Friday, April 30, 2010

New Suzuki Kizashi Turbo

So the 2010 Suzuki Kizashi is a hit - that much is obvious. Even the somwhat picky Inside Line seems to like the car. You can read the full review here.
The Kizashi Sport the made it's debut at the 2010 New York Auto Show. Now, there's a Kizashi Turbo Concept. You can see it on the Speed TV show/commercial cleverly named Test Drive. We're not certain but after just one viewing of Test Drive, the show seems like nothing more than pay for play dressed up with... well, no it's just pay for play - sort of like autmotive QVC without the call-in number.

Still, the Road Race tweaked Kizashi could be quick. Power is up to 290 and it eventually shreds the pavement thanks to 19-inch Dunlops. Suspension tricks include Road Race springs and four wheel independent suspension.

We weren't looking for more reasons to like Suzuki but we found one anyway.

Who's buying the Toyota Yaris?

The Toyota Yaris is a terrible car. Who's buying this thing, really? It offers none of the expected Toyota qualities - at a minimun Toyotas generally have a smooth, quiet ride. Turns out, a LOT of people really like that in a car. But the Yaris is noisy and harsh. The ride is stiff yet it doesn't deliver especially sporty handling. It wouldn't be so bad if there weren't several other better choices for just a little more money. The Honda Fit is much better and starts at about $15,000. The 2011 Ford Fiesta is better than both the Fit and the Yaris and its base price is $14,000. Even the Hyundai Accent is better. There is some good news however, if you walk, ride the bus or drive a Smart ForTwo, the Yaris will seem like a big step up.

2010 Toyota Yaris - skip it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mercury Messenger - Ford, Please Build This Car

Here's the last Mercury that was really worth getting excited about - sure the Milan is OK but imagine a Mercury that people under 70 would buy. Sort of like a modern Cougar (let's just pretend the late 90s Cougar never happened).
Since this was a concept, details are scant. The idea was to build a sort of Mustang but with the luxury of a Mercury. Under the hood is a 4.6 liter V8 - 300 hp isn't out of the question. As Mercury continues to languish I can't help but think fondly of Mercurys of the recent and distant past. If you like the Messenger, here's a bunch of cool pics.

Alternative Power = Clean Nuclear Power

Forget hybrids, here's the kind of thing US automakers ought to be building. This is the long gone Ford Nucleon concept - yep, a nuclear powered car. The small reactor is right there in the back. Well, diesels are good too but just imagine how cool this thing would look cruising the local strip mall. So long as you don't get into an accident, the Nucleon would be a zero emissions vehicle.
Even though the Nucleon is atomic powered, the reactor would really just heat water turning it into steam - so it's more of a steam powered car than anything. A modern version of this car might be the fuel cell Chevrolet Equinox. I wonder what happens if you get it up to 88 miles per hour and Michael J Fox is driving...?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Costco Gas Along Interstate 5 - LA to SF

Did you know Costco gas is sometimes .15 cents cheaper than regular name brand gas? That's kind of a lot - shop on a major interstate like I-5 and the price difference can be even more dramatic. The problem is, most Costcos are near city centers or shopping area - not really ideal for the highway traveler. So here's a few you can easily find on the road from LA to SF.

There's a new Costco in Lakewood, CA right behind the Lakewood Center Mall. It's not really freeway close but about 2 miles East off the 605 Fwy or 2 miles South of the 91 Fwy. The address is 340 Lakewood Center Mall.

Just North of Los Angeles the Pacoima Costco is very near the 118 Fwy. If you use the 210 to get to I-5, this one is perfect. It's located at 13550 W Paxton in Pacoima.

Travel North out of LA on I-5 and the Costco's get pretty slim. If you need gas just outside the Grapvine, take 99 instead of I-5 for a few miles. The speed limit is still 70 here so you won't lose much time. The Southwest Bakersfield Costco is located a 4900 Panama Lane. Don't go back to CA 99, instead keep driving West on Panama Lane for several miles and you catch I-5 again. The road is rual and there's little traffic once you pass a few traffic lighs.

Into the Bay Area, ther's a freeway close Costco gas in Livermore at 2800 Independance Drive and one in Farifield at 5101 Business Center Drive.

Or, if you're heading to Sacramento look for a Costco gas station in Tracy at 3250 W Grant Line Road.

On the way to Roseville or Tahoe via I-80 there's a Costco Gas station in Citrus Heights at 7000 Auburn Blvd.

Up Highway 50 on the way to South Lake Tahoe there's two places just outside Sacramento to get cheap gas. One is off Iron Point Road near El Dorado Hills but that one can get really crowded. Instead, get off at Sunrise Blvd - there's an older Costco at Sunrise and White Rock Road.

Unless you're driving a supercharged F-150, you should be able to hit a Costco and pay less for gas the entire trip.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

2011 Ford Fiesta Review - Better than the Honda Fit?

After driving the 2011 Ford Fiesta for about two days in San Francisco, CA I can honestly say this small car is better than any other subcompact - better than the Fit Sport, Yaris, Smart, Aveo and probably even better than the current Focus (although Ford is quick to point out the current Focus won't be with us much longer).

The Fiesta's 1.6 liter inline four isn't dripping with power but it is more than adequate. The 120 hp engine also gets decent fuel economy - in mixed city and highway driving from Half Moon Bay back to the city I averaged 38.9 mpg. This is thanks, in part, to the new PowerShift six-speed dual clutch transmission. Sadly, there's no shift it yourself feature.

Handling is excellent for such an inexpensive car - Scion's xD feels sloppy by comparison and even the Fit Sport doesn't quite deliver the Fiesta's crisp, sure feel.

Amazingly, the interior remains quiet even on the highway, the seats are comfortable and the interior materials are well above anything you'd expect from a $14,000 - 19,000 car. A texturized rubber material covers the dash and the optional leather is soft and cool looking thanks to a white border.

There is a upgraded stereo - the Sync and Sound package means an 80 watt stereo with six speakers. 911 assist in case you're in an accident, turn by turn navigation, vehicle health report and traffic info. Ford's new AppLink means you can access certain smartphone apps through the car by just pressing a button and saying what you want - Pandora is the first smartphone app. You can listen to your Pandora channels, assign each a hard button on the radio head unit and even thumbs up or down a song while you're in the car. This one feature moves Ford so far ahead of the competition it'll take years to catch up - the Pandora feature alone is just plain awesome! An excellent car overall - this is exactly the kind of small car we always hoped Ford would sell here in the US.

2010 Chevrolet Traverse AWD 2LT Review

I took a quick road trip from Los Angeles up to Northern Calif in the 2010 Chevy Traverse. It's basically the same car under the skin as the Buick Enclave and other large GM crossovers so I expected to like it and I did. This version is a mid trim LT and has the 2LT package - that means a nicely equipped SUV including such features as leather seats, Bose stereo and OnStar - no nav screen in the dash, no sunroof and no rear seat video system.

Like the Enclave, the Chevy Traverse has an excellent highway ride, plenty of power and comfortable seats. The main difference between the Buick and the Chevrolet is interior appointments - the Buick is clearly nicer with more chrome trim, faux wood and more interesting textures. The Traverse looks a few cuts above basic with a nice two tone dash, leather steering wheel and shift knob and black rubber and plastic for the center console. Although the front seats are comfortable -after three hours in the driver's seat with no break, the seat bottom started to feel a little hard.

Since there's no nav screen, Chevy moved the rear parking monitor to the rear view mirror and that takes some getting used to. Still, a cost effective solution for those that don't want or need a nav system. Besides, OnStar can give you turn by turn instructions and the radio display shows arrows and street names when navigation is active.
Because this is an all-wheel drive version, fuel economy isn't great. On the highway I was getting better than 22 mpg but around town I could almost see the gas gauge move as the 3.6 liter V6 had to move the big SUV from a dead stop through left turn arrow heavy El Dorado Hills, Calif. In LS and LT models, the V6 makes 281 hp, in LTZ trim it's good for 288. Still, the engine is fine even at the lower hp rating and provides more than enough power for everyday use.

Here's the bottom line, if you really want a Chevy Tahoe, drive the Traverse first. They feel similar in size but the Traverse has more useable interior room and feels less like a truck than the body on frame Tahoe. In the end, anyone who doesn't need to tow or go off-road may be wasting money on the V8 powered Tahoe.
For more info listen to Car Concerns Radio weekday mornings 9-11am on these AM radio stations: WBXR, Boston - WJOB, Chicago - KNUU, Las Vegas - WLFP, Pittsburgh - KGUM, Guam

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

2011 Ford Fiesta - New Ken Block Gymkhana 3 Car

If you haven't seen Ken Block's jaw dropping Gymkhana 2 video by now you've probably been doing a 20 year stint at Folsom Prison or you're a parent with a toddler - different choices, same result, you don't get out much. Just in case - you can see it here.

Now we know there will be another super stellar stunt video and this time around Block trades the modified Subaru in for a tweaked Ford Fiesta - no, not the yellow hatchback from the 80s, the new 2011 Fiesta that's set to go on sale here in the US this Summer.

The Ford press release reads, in part - "For Monster World Rally Team driver Block, the opportunity to push the limits of his car control while maneuvering around a series of cones, slaloms, 180-degree and 360-degree and figure-eight turns and other obstacles all while utilizing extreme acceleration, braking and drifting is pretty much the definition of fun. For that reason, Block chose the Ford Fiesta as the car that will be purpose-built for his highly anticipated Gymkhana THREE."

What more can you say.

Five Earth Day Tips for the Average Motorist

1) If you really want to save the planet but insist on driving a car, get a diesel powered VW like this Jetta Wagon - 42 mpg on the highway comes pretty close to matching the overall fuel economy of a hybrid like the Honda Insight. Besides, are you 100 percent convinced that all those extra electric motors, switches, circuit boards and batteries are REALLY better for the environment than a typical gas or diesel powered car? I'm not.
2) Walk more. Granted this won't work for everyone but if you live within two miles of a shopping area, consider walking once in awhile.
3) Keep your current car or buy a used one - building new cars generates heat, waste and pollution. Even a normal car that gets so-so fuel economy has a less harmful impact on the environment the longer it stays in service. Scrapping so many cars and then getting new ones is clearly not a green solution.
4) Keep you current car running properly. Make sure the air filter is replaced regularly, replace spark plugs and oil at regular intervals too - and the easiest thing to do is check tire pressure.
5) Stop speeding - by driving at more moderate speeds you can use up to 30 percent less fuel. Slow starts and avoiding abrupt stops will help too.

Monday, April 19, 2010

2011 Ford Fiesta Pandora and Twitter Tech

It's no secret that Ford has been planning an upgrade to its stellar Sync info-tainment system but now we know that the first car to get the expanded Sync services is the 2011 Ford Fiesta. This week in San Francisco, Ford is showing off the new Fiesta to a select group of people - sorry no driving impressions until Monday. The new Sync features include a Pandora and Stitcher interface - you can even "thumbs up" a song. The new system is called Sync AppLink which allows a driver or passenger to access smartphone apps via voice control.

The truly amazing thing about Ford's Sync system isn't so much what it does - and it does a lot. No, the really great thing here is that Ford clearly gets that most people who get all geeked out by Sync like technology probably aren't in the market for a $30-40,000 car. Putting AppLink on affordable cars like the 2011 Ford Fiesta is almost as brilliant as the software itself.

2010 VW Golf TDI Review - Road Test

Somehow, small diesel powered cars are still looked upon as odd by many new car shoppers - how the Prius has earned mainstream acceptance while diesel powered VWs and Benzes have not is beyond me. The 2010 VW Golf TDI is essentially state of the art when it comes to afforable diesels. There's plenty of power, the engine is not annoyingly loud and the car's overall look and feel seems more like a $35,000 sports car rather than a $22,000 commuter car. The Toyota Prius does offer an impressive 50 mpg in all around driving but it's not really a fun car and is best suited for those who simply drive to and from work in a straight line, never thinking or even wishing for more.

The Golf TDI's 42 mpg highway estimate is close enough to most hybrids and better than many smaller cars. Cars like the Kia Forte, Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris can do about 36 mpg highway but the Golf TDI tops those cars and is MUCH more rewarding to drive. The turbo diesel provides plenty of power and the car actually looks pretty sharp too - just don't expect the space age wheels like in the pic above.

Rear seats fold down easily and the cargo bay is big enough for any daily task. The seats are comfortable even on long trips and the Dynaudio sound system sounds very good - say a 7 out of 10 for clarity and distortion.

Opt for the Golf TDI with a Direct Shift Gearbox and shift paddles then add a few options like a sunroof, Dynaudio sound system and the Xenon adaptive front lighting system and the affordable diesel Golf becomes a $27,000 car. says most people are paying about $26,400 for that car. Skip the fancy transmission and get a six-speed manual instead and you're looking at about a $25,000 car.

Yes, you can get a small commuter car for less but less is less in this case. Add VW's free oil change and vehicle service for three years and the car gets pretty compelling in a hurry.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

It's Official - Drifting is now this Generation's Roller Disco

Remember when drifting was edgy and cool? Not anymore, it is now officially the Roller Boogie pastime and spectator sport of the 2010 era. This childs toy, sold by Razor - yes, the scooter company - attempts to mimic a real drift car but add the ability to do "awesome" stunts and "far out" tricks.

The next step is for Formula Drift attendees to wear crazy costumes or exceptionally revealling.. uh oh, STEP ONE IS COMPLETE!! The next step is someone will suggest drifting be in the Olympics and then a network TV special hosted by Mario Lopez or Ryan Seacrest. My gut says it will be ABC b/c they want to prove they're not just for old people - cuz that's whack...., yo!

Don't get me wrong, the Razor Ground Force Drifter is cool and all - it has an electric motor and slick tires in the rear plus a hand brake. Sure, it's cool but so was Roller Boogie. At least that's what Pam Dawber told me while wearing a satin jacket, satin shorts and knee high tube socks.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tell Your Grandparents to Cancel Consumer Reports Subscription

Hey, Consumer Reports - that Toyota bashing bandwagon is leaving, better catch..., Oh good, you caught it.

Consumer Reports magazine recently gave the Lexus GX460 (a Lexus version of the Toyota 4 Runner) a "Don't Buy" rating because of (supposed) roll over risk. But before anyone gives this too much credit let's recap Consumer Reports' legal troubles over the past few decades. This Wikipedia page sums it up nicely. Also, check out the web site Consumer Distorts for a little background on the magazine's problems in the late 1990s and what, at the time, seemed like an anti-SUV bias.

The bottom line is that Consumer Reports magazine has been sued several times by automakers for making false claims. The most notable was related to testing of the Suzuki Samurai in the late 1980s. Later, a court found that Consumer Reports had a "reckless disregard for the truth" with regard to Isuzu Trooper tests in the mid 1990s. More recently, the magazine said many child seats they tested were unsafe, later we learned the testing was done incorrectly. They also had to change their tune when stating that several hybrids wouldn't save buyers money over time - wrong again. Also, if you listen to the conclusions CR has come to concerning the Lexus GX, there are a lot of words like "may," "could," and "might." Maybe they should be sure when advising the over 60 set about what cars to buy or avoid.

My grandmother swears by Consumer Reports. I'm a bit more skeptical.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Five New Cars You Should Skip

Most new cars are pretty good - even a JD Power and Associates rep recently told me that the lowest ranked cars today are better than average cars of 10 years ago. With the playing field pretty much level, are there any bad cars left? Yes, and here's five of them:
1. 2010 Smart ForTwo - calling it terrible is too kind. It's loud, underpowered, ugly, jumpy and jerkier than the super sales-y guy an ex-girlfriend left me for.
2. 2010 Toyota Yaris - Don't all small cars suck? No, just the Yaris. The Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent and Ford Fiesta aren't half bad - what happened Toyota?
3. All Chrysler Sebrings - pick a year, any year and the Sebring will still stink. Shoddy build quality is highlighted by a rather high price.
4. 2010 Jeep Compass - It's nothing like a real Jeep. Cheap plastics and lots of road noise make it almost unbearable to drive.
5. 2009 Suzuki XL7 - Roomy? Sure but after that there's little to love, engine and road noise rule the day in this big Zuki.
Honorable mention would go to the Hummer H3 and Pontiac G6 but GM was smart enough to cancel them - let's just call it a mercy killing.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

New SMART car coming?

Now that a Daimler/Renault relationship is essentially certain, Smart may be able to build a four door version of the ForTwo. Maybe it'll be called the ForFour? The Daimler/Renault relationship means Nissan is in the mix too and that access to small car platforms and manufacturing could mean more Smart cars.

Whatever, Smart car suck. They're noisy, unrefined, jerky and frankly just terrible cars. The ForTwo is the only car I've ever driven that made me angry b/c it's so awful. Please, put this them out of our misery. Autoblog says the next series of Smart cars will be developed and built alongside the next generation Renault Twingo. The Twingo is not a terrible sub-compact so maybe the Smart will stop sucking so bad. If you need a struggling French automaker to save you, maybe you're beyond help.

2010 Mazda5 Grand Touring Review

Minivans aren't so mini anymore. Both the 2010 Honda Odyssey and 2011 Toyota Sienna are great family cars - I'll even throw the Kia Sedona in there too. But one thing those family vans are not is mini. The first minivan, the Dodge Caravan was based on a stretched K car platform and subsequent Honda, Nissan and Mitsubishi vans (or whatever they were) actually did ride on compact car underpinnings. Today, a Honda Odyssey is more SUV sized than compact. A 2010 Honda Odyssey is about the same size as a Chevy Tahoe in terms of lenght and distance between the wheels.

Enter the Mazda5. It has seating for six, side doors that slide open like a typical van plus power comes from a fuel sipping 4-cyl engine (28 mpg highway). It clearly feels small from behind the wheel but the Mazda5 does a lot with its small size. There are three rows of seats - second row seats slide foward and back and third row seats easily flip up or down.

The Mazda5 is probably the perfect family vehicle for anyone who lives in or has commute into a large urban area. If you call Montana home, get an SUV or a traditional (not so)minvan but for families in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York the 2010 Mazda5's combination of a small footprint but roomy cabin will work best. Also, the Mazda5 is remarkably affordable - it's about $21,000. Top of the line Grand Touring models sell for about $23,000.

BTW - after driving the Mazda5 Grand Touring for about a week I keep finding things to like. The manual sliding side doors are probably better than power because the effort to open and close is very low. Also, this Mazda5 has automatic HID headlights and they have a height adjustable feature. Also heated front seats and rain sensing wipers.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

New VW Beetle at 2010 LA Auto Show

The VW Beetle as we know it is on its way out. This will be the last year for the cute little car that makes its female owners that much hotter and the guys that dare step inside about 100 times less straight. College girls, former hippies and metros need not be alarmed however, a new version is due by 2012 - rumor has it the new version may look a lot like the VW Ragster Concept show car (shown above). We'll know for sure come November as a concept shown at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show will strongly hint at the next gen Beetle.

Suddenly all Toyotas Go Crazy?

Here are a few fun facts to consider with regard to the Toyota acceleration "problem." I don't know, maybe they all started going crazy, like in the movie Killdozer..., or maybe it's something else.

1) There have always been reports of unintended acceleration - all models, all years for about the past 100 years. 2) The problem almost never happens with cars that have a manual transmission. 3) When most automakers began installing a shift lock feature that won't allow you to shift out of park until the brake pedal is pushed, the reported number of runaway cars dropped significantly. 4) The Audi story of the 80s and supposed problems occured before most cars used electronic or "Drive by Wire" components.

Also, here's a little excerpt from Car and Driver, Feb 2010:

"We're no Toyota apologists, but if you look past the media circus, the numbers don't reveal a meaningful problem. Every man, woman, and child in the U.S. has approximately a one-in-8000 chance of perishing in a car accident every year. Over a decade, that's about one in 800. Given the millions of cars included in the Toyota recalls and the fewer than 20 alleged deaths over the past decade, the alleged fatality rate is about one death per 200,000 recalled Toyotas. Even if all the alleged deaths really are resultant from vehicle defects—highly unlikely—and even if all the worst things people are speculating about Toyotas are true, and you're driving one, and you aren't smart or calm enough to shift to neutral if the thing surges, you're still approximately 250 times likelier to die in one of these cars for reasons having nothing to do with unintended acceleration. So if you can muster the courage to get into a car and drive, the additional alleged risk of driving a Toyota is virtually negligible."

Also remember - NBC News rigged Chevy trucks to explode for Dateline, CBS News left out known facts in a 60 Minutes report about Audi vehicles to make the story more dramatic or scary or whatever. Who would you believe, money starved, taking obvious sides, zero objectivity network news or an automaker that makes most of it's money selling reliable, safe cars to Americans? Toyota is a for profit company - so is ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox News. The trouble is, most Americans don't know that news programs are just another TV show designed to make money, everyone knows Toyota's goal is to make money, they're not trying to fool anyone into believing they're watchdogs for the public good.