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Categories: Car Reviews

Haunted Highways: A Series Exploring The Ghosts of Cars Gone By (Quickly)

On: Fri, Nov 26, 2010 at 11:00AM | By: Lou Ruggieri


Haunted Highways: A Series Exploring The Ghosts of Cars Gone By (Quickly) test 1-1

Instead of always trying to be ahead of the world on information and breaking news, sometimes it's better to take a deep breath and look back on what has already come to pass. In this next edition of our Haunted Highways series (see Haunted Highways 3000GT VR4 for our last installment), we aim to do just that. 

 

Some may argue that the Golden Age of automobiles was the mid to late 1960s; however, there is a compelling argument that can be made for the mid to late 1990s as either a second Golden Age or perhaps even a Renaissance. Although instead of huge displacement and grossly overrated horsepower numbers, these later cars used forced induction and new technology to compete on the highest level of production vehicles. 

 

The second generation 300ZX was perhaps the epitome of automobile technology, having been the first car to have been designed by the CRAY supercomputer way back in 1989. The 300ZX debuted its new style to Americans in 1990 and continued to evolve for the next six years. The long hood and quick abrupt dropped-off rear end had a polarizing effect, but most seemed to love its new styling, especially magazine editors of the time. The new 300ZX won Motor Trend's 1990 Import Car of the Year, as well as Automobile's Design of the Year and made an appearance on both "Ten Best" lists from Car and Driver and Road & Track.  


The Great Mini-Van Wars of Aught Ten: Nissan Quest Debuts In LA, Speedometer Back Where It Belongs

On: Thu, Nov 18, 2010 at 4:22PM | By: John Welch


The Great Mini-Van Wars of Aught Ten: Nissan Quest Debuts In LA, Speedometer Back Where It Belongs test 1-1

The "Toilet of Bad Ideas" has been overflowing for some time now, clogged with the foul remains of things like "Pops-a-Dent" and the Flo-Bee. Also swirling 'round in this brain turd stew, you guessed it, the center-mounted gauge cluster. What a stinker of an idea! Sure it works in a MINI, whose massive speedo really couldn't go anywhere else, lest it knock the tach off of its rightful throne, the steering column. Every other car laden with this terrible mistake, this distracting, poorly conceived pretentious waste of good dash space, was left with at least one glaring fault—the stupid center-mounted gauges.

College kids who buy and operate Toyota Echos need to watch the effing road! They're already so helpless and ineffective behind the wheel; I don't think making them look down and to the right while in motion, so they can check the speed of their ugly 4-wheeled snot box, is a very good idea. No, I think its a terrible idea. That's why it flounders away in the aforementioned "Toilet of Bad Ideas". A Saturn Ion Redline could be considered a fairly peppy vehicle. Some might even say "quick". So let's stick the gauge cluster in the middle of the dash and watch the insurance cash roll in! The Prius . . . oh gawd, why waste the effort typing. The Prius is just stupid, for so many reasons; the center-mounted slowometer isn't even in the top ten. The world has a finite supply of nickel, idiots; let's start there . . .

The third generation Nissan Quest was one such dash-zit sporting vehicle. The overall package was decent, different, attractive in some circles. Nissan and Renault were hooking up in a janitor's closet while this van was being designed, and its French influence can be seen both inside and out. The avant garde headlamps, bulging fenders, and strange 3/4 view all screamed "Renault". Look in the cabin and we have seats from the Moon Raker, an instrument panel stolen from the ISS . . . and . . those . . . freaking center-mounted gauges. Ahhhk.


One M Worth Waiting For

On: Wed, Nov 17, 2010 at 12:37PM | By: Lou Ruggieri


One M Worth Waiting For test 1-1

Since its inaugural debut in 2008, the 1-Series BMW has developed a healthy following of its own, and become a bit more than what some critics touted as merely a "poor man's BMW". Whether it is the happy-to-be-in-the-sun 128i convertible, or the exhilarating turbo-charged 135i, or anything variation therein, the 1-Series has done well for itself. But as any true BMW enthusiast will tell you, no model lineup is truly worthy of the being called the Ultimate Driving Machine until it has an M car designation. It seems that the 1-Series has passed the consumer rite of passage, and now will enter the upper echelon of Bimmer-dom.  

Just as the 1-Series is essentially a 4/5ths version of the 3-Series, so the 1-Series M will be to the M3. In short, the M could stand for Mighty Mouse or just simply Marvelous. Sporting flared fenders, a quad tailpipe exhaust, and a bad attitude, this car is made to fly. It looks the part, thanks to being widened by those massive fenders by what appears to be about a foot, but in actuality amounts to only about 3.1 inches. As with most M cars, the 1-Series M will sport a new front fascia to differentiate it from lesser ones, but more importantly to help support the turbo's need for air, and lots of it.    

Although purists will argue that a "true" M car does not employ forced induction, and that naturally aspirated high revs are the defining characteristic of an M car... They are wrong. That may sound harsh, but in a world where fuel cost is perpetually on the rise, and engineers have to get more and more out of less and less, forced induction is the way to go for gas engines. Unless, those purists want to stay pure and get smoked around every track, at every stoplight, and on every road course they come across just to hold dearly to their outmoded idea of what performance needs to be, then sure, go for it.  


Despite the Fires, Ferrari 458 Is Auto Express 'Performance Car of the Year'

On: Fri, Nov 12, 2010 at 5:34PM | By: Chris Weiss


Despite the Fires, Ferrari 458 Is Auto Express 'Performance Car of the Year' test 1-1

I don't know about you, but I'd consider one of the cornerstones of a "performance car" to be its ability to not catch fire when simply driving down the road. And if that car was, say, a 570-hp V8-driven supercar, I'd guess that it probably shouldn't catch fire even if you drive fast in hot weather. So if I was going to be judging a competition to decide the "performance car of the year," I'd probably use the penchant for fiery, car-leveling infernos as a quick elimination tool to narrow the pool.

Apparently, the folks over at Auto Express view it a little differently. They looked right past the well-publicized fire issue that Ferrari itself copped to just two months ago, and named the 458 Italia its "Performance Car of the Year." I'd love to know what kind of high-grade green the folks in Maranello shipped over to the U.K. to help grease the wheels toward that conclusion.


 

More Or Less Than The Sum Of Its Parts?

On: Tue, Nov 9, 2010 at 10:27AM | By: Lou Ruggieri


More Or Less Than The Sum Of Its Parts? test 1-1

I'd like to gauge your reaction on something. I'm going to describe a mystery car to you and then you have to judge whether or not you would be interested in it. Ready? Okay here goes:

 

This is a luxury car with all the trimmings. First and foremost, let me say that it is no slouch, starting off with a healthy 4.6 liter V8 pumping out 375 horsepower on premium fuel, or run 368 horsepower on regular gas. It has a six-speed automatic transmission that shifts about as seamlessly as you could hope for, not that you'll spend much time listening to the engine as your firmly grip the leather-wrapped, heated steering wheel. Or while you're enveloped and massaged (yes, massaged) by supple heated (or cooled) leather seats, surrounded by walnut or birch trim and an Alcantara headliner.  

 

You may also not fully be aware that you are riding on an air suspension that sits on 19-inch wheels, and you certainly won't notice the nine airbags that surround you, or the adaptive cruise control, lane-departure system, or collision warning, that it is, of course, until you really need them. What you will notice, however, are the adaptive HID headlights, and the eight-inch navigation screen connected to an impressive 608-watt, 17-speaker stereo (replete with iPod hookup and XM Satellite radio), as well as the backup camera with parking sensors.  

 

All of those options come on both versions of this mystery car.   However there is an upper tier version of this luxo-cruiser called the "Ultimate" version, and as you can imagine, it is well ... Ultimately gratifying.  The Ultimate is more for the owner that wants to sit in the rear and be driven, rather than up front bothering with all of that pesky driving.  In back, you can sit in one of two seats that match the front's ability to heat, cool, and recline.  There is also a built in DVD player, refrigerator, as well as controls for temperature and sound system.  The passenger side back seat is the king's throne of the car.  If you are among the few to make enough money to be able to sit there, this car will make you feel like you are worth even more than you probably are.  The back right seat has an extendable leg rest (that can extend as far as your legs can with a switch that moves the front passenger seat forward to accommodate your stretching needs).  That same back seat also has a massage feature, just in case you need it.  You might be interested in the power trunklid or the forward-facing camera, but odds are your driver will enjoy those features more than you might, but sometimes giving back feels good too.


When Too Much Is Never Enough

On: Wed, Nov 3, 2010 at 11:07AM | By: Lou Ruggieri


When Too Much Is Never Enough test 1-1

It's an age-old mantra most gear heads will recognize:  Run what ya brung, and hope it's enough!  Whether it's at the track, road course, or just the next traffic light, every hot rodder knows that feeling of getting beat out when you weren't expecting to lose.  Watching taillights pull ahead of you when you're giving your own car everything its got is demoralizing, disheartening, and feels worse than watching your favorite team lose the Superbowl.  After a loss, there are stages of rehabilitation:  Surprise, Anger, Denial, Sadness, Acceptance, and in some cases, Resolve.  

 

Surprise that another car is able to beat a car that you believed was unbeatable, then anger quickly on its heels that you spent money on a car that isn't as fast as the car now humbling and/or humiliating you.  The denial comes a little later.  The denial usually stems from the transmission:  "Oh I missed a shift" or sometimes, "He caught me in the wrong gear" or the ever popular, "I need a new clutch, this one is slipping pretty badly, but next time ..." Each of these excuses, along with hundreds of others like it all boil down to the same result:  You lost.  Winners never make excuses for why they won.  

 

Such is the life of any car enthusiast, but maybe none more than the drive-it-to-the-track guy.  Sure he is only a weekend warrior, sure he might have 85,000 miles on his three year old racer because much like the driver himself, his car leads a double life as a Clark Kent-type daily driver grinding through the Monday to Friday commute before they can both jump in a phone booth and transform into Superman and Supercar.  But the problem is, even if drive-it-to-the-track guy explains all this to trailer-queen racer guy, he still lost and trailer-queen guy is king of the race.  

 

It seems Audi has heard the cry of the daily driver track star, and has tried to help bridge the gap between the two worlds with the new Audi R8 GT.  Although it might seem redundant and almost unnecessary to try to improve the R8, Audi officials seem to think otherwise and seem to have taken on a mentality that Ferrari has all but perfected when it began introducing its Challenge Stradale and Scuderia models in recent years.  It's very similar to a hardcore bodybuilder at a health club.  Sure he can bench 450, and that might be the best anyone at that club has seen, but if he can do better, why not? 


Haunted Highways: A Series Exploring The Ghosts of Cars Gone By (Quickly)

On: Thu, Oct 28, 2010 at 10:56AM | By: Lou Ruggieri


Haunted Highways:  A Series Exploring The Ghosts of Cars Gone By (Quickly) test 1-1

Although many will point to the 1960’s as the Golden Age of automobiles, when it’s all said and done, the 1990’s may be right up there with the best of automotive times this country has ever seen.  Dozens of exciting mobile masterpieces were available in all shapes and sizes, prices, and power ratings.  The car we have chosen today is one of the more visually impressive models to cruise own any road in America:  The Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4

We are going to focus specifically on the 1994-1999 models, because although the VR-4 was around from 1991, the real fun began with the updated 1994 model.  This techno-beast packed everything but the kitchen sink.  All wheel drive, all wheel steering, electronically tunable mufflers, and “Active Aero” bodywork including a tunable exhaust system and adjustable front and rear spoilers all made the Mitsubishi salesmen’s life very easy.  With 320 horsepower spinning the engine at 6000 rpm (and 315 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm) from it’s twin turbo DOHC 3.0 liter motor, this car could move out in a hurry.

Porsche Cayenne Wins SUV of the Year

On: Thu, Oct 21, 2010 at 10:05AM | By: Chris Weiss


Porsche Cayenne Wins SUV of the Year test 1-1

Well, this is just a slap in the face to anyone who prizes aesthetics in their vehicle—or has any taste whatsoever. Motor Trend announced today that it has chosen the ever-controversial-and-despised Cayenne as its 2011 Sport Utility of the Year. In a pool of 15 brand new SUVs, the Cayenne presented the best mix of engineering, safety, value, and design improvement.

Introduced just before the Geneva Motor Show, the 2011 Porsche Cayenne received some minor exterior revisions. The line also lost an average of 400 lbs. Porsche went with the same 300-hp 3.6-liter V6, 4.8-liter V8 and  500-hp twin-turbo 4.8-liter V8 engine options that the 2010 models used. The middle engine option equipped to the Cayenne S received a boost up to 400 horsepower.


SUPERcar: The Hennessy Venom GT

On: Mon, Oct 18, 2010 at 5:00PM | By: Lou Ruggieri


SUPERcar: The Hennessy Venom GT test 1-1

Growing up, I read comic books all the time. I had an account at the local store and a ‘mailbox’ of sorts that allowed me to pick up my subscriptions every week. I read, read, and read some more, but always the same types of comics. I was more of a Marvel fan than a DC fan, only because outside of Batman and Superman, DC characters seemed to lack a certain … Edge. But aside from that, I focused on the strong, fierce characters, Wolverine (before the stupid movies and Hugh Jackman made him a pop culture icon), Gambit, Cable, Bishop, Venom, Colossus, and the list goes on and on. The reason I liked these certain characters slightly more than others was simple:  They looked, and in most cases were bigger, stronger, and/or faster than most of the other superheros, who were already bigger stronger and faster than any human on the planet. They were the elite of the elite.  

The same feeling transcended my affinity for automobiles. Sure, I like most fast cars. I might prefer one company over the other, but for the most part I pick and choose what my favorites are based on their individual abilities. I like Mustangs, Camaros, Corvettes, the occasional Maserati, and most things that have a prefix or suffix of AMG or M. But, there is a special place in my automotive heart for those extra special supercars that play in the rarified air of 200 miles per hour and up. These are the cars that put up 0-100 numbers that usually are impressive 0-60 numbers for your average fast car.


Ford Says Fiesta Buyers Seek High End Options

On: Mon, Sep 27, 2010 at 9:23AM | By: Sherry Christiansen


Ford Says Fiesta Buyers Seek High End Options test 1-1

Initial sales numbers are in for this year’s Ford Fiesta, and surprisingly the data shows that a high percentage of consumers are purchasing higher-end features for the small economy car. The Fiesta has helped to boost sales for Ford Motor Company this year in an otherwise flat market, according to officials at Ford.

In fact, according to a recent Automotive News article, only approximately 7% of all Fiestas sold in the United States this year were ordered with standard features since the 2011 Fiesta was launched in June 2010. As many as 93% of the Fiestas sold included models with high end features such as satellite radio, ambient interior lighting, heated front seats, keyless acces and starting, chrome exterior trim, alarm, cruise control, aerodynamic aids, alloy wheels, heated power mirrors, or illuminated door sills.


Scion tC, Version 2.0

On: Mon, Sep 20, 2010 at 9:03AM | By: Lou Ruggieri


Scion tC, Version 2.0 test 1-1

 

In the time Scion has taken to redesign the tC, a lot has changed in the world. The country has had the biggest peak in real estate, followed by the biggest crash in the economy since the Great Depression. The city of New Orleans has been destroyed and rebuilt. We had our first African-American president. Being on Myspace went from making you cool to making you a social outcast. Michael Vick, Roger Clemens, and Tiger Woods all went from being sports icons to pariahs, and Brett Favre retired at least 50 or 60 times. 

Needless to say Scion, and parent company Toyota, have taken their time (And about seven years to be exact) recreating their very popular sport coupe. So what do we get for all this waiting? Some unbelievable Ferrari-fighter? No, sorry. A hugely over-hyped disappointment? Nope, not that either. What we get with the newly redesigned 2011 Scion tC is simply what should have been expected all along:  A better car than the one we had. And better in just about every way possible. Almost all of the car’s major aspects have been improved upon in some way, shape, or form.