is on. Wandering pupils or heavy lids will prompt the car to beep loudly for attention. Shutting one eye won’t trick the sensors, but a decent amount of squinting will. The cruise control radar can work in conjunction with this and follow a lead car steadily while maintaining about a three car length distance. If there is a dramatic interruption such as getting cut off or someone ahead slamming the brakes, the HS 250h will beep wildly again and rapidly brake to a low speed, but will not stop completely on its own.

While these are meant for driver safety, between the comfortable ride quality and interior, driver information center, and driver assists, it’s easy to see how an occupant is almost discouraged from doing much driving at all (great for coming home from the bar as well, with taco bell in one hand and a podcast playing…so I hear). The HS 250h is clearly for someone who wants Lexus level comfort but has no call for much driving performance; with plenty to keep them entertained while getting from A to B, and reducing their fuel budget at a minimum. With an estimated combined MPG of 35, the HS 250h will probably only need refueling every other week with daily use. Money that isn’t spent on fuel will go to towards the dealership, as the MSRP starts at $37,000. This review car, laden with all options totals at $44,967, including the $875 delivery fee.  Seems to be a hefty bottom line, but keep in mind an owner will be making 1k back a year from not going to the pump.

-Alex K-

07
Aug
09

Working Class Hero: Ford Transit Connect at Autosavant

Hello there,

Here’s a sample of my Ford Transit Connect review. Read the whole thing at Autosavant.com. Enjoy!

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Today, I am a baker, delivering exotic, towering cakes across the city. I am a carpenter, picking up works of art to be ornately framed at my Beverley Hills gallery. I am a florist, arranging elaborate set pieces and decorations for lavish events big and small.  Why the fluctuating vocations? Because today, I am in the Ford Transit Connect.

The Transit Connect is Ford’s newest addition to the commercial truck world, a place populated by various vans, pick-ups, and box trucks; all very useful, but all quite large and cumbersome. In some aspects, large is good. You need “large” when moving the contents of a house or delivering pianos. But what about when “large” is simply “too much”? That is to say too much wasted space, too big to get around and, regrettably, too much money? You’ll notice at this point ingenuity and compromise struggling to prevail as a family minivan pulls double duty transporting dogs for grooming or a station wagon is used for catering. Vehicles being stretched beyond their initial intended capabilities by hard working people making do.  The Ford Transit Connect answers this need by being a durable, efficient, high-capacity vehicle while remaining compact and affordable.

How does one test drive a work van? With work of course, as several Los Angeles business owners allowed myself and companions the opportunity to swing by in our Transit Connect and discuss how, if at all, the T.C. would be of use to them. Before setting out, we gave the Transit connect a once-over. Under the hood you will find a 2.0L I-4 engine giving you a max output of 136 hp. All this is married to the front wheels with a 4 speed automatic transmission. Seems underwhelming at first, but there’s more. The front sports an independent MacPherson suspension, but you’ll find leaf-springs in the back. As for brakes? The front wheels get discs while you’ll find drums in the rear….

Read on by clicking here…

Today, I am a baker, delivering exotic, towering cakes across the city. I am a carpenter, picking up works of art to be ornately framed at my Beverley Hills gallery. I am a florist, arranging elaborate set pieces and decorations for lavish events big and small.  Why the fluctuating vocations? Because today, I am in the Ford Transit Connect.The Transit Connect is Ford’s newest addition to the commercial truck world, a place populated by various vans, pick-ups, and box trucks; all very useful, but all quite large and cumbersome. In some aspects, large is good. You need “large” when moving the contents of a house or delivering pianos. But what about when “large” is simply “too much”? That is to say too much wasted space, too big to get around and, regrettably, too much money? You’ll notice at this point ingenuity and compromise struggling to prevail as a family minivan pulls double duty transporting dogs for grooming or a station wagon is used for catering. Vehicles being stretched beyond their initial intended capabilities by hard working people making do.  The Ford Transit Connect answers this need by being a durable, efficient, high-capacity vehicle while remaining compact and affordable.

How does one test drive a work van? With work of course, as several Los Angeles business owners allowed myself and companions the opportunity to swing by in our Transit Connect and discuss how, if at all, the T.C. would be of use to them. Before setting out, we gave the Transit connect a once-over. Under the hood you will find a 2.0L I-4 engine giving you a max output of 136 hp. All this is married to the front wheels with a 4 speed automatic transmission. Seems underwhelming at first, but there’s more. The front sports an independent MacPherson suspension, but you’ll find leaf-springs in the back. As for brakes? The front wheels get discs while you’ll find drums in the rear.

14
Jul
09

Tesla NYC & Roadster Sport

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Amongst the Chelsea art galleries in NYC, you’ll find Tesla Motors’ latest showroom and New York presence. You may be thinking that a car dealership would be a garish addition to such a charming district, but you needn’t worry. Tesla, mindful of the fact that building structures willy-nilly is slightly antithetical to their whole environmentally-responsible nature, has integrated itself comfortably within the neighborhood.

The facility itself is nothing wild, just a simple space with a couple of floor models, places to sit, have coffee, and pick options for your soon-to-be ride. When asked if they plan to make good on the statement at the Model S reveal that the dealership would facilitate a functioning art gallery, a representative stated that they will indeed do so, but slowly progress into it. Oh, and expect the works to have an automotive slant. The rep I spoke to also conveyed a desire to have projectors broadcasting images from other Tesla facilities, so say the California location has an event, they can share the festivities across the globe. Also significant is that this location broadens Tesla’s service network on the east coast, having a place to bring your Roaster in to for any issues, and making more service techs available for house calls.

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Also available was the opportunity to grab a first drive in the Roaster Sport, the 2010 Roadster with upgraded specs for your electric-sliding pleasure ( I went there).  Differences in this model are several little tweaks that make for a substantial improvement overall. Ergonomics in the 2010 models in general have been altered, such as moving the touch screen from the far left, near the driver side door, to the center, beneath the radio console. Gone is the vestigial gear-shift which has been replaced with push-button inputs that light up to inform you what “gear” the car is in. A removable hard-top is now available apart from the standard soft-top. The interior is imbued with stitching to match one of the varieties of color options available for the Roadster. Bluetooth connection is now available, and new sound dampers are in test that will make it usable with reducing the cabin noise.

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Among the many new options, the Roadster Sport features a customizable suspension (mechanically, not on the fly) and an upgraded motor, upping the Roadster’s 0-60 speed from 3.9 to 3.7. not a drastic change, but improvement nonetheless. That’s also frighteningly close to Ferrari F430 territory, by the way, and that’s with perfect gear shifts. There’s also optional carbon fiber accents that do wonders to make the already sporty Roadster look more menacing. Yes, a menacing EV car. you heard it here first. The lack of power steering is still apparent, and the tiny steering wheel doesn’t help matters, but this is all minutia when you’re punching it down Manhattan roadways in a blur, stopping only for lights and inquisitive motorists. While it may be hard to notice the slight improvement in motor output, with the many colors, options and upgrades to the Roadster, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Tesla’s flagship model is shaping up to be a definite winner.

-Alex K-

Check out this review and many others at Autosavant.com

For more information, visit teslamotors.com, or visit the new site yourself at 551 w25th st. New York, NY 10011

10
Jul
09

Genesis Coupe Review at Autosavant

Hello,

Another review of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe is up at Autosavant.com. please take a look at it here: Genesis Coupe Review

-Alex K-