Let’s Talk About Cars…

2011-Honda-Element-SUV-LX-4dr-Front-wheel-Drive-Photo-7It’s the eve of 2014 and we’ve had some form of motorized personal transportation for well over 100 years. They are intertwined in our lives, economy and hearts. They are fashion, extensions of our personalities, a means of transportation and a safe place. In essence, cars and trucks and minivans are the most multifaceted possession we acquire and also the second most expensive purchase most of us will ever make.

Like most other inanimate objects we give cars a lot of credit for having their own personalities and other human-like traits. The funny thing is they really do have differences that set them all apart. Idiosyncrasies like turning the key a certain way to get the car to start or closing a door a certain way.

elementThe funnest thing for me is to drive different cars. They all drive just a bit differently and each one does have a distinct “personality”.

I recently got the chance to drive the 2013 Ford Fusion SE and it was nice to drive a regular car! My daily driver is a Honda Element and it’s a great vehicle that rides up high. Jumping into a car’s driver seat is like a whole new experience.

Ford-Fusion-2013-widescreen-02One little thing that always weighs on my mind when driving most Fords, the automatic dimming mirrors. I see a use for some people but I like to see everything behind me not a darkened blob of lights.

The reason I was prompted to write this post was getting back into the Element after 6 days with the Fusion. It was refreshing to step up into the vehicle rather than down and to see over traffic rather than struggling to see past the vehicle in front of me.

2013 Ford FusionThe differences between the vehicles are many and vast starting with the tech in each…they both have satellite radio but the Element has a subwoofer; the Fusion has a touch screen and automatic climate control and Bluetooth connectivity but the Element can be sprayed out with a hose and will haul three mountain bikes with ease.

The moral of the story is there are a lot of choices in the automotive world and many more interesting ways for us to get around now more than ever.


Chrysler 300 Redesign Moves Car Upscale

Chrysler 200 Super Bowl Commercial

If you are like most American consumers then you will understand the feeling of disdain towards companies who you feel screwed you in one way or another. Whether real or perceived, those feelings may never go away.

It is unfortunate, this disdain, since we are in the worst economic times of this generation and the “Made In The USA” movement is making some think twice about where that shirt, dress, TV or any other goods came from.

No where is this felt more than in the automotive industry. Globalism has caused some strange things to happen, like calling a Honda or Toyota “American Made”. Luckily, our federal government has taken some steps that make it easier for us to know where the parts to make our cars came from, as well as where all those parts were put together.

Which brings me to this point: A company like the Chrysler Corporation needs to work a little harder getting the word out that their past quality issues have been exorcised. A lot of people out there, including myself, have horror stories with Chrysler products. My own story involves a Dodge Omni that caught fire after a few minutes of “spirited driving”. Sure, the car had a lot of miles on it but you don’t expect any car to catch fire, while sitting in the street, after said “spirited driving”. I use quotation marks because the Omni was no sports car so there wasn’t much spirit to wring out!

Mine might be an extreme example, surely there are worse, but there is also the other side…those who owned Chrysler products and loved them. There are those people, you know who you are, who aren’t as critical about the little quality issues they faced; premature brake replacement, power windows that stopped working, horrible radios, etc..

One prime example of Chrysler’s rebounding quality is the my PT Cruiser. Once we got an oxygen sensor issue worked out, one that caused the car to stutter when trying to accelerate, everything has been quite nice. Even after sideswiping a tree, and $5000 in repairs, the car is as good as new and still trucking with almost 100k miles.

The thing that Chrysler seems to be doing right is great design. Couple great design with strong advertising, including those ads with Eminem’s music and voice, and Chrysler seems to be on the right track. According to this article from Motor Trend’s website, Chrysler had its best sales in June since 2007.

Whether it’s improved quality or new, more appealing products, the Mopar brand seems to be making the right moves under Fiat ownership.

So, if you are Chrysler’s top brass, how do you keep the momentum? By keeping your products fresh and modern. The newly refreshed 300 is a case in point.

The most striking exterior changes are to the front and rear fascias. The new front clip has a large grill with the “wave” look first seen on the 200. Then there’s the new headlights! An oblong look with LED accents that double as daytime running lights. It’s a classy, polished look that gives the 300 a more upscale look.

Out back, the most notable change is to the taillights. The new units feature a more streamlined appearance with a vertical chrome accent that is rather art deco-ish and totally awesome!



The other big change is to the interior.

More refined and luxurious, the 300’s cabin is a great place to spend quality time with softer materials and higher quality components.

The other HUGE change for 2012 is an 8-speed transmission, which, according to Chrysler, will increase fuel mileage (by up to 17percent) and should add smoothness to the drive line.

Here’s one of their newest commercials, touting the fuel efficiency of the newly redesigned 300:


2004 Pontiac GTO


Rebirth of the Goat

by James E. Bryson

A few years ago, a sprightly rumor made its way around the auto show circuit and through the rank and file of the automotive press: The GTO may return!

And there was much rejoicing…yay.

Until, that is, the public got its first look and screamed to the tops of the highest mountains that this WAS NOT a GTO. No, it was just another bland Pontiac styling exercise, albeit, without the body cladding that made recent Pontiacs the butt of a few styling ha-has.

Since I was born just before the demise of the Muscle Car era, and weaned on the overboard 80s style of design, I find the new GTO an elegant, understated and compelling creature.

The nose is definitely Pontiac, with the familiar dual snout found on everything from the Grand Am to the Bonneville. The headlights seem to sweep out from there, making an almost hawk-like front fascia that seems to hint at what lies beneath.

In profile, the lines are clean from nose to tail and the sounds emanating from the engine bay and especially the tailpipe give you the impression that this car really means business.

The rear, on the other hand, is unlike any other Pontiac. It’s bulbous, but serves a greater purpose with the standard wing spoiler, making the car even more wedgier than a Grand Am.

The truly funny thing is this car is Australian-made, based on the popular Holden Monaro; Holden being GM’s Australian subsidiary.

As I stated earlier, I grew up in the 80s, where we had “performance coupes” like the Thunderbird TurboCoupe and Dodge Shelby Chargers. The new GTO, then, is a truly modern take on the classic muscle car. Except that it’s not based on a sedan but designed as a coupe and made for hard running.

As in the past, the automakers run at their own speed and make the rules as they go. For a muscle car to work today, global sources need to be used because our economy and culture is much more global than it was 40 years ago.

To that end, I say the GTO’s styling is right on target. It’s on the “bland” side but just enough to keep Smokey off your back. Once you get around the copper, punch the gas and see what this car is really about.

The funny thing about the “performance coupes” of the 80s was that the performance came more from looking fast than ever really going fast. Not so with newer cars, especially ones fitted with Corvette engines.

That’s right kids; the GTO has a 5.7-liter, tried-and-true, pushrod-pumpin’, gas guzzlin’ beast of a motor rated at 340 horsepower and 360 lb.-ft. of pavement-ripping torque. (The $1000 gas guzzler tax is proof that it’s a thirsty beast.)

Couple that “rad” engine with a four-speed automatic, four-wheel independent suspension, disc brakes at each corner and 17-inch P245/45 tires and it all starts making sense.

Take a corner in this beast and you can almost hear it laughing, goading you into pushing harder and faster through the twisties like no other Pontiac had the cajones to do in recent memory.

We’re thirty years down the road from the end of the Muscle era and, if they would have never died off, this is what they would be today; nothing more than a basic car with a touch of attitude on the outside and a monster motor to get the blood pumping.

“The styling is bland.” “It’s not like the original.” “At least there’s no cladding.”

These words were overheard in a parking lot where we stopped for some groceries and loitered trying to gauge reactions on the newly minted Pontiac GTO.

All I can say is…get over it. This new GTO is killer in all the right ways, but no so great in tertiary ways.

Getting into the backseat was definitely a chore. The GTO is a strong candidate for the “quad coupe” treatment Saturn has bestowed upon its Ion.

Luckily, the back seat is quite comfy once you get back there. The seats are bolstered just like the fronts; making this a true four-seater…not that anyone would really be able to ride on the hump anyways.

Then there’s the missing features: OnStar, XM, heated seats, Sunroof, no inside trunk release…You get the drift.

And, hopefully, you won’t want to go on that weeklong driving adventure because the trunk is majorly slighted because of the suspension taking most of it. (No one over said fun cars had to be practical too!)

One last gripe we found while picking up the dry cleaning: No garment hooks at all. Either the Australians don’t have their fine clothes dry-cleaned or the hooks got lost somewhere in the translation.

On the flip side, the Goat is one on the most solid GM vehicles we’ve driven, ever. If the now-gone Camaro and Firebird had build quality, awesome sightlines (except, of course, over the shoulder into the HUGE C-pillars) and great ride control like this, they would surely still be alive and well today fending off that new Mustang at every corner.

The nitty-gritty on the GTO is this: For less than 34 big ones, excluding tax, title and license, you can own a piece of new American history, albeit built in Australia.

Firebird is dead…long live the Goat.

2006 Buick Lucerne


You Can Have A V8

by James E. Bryson

It’s always interesting to watch the cycles of the auto industry, with features and models coming and going, colors ever changing and how fashion plays its role with the design and styling of current and future models.

Take Buick, for example. In the late sixties, Buick was in the middle of the horsepower wars with big V8 power in the GS. In the 70s and early 80s, Buicks were smaller and had anemic four-cylinders, as did most cars from the era-except for the biggest of Buicks, the Park Avenue and LeSabre.

Then in the late 80s, Buick regained some of its credibility by producing the Grad National, which was touted as the fastest production car at the time, and with a turbo V6, no less. The last V8 Buick car was the Roadmaster of the early 90s, an offshoot of the Chevy Caprice, which died about the same time.

Fast forward to 2006 and, after a decade without, Buick is reentering the V8 market with the brand new Lucerne, which replaces the Le Sabre and Park Avenue models that have carried Buick through the last 20 years with aplomb.

The Lucerne is a great-looking car with smooth, rounded lines and a low-slung feeling due to its width, which leaves plenty of room inside for people and stuff. It’s a great golf car as well, with a roomy trunk that is wide and deep, big enough for your foursome and their bags.

The design seems to be an extension of the LaCrosse, with flowing lines, a few creases for dramatic effect and a wide grill and headlights that make the car look “awake” rather than mean or sleepy like some cars out there. Dimensionally, the Lucerne is close to the Cadillac DTS, of which it shares its platform and Northstar V8 (GM’s venerable 3800 V6 is the standard engine on the base-model Lucerne).

Inside, the Lucerne is spacious. The seats, buckets on our test model, were supportive for long drives but left a bit to be desired for spirited driving, more on that later. The best part of the seats was the perforations for the cooling fans to operate. There’s nothing more luxurious at this time than cooled seats; anyone can have heated seats, but only a few have the gumption to actually cool the seats.

Switchgear feel and placement are top notch in the Lucerne. Based on the new DTS, this should come as no surprise. But, what gets us is the noticeably fake wood trim found across the dash and doors. It’s not that it looks bad; it just doesn’t look like wood.

While we didn’t get the chance to make a run through our handling loop, we found the big Buick to drive well and we took most corners like we were driving a sporty car. That’s how good Buick’s engineers have dialed in the Lucerne’s suspension.

We did find some strange sensations coming from the suspension, making it through to the pedals on certain bumps and holes in the road, most notably the driveway of our residence. The bad part was the vibration continued halfway up the drive. It was the only truly negative experience with the Lucerne, and it was something we could definitely live with.

This car is great in the wet. After an evening driving on rain-soaked streets, we had a new appreciation for the technological advances in brakes (antilock) and propulsion (traction control). Both systems were difficult to out do, not that we tried. Too hard.

Power delivery from the Northstar V8 (275 horsepower/290 lb.-ft. of torque) was excellent. It’s a darn smooth engine and coupled with the electronically controlled four-speed transmission, kept the Lucerne moving.

Gas mileage is so-so with EPA ratings of 17 city and 25 highway. Our Lucerne’s computer said we got 20 miles per gallon in mixed use. Granted, our lead foot may have had a hand in keeping our mileage figures down, but we just couldn’t get enough of that V8’s throaty growl.

It was a nice surprise to see on the display that rain sensors were active and the wipers started going on their own. We had driven a BMW 3-series with this function about five years ago and it didn’t seem to work all that well. At least the technology seems to have caught up.

Our Lucerne CXL tester had a base price of $30,265 which included the Northstar V8, magnetic power steering, traction control, gobs of airbags, remote keyless entry, tire inflation monitoring, electrochromatic mirrors, 17” wheels and tires, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/Mp3 stereo, leather seats, steering wheel and shifter and rear window defogger.

Options on our tester added almost $4-grand to the total vehicle price: heated and cooled front seats ($1075), 17” chrome plated wheels ($650), remote starter/theft deterrence/rear parking assist ($595), eight-way power driver and passenger seats with memory settings for two drivers ($595), Stabilitrak stability control ($495), replacement radio with the same features as the standard one except for the addition of theftlock ($300) and heated washer fluid ($100). Giving us a grand total, including $725 for shipping, of $$34,800.

Not bad for a big car with tons of features and decent handling abilities.

2007 Cadillac Escalade


Family Reunions Will Never Be The Same

by James E. Bryson

Like all other large SUVs in the General Motors stables (Yukon, Tahoe, Suburban), the most luxurious of them all, the Cadillac Escalade, Escalade ESV and Escalade EXT, also got a major remake for twenty-o-seven. This remake, like the others, went beyond sheer cosmetics, down to the very core of the vehicle and what a difference it makes!

On the outside, the ‘Sclade received a more angular look, akin to the CTS, STS and XLR, to make it fit in more at family functions. With a big, imposing grill slotted between stacked headlights and a HUGE Cadillac emblem, you won’t mistake this big Ute for anything other than a Cadillac.

Another major Cadillac styling feature, that is sure to be featured on more Caddies in the years to come, is the vents located on the trailing edge of the front quarter panels. It’s a good look that lends an aire of class and sophistication.

Out back, there’s another HUGE Caddy emblem on the power liftgate along with a longish third brake light atop the liftgate and standard-looking brake lights flanking the tailgate.

As with the other big GM Utes, The windows have the pillar-less look, with the glass flush with the sheet metal above and below. It’s a good look that moves the ‘Sclade into the higher echelons of luxury rides without batting an eye.

Our tester, and all 2007 Escalades for that matter, came with the 6.2-liter Vortec V8 that features variable valve timing (but not displacement on demand or flex-fuel capability) and is rated at 403 horsepower and 417 lb.-ft. of torque. With all that power under foot, the Escalade felt lighter on its toes than we expected and got going in most situations with little drama, thanks in part to the six-speed transmission.

Like any big SUV, the ‘Sclade does not like to be hurried around corners, nor does it like undulating pavement. These two items upset this big Caddy like nothing else, except for the high gas prices.

Only once in three days did we need to appease the legal beagles and consent to the “screen of no fun” by hitting OK on the nav system signifying that we understand the dangers of operating the system while driving, which is a nice change as some other systems make you do it every time you get in the car.

Rattles and squeaks did find their way to our ears, surprisingly. The roads that elicited those demons were pocked with frost heaves and small holes, but we definitely were not expecting any sounds like that. We chalked it up to (possibly) being an early production mule with a lot of miles on the odometer.

The suspension exhibited only small amounts of land-barge-like float, but there was plenty of squatting and diving in most situations. It’s difficult for a vehicle this large and heavy not to obey the laws of physics, but the big Caddy makes the most of what it has.

Way back in 2003 we tested an Escalade and it topped out at less than the base price for this 2007, my how things have changed. For $56,405.00, you get the basic vehicle (if you can call it basic), which includes the 6.2-liter Vortec V8; six-speed automatic transmission with manual control; road sensing suspension with rear load leveling; traction control; four-wheel ABS; leather; 14-way power front seats with heated cushions and backrests and second row heated seats; Bose 5.1 surround sound audio system with six-disc CD changer/DVD/Mp3 player and XM satellite radio receiver; power liftgate; heated power folding outside mirrors power adjustable pedals; heated washer fluid; airbags all around; Stabilitrak stability control; rear parking assist; OnStar and much more. We’re talking almost fully loaded in base trim.

Add the few, but expensive, options ($2995 for the 22-inch chrome wheels; the $2495 information package – rear view camera, navigation system with CD/DVD and Intellibeam, which changes from high to low beams when oncoming or leading traffic is sensed); $1295 for rear seat DVD system; power sliding sunroof for $995; premium paint for $995; the Climate package which includes heated and cooled front seats and heated steering wheel for $625 and a power release second row for $425. Couple these expenses with the $875 destination charge and you can get a similar Escalade for our as-tested price of $67,105.00.

Our biggest dilemma, then, is whether to buy this 403 horsepower behemoth for $67-large or buy two Pontiac GTO’s for about the same price, but with 800 horses between them.

Decisions, decisions.

If you love HD TV….

So I’m sitting here watching my favorite Hi Def channel, HD Theater, and I thought I should share a couple of thoughts with you, dear readers:

1. I totally LOVE this channel!!!! Where else can you see video of classic cars of all makes, insight into what to look for when purchasing an older car (or classic, or exotic) and see quaint British programs about restoring and selling older cars and more classics???

2. The shows! Whealer Dealers, Monterrey Week, Classic Car Club, Appraise My Car…just to name a few. And that’s just in one night! It don’t get much better!

And what’s with Toyota?? How much in fines will they have to pay? Why are people still buying them? WTF??? It took Audi almost 20 years to fully come back from the unintended acceleration debacle they faced in the 80s. I guess it will take a few years to really sort out what Toyota knew and when (like telling the European regulators months ahead of the US…where there were actual deaths).

More later!!!

What’s Up With Toyota?

So earlier today there was a story about a Prius in California that accelerated out of control. (watch here)

Toyota is having what you might call a public relations nightmare, with recalls, testimony in front of the US Congress and actual deaths from what seems to be unsafe products.

Is it actual defects or human error? Are Toyotas safe or should we stay away? The questions keep mounting and the company stays quiet.

The scene today seems to point towards mechanical or electronic failure. The gentleman called the California Highway Patrol, in a panic, because as he was attempting to pass another vehicle, the Prius kept accelerating, to its top speed (?) of approximately 90 miles per hour.

According to the story, he tried to pull up on the accelerator pedal, with no luck. He “stood” on the brakes, with no luck. Thankfully, the CHP officer had a great idea; Stand on the brakes and pull up the emergency brake. That combination caused the vehicle to slow to about 50 and the officer told the driver to cut the engine, which he did and was able to glide to a stop, safely.

It seems Toyota has a lot of explaining to do and has probably hired the Dream Team to represent them in court…you know there will be many lawsuits.

So what’s left? Basically, what’s left at this point is a lot of questions and a dark cloud hanging over Toyota. The company will most likely stay strong since most people out there were burned worse by the American carmakers and, for now, it’s happening to “other” people.

Now, if more and more people have problems like the guy out in Cali, then we have a whole other pot of worms.