Morning in America

2011 Grand Cherokee

If you haven't driven the 2011 Grand Cherokee, you haven't driven an American car.

There are fewer compelling reasons to buy a Japanese car than at any point since the early 1970s.

March’s devastating earthquake, ensuing tsnumai, and surreal nuclear meltdown in Japan are all beginning to have real and lasting impact on the automotive industry there and here. Parts are becoming scarce. We just heard from one customer that certain paint colors on Ford products are backordered because the supplier is Japanese, but that’s third party hearsay, and I wouldn’t bank on it as fact.

But even before then, the Japanese auto industry was in dire straits. Toyota had major issues thanks to what was once considered its halo car, the Prius hybrid. The Tacoma – a vehicle that was once synonymous with quality and longevity – was being crushed at a rate of thousands a week with frame rust that rendered running trucks with low mileage completely unusable.

Even more shocking, in a way, was the December 6, 2010 cover story in Automotive News: “The Threat to Honda’s Mojo: Year of opportunity goes in reverse for brand.” It was a scathing indictment. After decades of grand slams, home runs and standup doubles, Honda found itself whiffing at the plate. The Crosstour, for example, is a fine automobile, but its styling is nearly as reviled as that of the Pontiac Aztec. Just under 26,000 had found owners by the end of 2010, a dismal failure in comparison to Toyota’s Venza which had sold 43,000 units. The hybrid Insight found itself subjected to rebates and special offers. The Odyssey minivan was plagued with transmission and steering rack issues. The CR-Z hybrid — which was billed as the return of the car that built Honda’s reputation for beating Europe at its own game, the CRX – was stillborn, with just 4,300 sold, and over 3,000 in inventory, a wide gulf from the expected 15,000 units a year.

This last two years should be a reality check for the Japanese auto industry. For the better part of 20 years, Japan was an automotive Field of Dreams, with customers coming simply because they were building it. For customers like my 80 year old mother, there wasn’t even a consideration. When it was time to turn the old car in, only a Japanese car would do.

That mentality completely ignored that throughout the late 1990s and 2000s, American car companies were building better and better cars all the time. By mid-decade, Ford and GM, at least, were building cars that not only competed with Japan, but in many cases, beat it soundly. Japan had fallen for the same lure of the full-size truck that America did, only Toyota and Nissan weren’t building trucks as good as the Americans could. And while pundits were still pointing and laughing at GM and Ford for building full-size trucks and SUVs, a lot of the refinement and engineering that went into those trucks was beginning to filter down into the passenger car line. Look no further than the 2008 Chevy Malibu to see the improvement in design, quality and engineering inside, that came directly from the truck division.

Nevertheless, American car companies still had a bad reputation. Every time I mention that I drive a Buick (I have two now, actually, a 1996 Roadmaster and a 1968 Riviera. I’m probably one of six families in America with two Buicks in the driveway), the standard response is “I don’t buy American cars because in 1980, my aunt Sally bought a Citation and it was a shitbox.”

American car companies built lousy cars in 1980. But guess what: So did everybody else. Only I see a lot more 1980 Olds Omegas still running around than I do 1980 CVCCs, because the Honda products couldn’t make it through half a New England winter. The Honda might have had a more refined engine, but rust quickly took hold, to the point that I haven’t laid eyes on a daily driven Japanese product from the early 1980s in New England in at least 15 years.

Korea built shittier cars 25 years ago, but for some reason, we’re willing to give Hyundai and Kia a pass. The early Excels literally fell apart on the showroom floor in the late 1980s, but in recent years, American consumers have bought into the brand, at first because they offered a great warranty, and now because they actually build a compelling product.

Now is the time to shake off the blinders and look at American brands. The products are great, offering innovative features, excellent fuel economy and outstanding quality, nearly across the board. No matter what the stooge from the Detroit News had to say, Chrysler’s products have come a long way from just a few years ago. The 200 is a nice car, the 300’s even better, the Charger (which I hated) is truly an awesome vehicle, and the Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango will completely change your opinion not only of Chrysler, but of the American car industry in general.

My challenge stands, as it did a half-dozen years ago when I started noticing how good American products had become: Drive one. Then tell me how much better the Japanese counterpart is.

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Fear Marketing 101

Toyota Prius

If you've thought about buying one of these, don't do it now.

Not three months ago, the Toyota Prius was nailed to the showroom floor. Less expensive gas and a year’s worth of bad press surrounding the “unintended acceleration” issue (read: “I stepped on the gas and the brake” issue) meant that Toyota’s hybrid car was suddenly subject to interesting financing and discounts, which had never happened before.

Fast forward to March 11, 2011: Japan is shaken by a massive earthquake and following tsunami, and amongst other more serious issues, automotive production grinds to a halt. When all is said and done, the entire country will experience somewhere close to a month-long auto industry shutdown.

Combine that with the fact that Americans are set to experience gas prices in the $4.00/gallon range by the “summer driving season” and suddenly, dealers are finding that they can charge at least MSRP, or even a hefty premium, for the car that just a few months ago was synonymous with “lemon.”

Here’s the reality: Inventories are going to be tight for the next year. Toyota builds the Prius in Japan, so we’re looking at at least a month without one being produced. Gas prices are similarly going to be expensive at least until we get past Labor Day. Not such great news, I guess.

But the other reality is that Toyota hasn’t suddenly decided to stop producing Priuses. They’re popular here, but in Japan, they’re the number one selling car. When production ramps up again, the Prius will be one of the first cars to be produced. And, as sure as the sun rises in the east, gas prices will come back down again. Once we get finished bombing Lybia and the Middle East settles back into its consistent pattern of occasional bomb-throwing and strife, the price of gasoline will be back to the $2.45 range before you know it.

Ask anybody that bought a Prius in 2005 after Katrina hit. They paid a massive premium for those cars, and then saw the bottom drop right out of the hybrid market because they bought one at the peak of the market.

Chasing pennies on the gallon never makes any sense. Edmunds.com has a pretty cool True Cost to Own tool that’ll prove this out. If you factor in depreciation financing, insurance, sales tax and all of the associated fees involved with buying a new car, even a fuel-sipper like the Prius — at a discounted price — results in a cost of $14,043 for the first year alone. At 15,000 miles a year, with a fuel cost of $3.52 a gallon, you could drive a Ford Excursion for three years before you spent that kind of money.

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King of All Media: Boston Globe, Saturday February 19

Just a quick post to get you to read a piece I wrote in the Globe this week:

http://www.boston.com/cars/newsandreviews/overdrive/2011/02/resisting_new_car_purchases_ca.html

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Jalopnik, TTAC, Mommy blogs and Journalism 101

 

"I hear Playtex is giving out free binkies. To the Volvo!!"

 

Jalopnik and The Truth About Cars are foaming at the mouth over the following:

http://dearcrissy.com/crazy-toyota-mommy-networks-mom-bloggers-story/

The gist is this: Crissy Someb0dy-or-Other has something I’d rather carve my eyes out than read: A “mommy blog.”

Anyhoo, she’s up in arms because somebody from a network of these things (I can’t believe we need more than one) contacted her (and a whole lot of other women who write these things), offering her a $10 Amazon gift card if she’d write a positive blog post talking about the recent news that Toyota‘s been exonerated by NHTSA for the unintended acceleration hoo-ha over the last couple of years.

Toyota denies any involvement. I tend to believe Toyota only because I know the PR and Marketing machines at Toyota are a little too busy trying to move iron to undertake this kind of penny ante bullshit. I do think that when the story finally comes out, we’ll find that it may have been some contracted firm that went ahead and did this.

Regardless: The folks over at Jalopnik and The Truth About Cars are all atwitter at this egregious affront to journalistic integrity.

Yes, how lucky we are that that bastion of journalistic integrity, DearChrissy.com, has resisted the lure of a $10 gift card.

How ever could we trust her in-depth binky reviews or tips on nipple moisturization, if we felt that she’d been tainted by Toyota’s filthy lucre?!

Secondly, the chick came right out and asked for it. If you click her “Ads & PR” link, you’ll note that she calls her site a “PR-Friendly blog” and openly solicits things like product demos or giveaways. You got cash? She’ll even let you sponsor her Facebook or twitter posts!

This is what’s known in the media business as a “whore”:  Somebody who’ll say anything for a free lunch, a windbreaker and a totebag. Only most times, you don’t get to see this kind of editorial ethics policy in black and white. At least with DearChrissy, you know where you stand.

So Jalopnik and The Truth About Cars got their panties in a bunch and jumped the gun: This, friends, is why you don’t see stories like this in actual “publications” that have some semblance of “journalistic integrity.” The do the hard work, they do the research, and they tend not to get overheated on rumor and innuendo.

Blogs are fun to read, but they ain’t the newspaper, folks.

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6 New Car “Features” I Wish Would Go Away

Yankee Driver: Side View Mirror

Dear Car Companies: I know how to use this. I don't want it to show me my rear tire.

I happen to be driving a 2011 Honda Accord “Special Edition” this week.  I picked up my daughter at her after-school program last night. I went to put her in the back seat, yanked the door handle. Locked. Pushed the button on the key fob. Unlocked already open driver’s door. Had to push the button twice to open the back door.

We got home 15 minutes later and I went to open the door for her. Locked. Pushed button. Unlocked already open driver’s door. Pulled handle. Still locked. Pushed button twice to open back door.

I never locked the door myself. The car did it for me. It’s a “feature.”

We had this “feature” in my wife’s 2001 VW Jetta Wagon, too. It had a special bonus “feature” in the summer, especially if you’re like me and enjoy having the window down, with your elbow out the window: As you drove away from a stop, the car would lock the doors. But as it did so, the little lock thingy would grab a piece of skin from that ultra-sensitive area on the underside of your arm, and pull it down the lock hole. By the last time it happened, I was ready to drive that car straight into a bridge abutment.

It’s the kind of slow-drip torture that eventually makes you snap like a carrot and drive your car through the front of a Wendy’s. Yeah, I suppose I could dig out the manual and figure out how to deprogram the car to leave the goddamned door locks alone when I drive away from a stop, but really?

We never asked for this stuff. It just started appearing one day. I’m hoping to complain about it until it goes away. Along with that one, here ‘s a list of six more automotive “features” that I wish had never been invented:

1. Power mirrors that move when you select “Reverse”

I’ve been driving since the age of about 14.. In that time, I have learned how to operate much of the car’s equipment, including the mirrors. Now, in an effort to help me, every car seems to want to aim the mirror at the right rear tire when I select reverse, rendering said mirror completely useless to me.

I use all three mirrors to make sure I’m not about to run over a nun. Now I can only see that I have, in fact, already run over a nun. Please, stop.

2. Radio knobs that only scroll through presets

Am I the last person in history to be able to remember a radio station by its call sign? I know I like to listen to 100.7, or 90.9, or 102.7. Radios have worked thusly since Marconi invented the thing. While I like to preset those stations, I also like to scroll through all the stations available to me.

Some car radios (I notice it most in the Volvo and the Kia Optima) have a big, giant, helpful tuning knob. But instead of allowing me to scroll through all the stations, it only allows me to cycle through the presets. It makes me want to tear the radio out of the car and listen to nothing but my own rage coursing through my ears.

And what if I’m outside of the eleven mile radius that seems to be the effective range of any given radio station? I have to use the Chiclet-sized buttons to scan, instead of using the big, friendly knob? That’s just stupid.

3. Defrost that only works at full blast

BMW is the most notorious offender. The only way defrost works on a BMW is at a fan speed that could push the windshield right out of the car. If you try to turn the fan speed down, the defroster turns off automatically. On cold, wet, winter days, you often want to have the defroster running more or less constantly, but on a very low fan speed to keep the windshield clear.

For some reason, I can do this on my 1968 Buick, but on any BMW? Nein! Ve haff determined ze bescht schpeed for defrostink, and any user input is verboten!

4. Traction Control you can’t turn off

Traction control, especially married with stability control, is a wonderful feature. More than once, coming in too hot to a corner covered in loose stones, ice or snow, it has saved my bacon. By applying braking force to a single wheel based on throttle position, wheel speed, steering wheel position and data from a yaw control sensor, stability control can get a car that would normally be off the road, back into line.

However, there are times when traction control specifically needs to be defeated. Example: the day after Christmas last year, we got a good application of snow. We happened to be driving the new Honda Odyssey minivan, and wanted to take the kids sledding. We got off the road into a field covered with snow, and when we went to leave, the traction control system cut engine power to the point that the van wouldn’t move at all. Luckily, the Odyssey has a button for turning off the traction control. With a little bit of wheelspin, I was able to get the Odyssey to rock and eventually we built up enough momentum to pull out of the field.

Not so much with the Ford Fiesta and the Toyota Prius. Both vehicles feature traction control, but after digging through the manual to find the switch to turn the traction control off, I learned that neither vehicle had one. I can see instances where you could be calling AAA to extricate you from some wet grass, especially with the traction-free, low rolling resistance tires on the Prius. Shoveling either car out of a snow-packed parking spot means you’ll need to remove every last inch of snow around either car before either will allow you to move. Bad idea. Did they only test these cars in Arizona?

5. Power tailgates and sliding van doors

The idea is really great. You simply push a button and the doors and tailgates slide open magically. Here’s the problem: I’ve been driving for 25 years and I’m physically capable of opening a door. By the time I remember the vehicle I’m driving HAS these features, I’ve already yanked the handle manually. Now the system tries to open the door itself, but the sensor inside that makes sure nothing is obstructing it senses my hand on the handle, and starts to close it again. I try opening it again, and we go through the same routine. It’s like somebody inside the car pressing the power lock button at the same time I’m trying to pull the door handle. “Is it open now? Try it now. Let go of the handle! Now try it!”

Ugh.

6. Soft button door openers

While I’m on the subject of doors: Somewhere along the line, engineers decided that the humble mechanical door handle — that had been opening doors since the advent of doors — was no longer good enough. No, we needed to have a soft-touch button to push that would open the tailgate electronically.

They suck. They should be outlawed. I can think of a dozen circumstances in which they don’t work, most specifically when the thousand features in the car that require constant 12-volt battery power finally drain the battery on a cold night. Now you’ve got no means of opening the tailgate. And your goddamned jumper cables are in the handy storage area under the goddamned floor, so you’ve got to get inside and climb over the goddamned rear seats to open the goddamned hatch.

Don’t ask me how I know this.

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Audience Participation Time: Official Winter Vehicle of New England

On Saturday, I’m headed to an undisclosed location to judge the New England Motor Press Association’s Official Winter Vehicle of New England awards.

For the last decade, NEMPA has selected a number of vehicles in different classes, along with one vehicle selected as “Official Winter Vehicle of New England.”

What I’d like to know from you folks that have been living under the oppressive rule of Old Man Winter is:

What vehicles are you particularly interested in this year, and what would you like to see?

Is there anything about the current slate of four- and all-wheel drive vehicles that you’d particularly like to know that I might be able to provide some information on?

It’s an all day affair that involves a lot of driving and typically a lot of eating, too, so I might send some pictures of the buffet.

Drop me a line and I’ll incorporate your questions as part of the coverage.

NEMPA Winter Vehicle

NEMPA will be judging the Official Winter Car of New England Saturday. If we can find it.

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Review: 2011 GMC Sierra 2500HD Duramax Diesel Crew Cab

Yankee Driver: 2011 GMC Sierra HD

The 2011 GMC Sierra 2500HD Crew Cab: Impressive

I remember when I was about eight years old grabbing a butter knife out of the drawer to turn a flathead screw. My dad warned me that butter knives were for slicing butter, and that screwdrivers were for turning screws. It was an incident that always stuck with me, and while I’ve strayed from that message from time to time, I’ve always endeavored to use the right tool for the job.

A three-quarter-t0n pickup with a 6.6-liter turbocharged Duramax diesel engine and an Allison transmission isn’t the tool for commuting to work on a daily basis. Its sheer size means that it’s too long for a lot of parking spaces, its super-wide mirrors make even the most generous thoroughfares too narrow, and the 153-inch wheelbase (longer if you opt for the full-length cargo box) means that pulling out of side streets often requires a three-point approach.

Fuel economy? Since the 2500 HD falls beyond the EPA’s scope, the Sierra 2500 HD isn’t even rated for fuel economy. But driving around locally means that you’ll see somewhere between 15 and 16 miles per gallon on average. Pretty horrendous if you’re planning on just taking yourself to and from the office every day. For a lot less money, you can get yourself into a nice vehicle that will essentially pay for itself in increased fuel economy, especially when the price of diesel is nudging $4 a gallon.

The GMC Sierra 2500HD really isn’t the right tool for that job. But it is an absolutely essential tool for some jobs.

I had occasion to require such a tool a week ago. Back in August I moved with my family from southern Vermont  to our home turf inside the 495 loop in eastern Massachusetts. With all our belongings, two motorcycles, a vintage Vespa scooter, our two daily drivers and a 1968 Buick Riviera, we simply ran out of time and ability to get one more vehicle home: A 1970 Land Rover Series IIa. My friend Jim Howe — who maintained the eclectic collection of vintage vehicles at Hemmings Motor News during publisher Terry Ehrich’s reign — agreed to hang onto it for a few months for me, and give it some attention while it was in his care. It had been months since I’d seen it and I felt bad that it was stored at Jim’s place, so I managed to secure the pickup for the weekend.

The Sierra 2500HD came to the house with a massive 2.5-inch hitch receiver, which luckily had a two-inch adapter to sleeve the receiver down to accept my Class III hitch. I rented a dual axle car carrier from U-Haul and made my way up to Vermont at 5:00 on a snowy Sunday morning, my daughter Katie along for the trip.

Along with the overkill tow pacakge, the SLT-4SA-equipped Sierra has all the features you’d expect from a luxury car: 10-way adjustable leather bucket seats, a massive console, heated outside mirrors with turn signals inside, a killer Bose audio system with a USB port, dual zone climate control, and an endless list of convenience features. With the exception of a carpet that’s a little more set up to handle the rigors of horsemanship or general contracting, it’s every bit as nice inside as a Cadillac. And I love the layout of GM’s full-size truck dashboard. It simply works, and doesn’t force you to take your eyes off the road, a critical feature when you’re piloting a vehicle this big. The back seat is massive, with plenty of room for three. My two year old son and his NASA-style car seat was dwarfed when I took him for a ride.

I had to keep looking back to see if I’d lost the trailer on the way to Vermont. Up over the mountains on Route 9, even with a few inches of snow covering the roadway, the truck hauled along unperturbed. The limited slip rear axle and traction control would’ve been fine on its own, but as an added measure of safety, I used four-wheel drive in the high range when the going got especially tough.

I’d been concerned all the way up because we’d gotten so much snow recently. I knew there wouldn’t be much room to turn around, and the thought of backing the trailer down Jim’s long driveway was daunting. But once I got there, the GMC’s massive mirrors came to my aid, and I was able to pivot the trailer in a space that my imagination wouldn’t allow.

The Land Rover securely tied down, we were back on the road by 9:30 am. I’ve been over the mountains before with my 5000 pound 1968 Buick in tow, with a gas-powered 2003 Chevy 2500 as the tow vehicle. It’s a pretty rough haul, even with a substantial truck. But the 6.5-liter diesel was amazing. It offers an impressive 397 horsepower at 3000 rpm, but that figure isn’t even worth talking about. It’s the jaw-dropping 765 ft.lbs. of torque that make the Sierra 2500HD so adept at this particular job. And that maximum torque comes on at just 1600 rpm, so instant tow power is just a feathered throttle away.

The engine’s doing the heavy work on the way up the mountain, but the six-speed Allison transmission takes center stage on the way back down. It features a Tow/Haul mode that holds shifts longer, and also provides electronic engine braking, which saves the brakes from overheating on long descents like the one coming from Hogback Mountain on the eastern side of Wilmington, Vermont.  We climbed and descended and never did we have an impatient driver behind us. I actually had to work to be sure that we weren’t exceeding the speed limit, the truck feels so secure.

Yankee Driver: 1970 Land Rover Series IIa

The Land Rover Series IIa we picked up

Our 360-mile round trip was in the history books by 1:00 that afternoon. In low range, I backed the trailer up the snow covered hill I call a driveway and had the trailer unloaded in no time. In 360 miles of driving, all of it towing a trailer, and 180 of it hauling a 3600 pound vehicle, I rang in an average of 14.5 miles per gallon.

You may well get better mileage in a Prius, but you won’t hauling that load.

Complaints? The price, I guess. The SLT trim level, crew cab and four-wheel drive means that you’re starting at $45,145. Adding the diesel ups the ante by $7,195. The required Allison transmission, another $1,200. By the time all is said and done, you’re looking at $53,394, which is a titanic price in anybody’s book. But consider the Volvo S60 AWD I’m driving this week has a sticker price north of $43,000. If  you’re smart, the Sierra 2500HD is going to be a truck that more than pays for itself during the course of ownership, whether it’s plowing parking lots or hauling Bobcats. It’s like the lease on an office building: the price of doing business.

All in all, I loved this truck. It’s the right tool for the big jobs.

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Review: 2011 Infiniti M56x

The Infiniti M56x: Want.

I’ve written a few reviews recently that upon reflection seem to suggest that I can find fault with just about anything. Not true. I expect a lot out of cars, though, and there is a slim handful that I don’t expect to be better. The Infiniti M56x is one of those cars.

I haven’t thought much about Infiniti in the past. For a generation now, Nissan’s luxury brand hasn’t done a whole lot to impress me. The original Q45 was a great automobile, but its styling and silly ad campaign meant that it took a back seat to the more conservative, and equally smashing Lexus LS400. With the benefit of a little distance between the Lexus and the Infiniti, I think it would’ve had more traction here.

In the intervening years, all of Infiniti’s products have been just rehashed, gussied-up versions of Nissan’s product line. The flagship Q45 went from a boldly styled, technologically innovative automobile to an also-ran that looked like it was styled for Buick owners with bigger savings accounts.

I felt differently when the M line of products launched, though. The 2003 M45 was still a rehash, but it was completely new in the States with no corresponding Nissan product. Based on the Y34-series Nissan Gloria, the M45 got a cool reception when it was introduced here, but in my opinion, it was exactly what was missing in the product mix in the United States: a true full-size, rear-drive, V-8 powered luxury car with at least some sporting aspirations. It was slab-sided and chiseled in a forest of bean-shaped, non-descript automobiles, and it always looked right.

The second generation, launched in 2005, was a disappointment to me. While it still offered V-8 performance (along with the V-6 powered M35), its styling was completely neutral. It won a lot of accolades, but it just looked like every other car on the road.

2011 marks the third generation of the M line, and with the M56x, it looks like Infiniti is back on top. Where the second generation’s styling was dull and forgettable, the M56x is an aggressive, stylish automobile that shares more with the styling of a lot of exclusive luxury brands than it does with Lexus. In a lot of ways, the M56x’s styling far outdistances itself from the competition from Jaguar.

I don't normally care about trim, but the White Ash Silver Powdered wood trim is beautiful

Conventional wisdom says “you can’t see styling from the driver’s seat,” but in this case, you can. The M56x’s most obvious styling attributes are the bulging front fenders, which rise up into view from the passenger cabin, like the fenders on a rally car. Park it in the lot at Whole Foods and there’s no mistaking it amongst a sea of uninspired design.

You can have all the design in the world and still have a disappointing car, though. That’s not the case with this car. At its heart is a 420hp, 5.6-liter V-8, matched to a seven-speed automatic transmission. Push the start button and this engine absolutely roars to life. On acceleration, it’s almost NASCAR-like in its engine note inside the cabin. It’s not loud or annoying, mind you. The car’s Active Noise Control system takes care of that by filtering out any droning noise from the exhaust at lower RPM. But there’s no mistaking that you’re fooling with 420hp every time you touch the gas pedal.

The transmission is adjustable via a driving mode selector knob on the console, marked with Sport, ECO and Snow modes, along with the Standard mode which is only indicated by a dot. In standard, you get the best of both worlds, with firm shifts, but regulated to offer a good compromise in fuel economy. Select Sport mode, though, and the transmission holds gears forever, and shifts with authority. You won’t like ECO mode, even if you’re intent on saving the planet. Fuel economy is marginally increased, but you get into seventh gear a lot sooner than you’d like to in a car this fun to drive.

I used the Snow mode twice in this weather cycle we’re in, that seems to dump a foot of fresh snow on New England at least once a week. It works, but it’s largely inconsequential thanks to the all-wheel drive system that’s indicated by the “x” in the car’s name badge. The system works perfectly, even with the “all-season” tires, but it would be an absolute titan with a decent set of snow tires.

Inside, the cabin is luxurious, but not pretentiously so. Our tested vehicle featured a $3,800 Deluxe Touring Package with “White ash silver powdered” wood trim, which made me think of the Smoke Silver that BMW used to use on its R90S motorcycle in the 1970s. The package also included Bose’s Studio Surround stereo system (with speakers mounted in the seats, right where your shoulders are). It also has something called “Forest Air” which apparently circulates air the way you’d experience a breeze in the forest. It also includes the following: “Plasmacutter™ Air Purifier and Grape Polyphenol Filter.” Okaaaay…whatever.

Another three grand on top of the lofty $60,950 price tag nets a Technology Package that includes a whole lot of equipment that I can barely discuss, let alone review: Intelligent Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, Distance Control Assist, Intelligent Brake Assist, Blind Spot Warning System, etc. For $3,000, I wish I could convince you to spend some quality time at one of the greatest driving schools in the country, and learn how to manage 420hp, instead of allowing the car to take control for you.

But that’s really my only complaint. On its own, the Infinity M56x is a fabulous automobile that I’d certainly love to spend time in every single day. I can’t think of a car in this segment that works quite this well. Sixty grand might seem like a lot of cake, but compared against its rivals, the pricetag is worth every penny.

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Yankee Driver on boston.com

The place that gave me a really strong start

 

Just a quick note to point you toward boston.com (and later in print in the Boston Globe) where I wrote a piece on auto makers and Gen Y.

Read it here: http://www.boston.com/cars/newsandreviews/overdrive/2011/01/automakers_and_gen_y_missing_t.html

 

Posted in New Cars, Publishing | 2 Comments

NHTSA announces stupidity prevention rule

 

I'm here to protect you from yourself!

AutoBlog posted this news item about NHTSA’s new “ejection mitigation” regulation.

In summary, NHTSA wants to be sure that when a car rolls over, you don’t fall out. The most effective course of action is — of course — to wear your goddamned seatbelt. But since that old schoolmarm Joan Claybrook started wagging her spindly finger in our collective faces during the Carter Administration, about 9/10ths of NHTSA’s regulations have centered around saving stupid people who can’t seem to latch their belts.

Years ago, I had a picture of Aunt Joan on my desk with a quote blathering on about how critical it was that airbags be mandatory safety equipment in order to save the stupid (to be fair, she called them “unbelted.”) That was around the time when manufacturers had done as they were told, and charged the bags with enough explosive force to protect people who were laying on the back deck, kneeling on their seats, sitting upside down, what-have-you.

The Law of Unintended Consequences naturally kicked in, and soon after, we learned that people were being injured due to the force of the airbags. Gee, who could’ve seen that coming?

Now, we’re down to the seeds and stems of automotive safety, and NHTSA’s got to manufacture things for itself to mandate. Soon, you’re going to see rear-view cameras and video screens to help America’s dumb avoid killing fewer than 300 people a year because they’re too fat or lazy to look out the back window.

Part of the “ejection mitigation” rule is to modify the anchors on existing side airbags, and part of the rule calls for “advanced glazing” of side windows to keep unbelted people inside the car, where they can rattle around like that little pea in a referee’s whistle.

Here are the two lines that grabbed me in NHTSA’s communication on the subject:

“We estimate that this rule will save 373 lives and prevent 476 serious injuries per year.”

“The cost of this final rule is approximately $31 per vehicle.”

Hey, $31, that’s cheap! Who wouldn’t spend $31?

Well, I wouldn’t. I was an English major and my math skills stink, so check my cypherin’, but it seems to me that thirty-one bucks per car in a bad 11 million unit year like 2010, for example, amounts to an expenditure of $341 million.

Divided by 373 lives, that leaves me with the sum total of $919,173.47 per life saved.

Am I on airplane glue, or is that a bad investment?

 

Posted in Legislation, NHTSA | 2 Comments