Sunday, June 3, 2018

Dispelling the Demon myth - it handles

Not only does it hand other cars their butts, but it can handle the curves. And makes for a nice daily driver. Despite all the online comments, the Demon actually goes around turns. Better than a non-widebody Hellcat as well.

What is a Demon? It’s an otherworldly Dodge Challenger Hellcat, possibly the world's quickest front engine, rear drive car, with a host of power increasing and drag strip use upgrades. Components are beefed up, power is increased with a larger supercharger, transmission has more aggressive ratios, it has wide body flares housing 315 width tires front and rear and a massive hood scoop. But the diabolism runs deeper than that including some production car firsts for drag strip use. A line lock is added to allow spinning the rear tires while the front brakes are activated to warm up the rears. A transbrake which holds first and second gear allows for engine power to be applied before the actual launch (think of a brake torque but in the transmission), in drag mode, the air conditioning is re-routed via an “after cooler” to reduce intake air temperature by up to 50 degrees. Cooler denser air enables more fuel for more horsepower. 

The Necromancy doesn’t end there. Besides some factory weight saving measures, including smaller brakes (don’t worry, you only need one emergency stop, not track duty), the interior only comes with a driver’s seat. But for $1 you can add a leather or in this case, cloth interior seats. There’s more wizardry for another $1 buys a Demon Crate that contains a replacement engine control module that has a tune to optimize race gas for more horsepower and torque, skinny front wheels without tires for lighter weight and less rolling resistance, as well tools to complete the summoning of the dark power.  Interestingly it has 57 to 85 more horsepower than the brand new Corvette ZR1 with a similar engine size and roots type supercharger. 

Having the good fortune of experiencing standard Hellcats and non-supercharged Challenger V8s at the Bondurant Racing School, the Demon’s wide body and non-drag mode suspension setting is not only a very comfortable street car, but pulls some appreciable lateral g’s in the turns, surpassing many sedans. On the street, the body roll isn’t bad and the speed around turns is more than sufficient to raise hackles. It reminded me of the standard suspension Mustang GT I recently evaluated. So why is the Demon and Hellcat judged on its handling when Bentleys, S-class coupes and other four (adult) passenger, two door coupes are not? The ride is perfectly comfortable as well. 

The other perception is it would be too loud. Nope, this frequently daily driven coupe is quiet at cruising and perfectly suitable for a cross country trip. It’s when the appropriately named loud pedal is brushed does it sound like a cruising muscle car with aftermarket mufflers and when all hell breaks loose, the supercharger whine also howls demonically. It’s as if the devil lost his minions. See the video for a launch example. This particular spawn from the darkest depths is no less practical than any other coupe and more than most since it fits four adults.  Thanks to the drag radials with hardly any negative area, rain or snow basically forbidden. Surprisingly this one has been used for commuting to work, achieving 17mpg, which is impressive for suburban stop and go in an 808 horsepower, two-ton coupe. And much better than currently experiencing in the 707 horsepower Trackhawk. 

Acceleration is hellacious, I can’t help myself, and a linear, hard pull. A couple of non-drag mode launches from a standstill displayed brutal power and classic domestic soundtrack. It was a warm, dry day and only minor traction loss occurred with a slight wiggle while screaming on the highway to hell. The owner has extensive experience in high horsepower cars and has monitored Demon quarter mile results. He states it is as quick as his McLaren 675LT. The race tune, which requires unleaded 100 octane gas, adds 32 horsepower and 53lbs ft. of torque, adds a 3-4mph again in trap speed. The owner stated the difference isn’t perceptible. Interestingly, it is still emissions compliant. 

Having had a superb long term experience with a first generation SRT-8, the Bondurant Racing School loving their SRTs and Hellcats, this from Bob and his wife, the reliability should be a non-issue. This is also one of the most practical ten second quarter mile cars and at well under $100k, the least expensive and best sounding.  A quick search on Autotrader shows several advertised at under MSRP. Shocking since the total production of 3,300 units ended recently.  While further defending this hell child, straight line racing is the worlds most participated motorsport. Manufacturers spend tens of thousands of dollars, if not more, trying to get the best possible lap time, why are they excused when Dodge went out to get the best possible timeslip for the Demon and published it, achieving 9.65 seconds at 140mph in optimal conditions with the full prep package - slicks in the rear, skinnys up front, race gas tune and just the driver’s seat.  

We all have our demons, but this one is practical, has no compromises and is hella fun to be in and drive. 
Photo album here:

Monday, May 7, 2018

2018 Mustang GT 10 speed automatic review and test drive

If you agree that profanity is sometimes acceptable among the right company, then the 2018 Mustang GT is just the ticket. It has a loud pedal enabled by a loud switch on the dashboard. This thing is rock-n- roll on wheels. After a joyful week with the 460hp V8, there’s lots of praise for this coupe.

First and foremost, the sound. The most common demonstration was the remote start and the explosion of rumbling, gurgling exhaust from the glorious naturally aspirated engine. Heard inside buildings, across parking lots, it was love at first sound pulse. Remote start just enhances the experience. How is this thing legal? I don’t care. This fairly loaded model with quite a few features not always found on much more expensive vehicles has an MSRP of $46,970.

The selectable exhaust has a quiet mode, but that just sounds stock. It can be programmed for certain hours because this will be heard in the neighborhood. The track and drag modes (more on those later) have an even deeper rumble. I questioned how much of it was piped into the cabin artificially, but it did set off an alarm. And it did hurt my ear with the window down during a wide open blast next to a solid object. Well ok it was an SUV. Ford does state it’s for off road use only. Oops. Here’s the deal, EVs will not have this, legal, barely legal or illegal.

Acceleration is strong, rushing past 80mph induces that giddy feeling that it’s unrelenting. Independent tests show the car to be a low 12 second, high teen car with the 10 speed automatic. Zero to 60mph would be in the high 3s at that point. It does have acceleration, braking and g-force measurements integrated into the user interface. Power is a little soft in low rpms but it comes on strong and progressively. Throttle response is very good.

The big question is how is the 10 speed automatic? It was nearly fantastic. Shifts were seamless during normal driving and it never hunted for the right gear. A steady cruising rpm, it held steady in the gear. In the track modes shifts are very firm and I got rubber going into second gear. With the shifter left in Sport and automatic modes, rapidly decelerating would induce rapid fire downshifts which was so cool.

 In the manual mode double tapping the paddles due to so many ratios worked best. The only objections were a slow reaction to selecting second if while sustaining first at part throttle. Also when manually shifting near redline it was easy to hit the limiter. Otherwise this transmission was a joy. Eight miles per hour is about 2000rpm and eight-five mph is 2150rpm and about 25mpg with this 3:15 final drive ratio model. The manual recommends shifting into 10th at 60mph for optimum fuel economy.

With all this powertrain fun, I missed two turns and nearly a third driving back from the office while giggling the entire time having so much fun with the response and feedback. The suspension is firm yet compliant, and very comfortable. For street use, and spirted on-ramp duty, it was excellent. Despite the old joke about spin-outs and danger to pedestrians, the rear end grip accelerating out of turns with the 255 width rear tires was surprisingly good.

If you don’t have a heavy foot, it’s an excellent commuter. Despite the tall hood and the side mirrors being a little small, visibility is excellent along with a good and functional interior layout unlike the Camaro. The rear back-up camera view is so wide it borders on epic. While cruising, the adaptive cruise control worked extremely well, less intrusive than others recently sampled. The selectable gauge display can show air/fuel ratio, axle oil temp, boost/vacuum, cylinder head temp, inlet air temp, oil pressure, oil temp and transmission oil temp. 

With the Premium package, leather seats that are both heated and cooled are standard. They really form to the body mid-back but seem to be lacking at shoulder blade and higher level. Although some higher speed turns didn’t reveal any shortcomings in function. The headrest is tilt adjustable as well. There are other clever touches like a dedicated rear seat access lever behind each seat, and a magnetic button holds the seatbelt strap in place so it’s easier to grab and better than a button. 

The engine oi change interval is up to 10,000 miles, with 5w-20. However, 5w-30 is recommended for track duty, with instructions to change back to 5w-20 after. Extreme duty can bring the oil change interval down to 3,000 miles but the interval for track duty (with the viscosity switch) seems to be 7,000 miles. Keep in mind, this is a large engine physically and it takes 10 quarts of oil. You’ve got to pay to play. 

The Ford Sync 3 infotainment system works well, the user interface pretty easy to figure out, not even needing to check the manual on how to operate it. Apple Car Play starts right up and supposedly Waze will be included with it soon. Although the volume only went up to 30, the Shaker subwoofer in the trunk would shake the rear window and the lower front speakers blow the hairs on your lower legs, if you’re equipped like that.

It’s a dichotomy of refinements, features and unrefinements. The side window up and down action shakes the long heavy doors, you can subtly feel the vehicle shake as well. The pony image projected on the ground by the side view mirrors is fun, but generated extreme reactions, for and against. There’s a large console behind the rear mirror, only noticed from the outside. Maybe oversized but if it included the auto dimming headlights function, it worked great. The brake pedal feels a little wooden but modulates perfectly. The steering column release is on the right side, shouldn’t they always be in center under the column?

There’s something about domestic performance cars. Not sure if it is the tall, flat hoods combined with heavy engines sitting over or near the front wheels, but Ford did a great job with this one and the soundtrack speaks volumes. The exterior styling, especially the rear, is simply brilliant and it’s the best-selling sports coupe globally. I guess you could say, all things considered, it is world class. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

2018 Volkswagen Golf R review - the refined hooligan

This car is a bad influence on me. Sits low, handling is light, responsive and tossable. It’s quick, has excellent lateral support, smooth shifter, torquey, great visibility….why the heck are these other cars in my way? Accelerate, zig right, zag left, accelerate again, oops too fast. No matter, into a neutral all-wheel drift, recover while accelerating. That’s five or six cars dispatched already. Speed limit barely exceeded, I still need to show better judgement…

The 2018 Volkswagen R 6-speed manual offers the involving driving experience that makes you yearn for a track day while offering a smorgasbord of configurable settings, logical ergonomics and what must be best-in-class interior refinement. 

Featuring a rumbly 292 horsepower turbocharged 4 cylinder, the torque is immediate and the acceleration satisfying. Reportedly rated at 22 mpg city and 31 highway, solid numbers for a performance car. The manual transmission 0-60mph time is said to be 5.2 seconds. The manual doesn’t have that jerk-your-head-back engagement going into second gear or third gear at wide open throttle, too many all-wheel drive drivetrain components. Maybe its the dampening, or both. Sixty miles power is reached at the top of second gear. A steady 80mph is about 3000rpm in 6th gear and while perhaps not ideal for fuel economy, downshifting isn’t necessary for getting around the ever present dawdling Prius, er, I mean other vehicles. 

Refinement is prevalent throughout. When the clutch is fully engaged at idle, the vehicle can move at a crawl versus a herky-jerky lunging threatening to stall. Activating the electronic parking brake elicits an audible response from the rear of the car, as does the selection of reverse when the backup camera is actuated from its hiding space behind the rear emblem. Normal function sounds behind the driver other than the exhaust are rare and fun. 

There’s a few quirks. When using Waze while in Apple Car Play mode, the audible directions switch the audio source from radio to phone but that seemed to sort itself out from my fumbling around with controls. The height of the steering column shaft absolutely must be raised, longer inseam drivers will hit their left knee against it while trying to have the steering wheel angled more parallel to the driver, and it makes ingress and egress difficult with the right knee even when its at the top of the arc. Pushing the manually adjusted wheel in makes it worse, because that brings the steering wheel rim lower still! If you’re a traveling salesperson, this might get bothersome. 

The exterior has no chrome and a subtle blackout treatment and looks really sharp despite the basic hatchback design. Inside, the refinement is at a premium level. For example the wide and deep door pockets are lined with a carpet-like texture which keeps items from rattling around such as modern sunglasses that don’t seem to fit in any overhead sunglass compartment on the market.  Despite the contoured fit of the seats, the upper back feels unsupported but leaning your head back meets the padded headrest nicely. It also seems rather rare to have a black headliner these days, a welcome change but this example was missing a sunroof. Once everything is adjusted, outward visibility excellent.

Thanks to the positive action shifter and light clutch feel, driving in commuter traffic is as effortless as a manual transmission car could be. The low end torque and maneuverability allow for easy placement and changing lanes as opposed to waiting for the revs to climb for power. Steering is quick, roughly 3 turns lock-to-lock but the turning radius is the give away that the engine is transverse mounted, a slight but noticeably greater than some larger, rear-drive only vehicles.

The multi driving mode selection has cool graphics along with a custom setting offering an array of configurations from chassis control, steering effort, engine sound, lighting, climate control, etc. When reaching for the navigation screen setting, the submenu pops up, a clever touch, pun intended. 

This is really a magnificent daily driver which can be a practical economy car yet with plenty of power. And add just a button push and you’re a throttle position away from being an eager track rat with sharp styling cues yet still blending in to the daily commute without screaming, “Here I am!” for attention. 

See the entire picture album on my Facebook page: San Jose Cars Examiner

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Tech in the Spec: 2018 Acura TLX A-Spec review

In the “Near Premium” market segment, the players are all the names we’ve heard of, see every day, and are essentially the well-equipped yet entry level models of the luxury brands. Acura’s TLX offers a 2.4 liter 4-cylinder, but this A-Spec example is a 3.5 liter naturally aspirated V-6 producing 290hp and this very well equipped Tech Package examples has an MSRP of $45,750.  The A-Spec trim level brings some exterior styling cues such as the distinctive grill, 19” wheels and suggestive 4” exhaust tips. Inside, the A-Spec-only red light accent stripes are a very neat detail that adds to the ambiance, especially at night. 

Producing an extremely smooth 290 horsepower, downshifting several gears below 9th produced no discernible increase in vibration despite a big leap in engine rpm. What it lacks in sheer grunt it makes up for with an always welcome yet refined V-8 sound track despite lacking two cylinders. The throttle dependent rumble can help sell this car to the driver, yet isn’t an attention getting (or craving) head turner. A long travel pedal is needed to illicit downshifts, it makes for a great daily driver before even activating the numerous technology features. 

While on the subject of the powertrain, one aspect must be brought up. The Super Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) absolutely spoils the driver in the rain, at green lights and even when turning. On wet roads the launch from a stop enabled by the SH-AWD will widen your eyes. Ever try flooring a car while turning and not crashing or spinning out? This thing lets you do it, one handed, easily. Thanks to the torque vectoring rear differential, overdriven by 2.7%, it absolutely spoils the driver with its capabilities and easily builds confidence. It’s quite a gem.   

Four driving modes, Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus control the engine and transmission, throttle input, and more. The ride is definitely on the side of luxury, more so than expected even in the A-Spec suspension trim.  Handling is extremely predictable and the tires will squeal at a limit high enough to get in trouble and gap 99% of people behind you on the on-ramp. 

Even though it is a sluggish downshift response to the right foot, the 9 speed automatic is responsive with the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. With the all-wheel drive, Acura could take advantage of the many ratios and give it much more aggressive gearing for quicker acceleration so it’s more evenly matched with some of its 6 cylinder, turbocharged competitors. But on the upper end, an 85mph cruise speed only turns a spectacularly low 1850rpm. In perspective, a diesel BMW 335d would turn 2200rpm. Great for highway fuel economy, rated at 29mpg but acceleration is non-existent if you are in the manual gear selection mode. Otherwise it simply downshifts. Could you imagine manually shifting 9 speeds in a commuter? You’d be skipping gears constantly, not reaching peak efficiency and acceleration not at the vehicle’s potential.
Multiple technical features can help a driver become either better, safer, lazier, or depending upon the mood, alternate at will. The suite of driver aids and warning systems is called AcuraWatch. Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) will activate the brakes in case of an imminent collision and the Forward Collision Warning (FCW) flashes “BRAKE” in orange letters between the gauges when the approach distance and speed exceeds the programmed threshold. 

 The Low Speed Follow (LSF), with Active Cruise Control (ACC) is a nice convenience can be quite useful in bumper to bumper traffic. The only issue is despite setting the closest distance, it leaves a large enough gap for another driver to easily move in.  It doesn’t let up on the throttle due to brake lights, but rather distance and the brake application is sudden, so you start to wonder if you’re irritating the driver behind you or if the driver in front is smooth on the throttle.  

Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS) reads the road surface and makes subtle adjustments in the steering wheel to keep the vehicle centered, a driving aid that reacts before the driver at times. Letting go of the wheel in a curve is not a good idea. And while activated, if it senses hands off the wheel for too long, it will flash a warning. What was liked the most is the Lane Departure Warning (LDW) which will flash when a car is too close for a lane change. Very helpful at highway speeds in the dark when moving around slower traffic.

The climate control system also links the seat ventilation and heating which is a great touch and the functions can be adjusted on the display screen. The seats are so comfortable, and so easy to get in and out, the Alcantara objection of being too grippy is totally dismissed in this case. The wife loved the spaciousness and how quiet it was. 

There are a few quirks like the tall, wide sill, especially with the sportier lower body cladding. The rear view camera has a very wide angle but is a bit granular in image quality, especially when it rains. Speaking of rain, careful opening he trunk so you don’t spill water on the contents. 

The TLX A-Spec is a solid luxury and technology contender in the market segment, an excellent daily driver, multi-state tourer, has enough grunt to get past slower traffic and makes pleasing sounds while doing it with refinement and tasteful, sporty styling touches. Add another fifty to one hundred horsepower and this would be a standout. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Kia Forte5 SX review

What if I told you a very European looking 5 door hatchback with sporty styling, dual exhaust outlets, a rear diffuser, manual transmission and lots of features didn’t come from a U.S. or Germany based manufacturer?  Would your next guess be a 2017 Kia Forte5 SX that is a very well equipped hatch with an MSRP of $27,000.

First impression is it looked very much like many of the refined hatchbacks seen in Italy in September during a two week vacation. The rich gray color compliments the black grill treatment and wheels and. A thin red horizontal line across the front clip makes a sporty yet soft statement and ties in the red stitching in the interior. The sloped rear window which is a staple with hatchbacks and keeps the station wagon look from creeping into your head.

Besides making a four door hatchback as sharply styled as possible and still have mass appeal, the interior has very well designed seats with red trim tying in the front styling cue. Surprisingly the seats are both ventilated and heated and were perfect during a roughly 300 mile round trip one day. In addition, dual zone climate control, navigation, satellite radio, moonroof, power entry and exit seat, and the Kia UVO infotainment and telematics service which also includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. 

The center dash display shows the tach and speedometer along with a multi-window display of the trip odometer, navigation, entertainment, and settings. Counting four cupholders, plus forward console storage is quite good but then it was pointed out the center armrest compartment will hold more water bottles because it’s so deep. Not bad! Granted the interior can always be spruced up with materials and styling elements but from a refinement, layout and functionality standpoint it is excellent. 

Peeking around, the pedals and foot rest are all metal with rubber pads and look serious and full of intent. The hatch space offers 60/40 split fold down rear seats, the “60” properly on the passenger side and they lay flat, cargo tie-down loops, a board that hides the child seat anchors, flaps on either side for flat storage and two layers of segmented storage underneath. 

The 201 horsepower engines provided plenty of power around town and on the highway. Not even realizing it’s turbocharged due to virtually no lag, once rolling in first gear, going wide open throttle will squeal the tires. It does have the common 4 cylinder audible hum, but a slightly tuned exhaust note would be welcome.

The EPA highway rating is a disappointing 29mpg, and judging how early upshifts are suggested on the driver’s display along with “taching out” at 3600 rpm while cruising at 85mph, maybe taller 5th and 6th gears could be utilized for better highway mileage. Hopefully Kia can address this and get the EPA rating into the 30s unless I’m missing something from the equation. 

Everyday driving is enjoyable, the ride is comfortable but the steering provides no feedback. Perhaps most would consider this luxurious refinement, but the enthusiast wants to know what’s going on with the front tires. Shifter throws are short and so is the clutch travel with light effort. This car contributes to the “save the manuals” mantra, its that easy. The flat bottom steering wheel, called, “Very Formula One-ish” in one of our “FactsandFigure” videos, is actually pretty nice because it acts like a lever when turned and lets you know it’s position by feel. Never had that kind of time with one before to appreciate it. 

Pushing the limits on an onramp reveal the very toss able feel of a lighter car and the scrubbing sound of the tires approaching their limits at a cornering speed higher than anyone witnesses in traffic, and the 225 width tires on 18” wheels do a good job of holding the road. I’d be curious to see instrumented test numbers. 

For only $27,000 MSRP, one starts making comparisons. A top-of-the-line Infiniti Q50 that is double the price doesn’t offer power folding mirrors or cooled seats. Kia does pack a lot of value into the car. From the road trip, hauling charity drop-offs and overall utility, this is a great car. Perfect for a comfortable commute, a first time buyer, a practical family car and more. 

Check out the all the pictures on the San Jose Cars Examiner Facebook page. Special thanks to The Drive Shop for providing the vehicle.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Porsche Macan GTS review

He’s been in and out of sports cars for nearly a half century. Now the car trips are usually shorter duration, invariably hauling something, the vehicle sitting in parking public parking lots for minutes or hours. A nice sport car gets attention, sometimes too much, having being keyed by some entitled tool full of wealth bias. And it scrapes the front on so many driveways. This 2017 Porsche Macan GTS is easy to get in and out of, it blends in, kind of, in the current landscape of utility vehicles. It hauls loads and butt. It offers easy cargo access and for those hauling infants and toddlers, easy access to car seats. Yet it’s also the old man’s sports car. Big 21” wheels and tires with Porsche tuned suspension and handling will embarrass or hang with numerous performance cars existing today in any handling or braking metric. Could this be the best all-around vehicle on the road? The crossover, essentially a raised station wagon, is a do-it-all vehicle.

The Macan GTS is powered by a twin turbo V-6 that produces 360 horsepower and 369 lbs feet of torque channeled through the Porsche dual clutch transmission (PDK).  Coupled with torque vectoring all-wheel drive, Car and Driver tested it to a 13.0 second quarter mile at 105mph. Despite the 4492lb weight, it posted a spectacular breaking distance of 157 feet from 70mph. Granted the weight has an effect on the mileage rating of 17mpg city and 23mpg highway. The packaging is impressive, allowing for a 19.8 gallon fuel tank for less fill-ups, very convenient. 

The acceleration has a nice mechanical, kind of a spinning sound, very refined with snappy upshifts. Typical of Porsche, the handling is confidence inspiring and feels like a taller sports car but without the expected slop of a high ground clearance SUV/CUV.  The ride is very comfortable with the air suspension dampers and not hampered by the 21” wheels with 265/45 tires in the front and 295/35 tires in the rear along with Porsche Active Suspension Management which lowers the ride height 10mm versus the standard Macan.

There are nice touches typical of Porsche, even with a lot of buttons surrounding the shifter. This example has the sport chrono package, heated front and rear seats, panoramic sunroof and keyless entry and drive. Having had a series of Porsches, the most recent a 2015 Cayman GTS previously reviewed, one of the surprises is the perfect Bluetooth acoustics and voice command system. Equating it to an acoustic enclosure, the noise cancellation and transmission is said to be spectacular.
The navigation screen also has a cool touch to zoom in or out feature but it does leave fingerprints. And navigation summary provided on the 3rd gauge directly in front of the driver is very convenient. Also the home screen in the main display is configurable with the desired information, such as music, time/date, recent calls, navigation, etc. There is a rear parking camera and forward proximity sensors to aid in parking. The infotainment system is very well thought out but including  Apple Car Play would be the next step feature wise. 

The cargo capacity is good with the rear seats up, but not great. Two people headed to the golf course means taking a larger SUV or folding down the three-sectional rear seats. However looking underneath the cover reveals a temporary spare. However the orange colored wheel is probably to entice you to get it replaced or fixed immediately.

The exterior is well styled, the red calipers a nice touch behind the turbo-style wheels. A close look at the front grill reveals the louvered opening that open and closes for the cooling efficiency of the radiator. Further inspection along the nicely aggressive front clip shows other cooling radiators. Porsche had headlight styling down to a science and interestingly the hood is somewhat of a clamshell with openings for the headlights and integrated vents that direct intake are to the air boxes, creating a seal with the hood. Very clever and the entire set-up actual makes it one of the few SUV/CUVs that show well. Yes, I mean at a car show. 

It’s not perfect, but it’s close for overall utility, sport and practicality. The fuel efficiency isn’t great, the rating is 17 mpg city and 23 highway and the effortless acceleration will trend that downard.  Doing build on the Porsche configurator, a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel didn’t seem to be available, but the owner has no issues with it, not needing to use it for ingress and egress.

If your use cycle is frequent loading and unloading or even children in car seats, but want something compact versus overly large for around-town use and frequent parking lot visits, a crossover utility vehicle is a great choice. But when the cargo is unloaded, or dropped off at daycare, what’s wrong with having a decent handling driver with 13 or even 12 second quarter mile capability? It’s about having the best of both worlds. Add the capability, engineering and performance of a Porsche, it’s tough to beat a Macan GTS, although there are a couple of higher horsepower models of 400hp and 440hp each...

38 photos here:

Friday, September 29, 2017

Adventurous driving on the roads of Italy

When you think of driving in Italy, what comes to mind? Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s in the left lane, scooters and Ducatis in the right lane and little hatchbacks in the middle lanes? The reality is a bunch of hatchbacks zipping around and scooters zig zagging around the cars. Nevermind the bullet trains which are a superb method of covering multi-hundred mile distances at 185mph.
Recently I had the great fortune of taking a two week vacation in Italy with my wife, also known as Pretty Navigator, aka "Figure" of "Facts and Figure". I was able to observe and participate in a style rarely seen in the states among the general driving public and even considered controversial or road rage worthy. I guess some of us simply are European or Italian style drivers.
A smaller rental car is recommended simply due to the very tight streets and parking in the cities. All the cars are left hand drive and small diesel hatchbacks are numerous with models from Fiat, Peugeot, Skoda, Smart, Citroen, Alfa Romeo and more familiar brands like Ford, Toyota and Volkswagen. There are hardly any pickup trucks but you do see small and midsize SUVs and small vans. Because of the recommended smaller vehicle size, I recommend medium sized and smaller luggage so that it can all be concealed in the back hatch when the car is parked and hidden away from prying eyes.
Opt for the full insurance coverage. After five years of vehicle ownership with either backup sensors or cameras, not having them in an unfamiliar vehicle, in a foreign land with very confined spaces can be nerve-wracking at best and expensive at worst. The way oncoming traffic is so close in the narrow streets, one wonders why more mirrors aren't missing and body panels aren't scraped up. Also get GPS unless you’re going to use your cell phone. More on that later. 
Our vehicle was a Fiat 500L diesel, 5 speed manual which was adequate for around town and not so much on the Autostrada. However power isn't exactly common among compact diesel hatchbacks. For instance, second gear was too tall to climb the steep hills at low speed with any kind of load in the vehicle. Even after downshifting, you sit and patiently wait for speed to increase. The contrast to driving a large, powerful car in our open spaces is very stark. Such as when merging, it’s a series of full throttle applications in first through third gears.
The cities have a very large population of scooters zipping around, cutting lanes, passing over the double lines and on the right side even on two lanes road. They ride with the abandon of a motorcycle club pack run but without the common destination and not quite as loud, and no music. No one gets mad, and I exclaimed, "Whoa!" frequently as passes, cutting lanes and squeezing in was witnessed regularly, including around city busses.
Watch for scooters everywhere, you’ll get passed on the left at any time. You don’t hear loud music, or revving motors, but horns is another matter. Renting a Vespa scooter in Sorrento was a blast. Funny story; even after years of owning an 800lb Harley, I had to learn the technique of the center stand, making sure I was pressing down on the stand so I didn’t keep trying to muscle up the scooter just pulling on the handlebars. It was YouTube worthy, I’m sure.
The Autostrada is where it really gets interesting. Bring Euros in $2 and less denominations the tollbooths unless you get the Telepass device. If you don’t have the pass, you collect a paper ticket at the automated dispenser and when exiting the Autostrada, a manned booth or automated payment collector will accept your money. Credit cards don't appear to be an option but it does have a coin counter. And the automated systems even say, “Arrivederci!” We don't get jack in the US. The highest speed limit observed was 110kph, or roughly 68mph. Despite signs of electronic speed monitoring and spotting camera boxes, many travel much faster than indicated. Here's where it gets fun and proper though: Slower traffic, move your ass over, period. There were countless examples of much faster traffic tailgating a slower vehicle in the left lane only to see the road boulder immediately move over. And the same courtesy is extended to you. The big rigs all keep right, have three rear axles and seem shorter and lower than their US counterparts with bodywork closing the gap around the wheels.
There is a significant disparity in speeds among various vehicles. A flashing signal along the onramp for merging vehicles is a welcome reminder. Driving through smaller towns and transition roads means lots of roundabouts. There doesn't seem to be a rhyme or reason to the layout, but GPS is key. With GPS, if you don't opt for the rental company unit, be sure to pay for the data package of your cell phone service provider. Bring a USB cable (or cigarette charger) to keep the phone charged due to the constant GPS data flow. When navigating make sure you're signed into your chosen navigation tool account so your search history and parked car locators are both active. Handy when figuring out which train station you're parked at or wandering the city. Finally, tunnels can cause signal delays so make sure you always know the next turn. Missing one can mean some convoluted redirection and multiple roundabouts.
Diesel near the airport was roughly $6.75 gallon but it's advertised in liters. Also there are two grades of diesel, the base is sufficient for rentals. The Autostrada is clean, well maintained and clearly marked with directions. There are numerous SOS emergency call centers and marked places to pull over. The countryside is particularly scenic, reminiscent of Highways 17, 280 going up the peninsula and the Napa/Sonoma area especially. Interestingly in some stretches there are tall Plexiglas fences to help block wind gusts while still preserving the scenic views. The lanes seem a little narrower and staying between the dotted lines seems to be optional sometimes.
Tunnels are numerous and extremely well maintained and lit. The longer ones have exhaust fans as well. Car spotting isn't remarkable, being spoiled in San Jose. A Ferrari F430 was seen in Rome, a Ferrari California in Sorrento, and right-hand drive 488 GTB Spider and 458 Spider also but those two were in the country from the UK for the Ferrari 70th anniversary celebration. Porsches are a bit more numerous. Hardly anyone plays their music too loud and thankfully bumper stickers haven't taken off in popularity.

You’re better off if you know how to drive a manual since they are very common there. Regarding the GPS, either it’s my inability to comprehend Italian, but the streets have long Italian names and the verbal GPS announcements are quite length and for me, never seem to match the name of the street and yet took us where we needed to be. But the street signs will have multiple destinations stacked in a column, which is more confusing. And one last thing, make sure you have the proper address and region in case the city or town has a similar name. How Americans got around Italy when driving before GPS must have made for some interesting “discussions”, frequently wrinkled maps and many repeat trips around the roundabouts. Arrivederci! 

Some random car pics from various places in Italy: