Cars

Drama On The High Dunes

G36 6x6

When a big brand drops a particularly outlandish offering on the public, we’re always treated to a bombastic release in the blogosphere.

G36 6x6

Mercedes-Benz, however, has taken presentation-drama to a whole new level with the psych-up video they’be just dropped, featuring the new G63 AMG 6X6, which I actually caught on the YouTube channel of Russian car site “AutoReview.ru“.

No, “6×6″ doesn’t refer to the size of the ute-style cargo bed.  Though that feature alone would have been enough to render this one of the coolest things to ever leave Mr. Källenius‘s island of Misfit Mercs.

It has tons of power, tons of weight (Four.  Four tons.) and five locking differentials.  That’s like… way more than the usual (one or two).

If you really want to know how pathetic it makes your 4Runner look, the MSN Auto story is actually quite informative.

If you just want to see this monster guzzle fuel like Early Times whiskey and make a proper ruckus in Sheikh Mohammed’s backyard, you need only scroll down and click play:

My favorite scenes were 1:14, 2:16, and 3:12.  But you’re probably going to want to bookmark it right now.  In that folder you keep hidden from your wife.

Can’t get enough?

Here’s a quick clip of the military version traversing Australia with some more familiar four-wheeled friends.


Hate Cars? I Finally Understand.

Few adore their means of conveyance the way I do.

Most people don’t lovingly detail their car’s interior every week, powerwash road salt off their undercarriage all winter, or require maintenance only be completed by themselves or overpriced brand-specific specialists.

That’s because while I treat my cars, trucks, and motorcycles like pets, others chose to treat them like appliances.  Even a step further; appliances they hate.

I offer an anonymous “local mom” as an example… and I bet yours is pretty similar;  She fastidiously maintains her wardrobe, expresses substantial annoyance when people track mud into her house, and is generally proactive at maintaining her belongings.

But with her car, it’s a completely different story.  This mum allows the carpet and surfaces to become absolutely filthy.  Shrugs off minor exterior damage.  And definitely has no idea what a “service interval” is.

She glares at her gauges with contempt when they display a warning as simple as “service required” or “low tire pressure”.

Or my personal favorite; “that weird green light in the shape of a skateboard on a train track” -which is an actual quote from someone describing the “Cruise Control” light of a late 90’s Land Rover.  To be fair, that light is pretty unintuitive to someone who’s never been on a highway in the UK.

And I don’t mean to be sexist by calling out a mom here, because plenty of dads and dudes are guilty of this as well.

But I digress…

My point being I never understood why perfectly intelligent people treated their cars, often one of the biggest financial commitments in their life, like disposable toys.

That is, until I had to borrow somebody’s 2008 Toyota Camry LE.

•••

How’d I end up in what sounds like a very mild-mannered motorcar you might ask?

It’s pretty standard, really; I crashed my beloved UA6 into my house the other week (don’t worry about it) so I had to leave it somewhere for a minor respray.  While getting routine service at Acura of Boston, I asked for a damage appraisal- they wanted $1,000 to set my car back to beautiful.

After I finished crying, I grabbed another two cups of free waiting-room coffee and hauled ass to one of the local car dealers I have a professional relationship with.

He “knew a guy”, obviously, and said I could borrow something out of his inventory while my car was being “meticulously” resprayed  by “qualified professionals” behind a tarp in some Metro North back yard.  I was a little wary of those quotation marks… but when I was told the price would be “on the house” I threw caution to the wind and figured it couldn’t possibly come back looking worse.

When the time came to grab a loaner, my eyes gravitated toward a 2004 Escalade- in gleaming white with a chrome nosejob and 22’s.  Would you be surprised to learn it had found its way onto that lot after being repossessed for the second time?

I wasn’t too keen to imagine the fuel bill on that monster… but I did rather like the idea of throwing a J. Crew sweater over my shoulders and driving it to see my lady in Brooklyn where I could finally realize my #HipsterDreams and be the most ironic person on her block.

But when my associate returned from his office, he had the key to his “regular loaner”; the 08 Camry I described above.

Is that a late-model Camry in an office park??  Yeah.  It took me an hour to find the damn thing every time I parked it somewhere normal humans go.

Well, I didn’t really describe it.  That’s because there’s not much to describe… exactly why I didn’t like it, and why I now completely understand the general apathy toward autos of the non-car-enthusiast public.

Some people just haven’t driven proper cars!

Cars need personality.  Feeling.  Characteristics that make you love and hate them.  The Camry had none of these.

From the outside, fine, it’s a forgettable design but it’s tidy enough.  Inside, it’s beige and baby blue.

Beige.  And baby blue.  Two colors scientifically proven to make you feel like a real winner you’re trapped in a dentist office waiting room.

The seats didn’t do much to improve my general outlook on life either.  The squishy unpatterned-cloth reminded me of the couch my buddy Jeff used to have in his basement.  That analogy applies to both the styling and ability to absorb a human at an alarming rate.

Unlike said couch, at least the Camry didn’t reek of mold and grease from from pizza and bicycles.  Ah, childhood.

To the Camry’s further credit, it also started in a timely manner, even propelled itself forward with the transmission in “D” and throttle pedal applied.  But driving the car… no, that didn’t even happen.  “Moving” the car would be a more accurate description of the vehicle’s road manners.

Commanding the Camry was like curling.  Not pumping iron, I mean that Canadian olympic game everyone loves to love.

You rapidly jiggle your arms and hope you’re able to direct the vehicle where you want it to go.  The car then responds with alacrity of an octogenarian and the nimbleness of an ice floe.

Edmunds.com called it “pleasant to drive“.  No way.  It’s a chore.

If this was the only experience I had ever had with cars, I wouldn’t like them at all.  I’d get grumpy and not understand why they demanded more money from me every three-to-five thousand miles.  I definitely wouldn’t be writing this blog.

Maybe I’d be traveling the world in search of the coolest laundromats to wash my black t-shirts in.

Is this an editorialized review?  Yah.  If you can call it a review, call it a review of an experience rather than an automobile.  If you want to compare this car’s fuel consumption/safety rating against the others in it’s class go elsewhere.  If you’re ready to take the plunge and join the ranks of the road rovers and petrosexuals, get behind the wheel of something else.

Something with character.  With personality.  What the French call a certain… I don’t know what.

Find it and trust me- you’ll never go back to driving that rolling dentist’s office.


Driven: 2013 Ford Focus Five Door

Sydney emerges from the '13 Focus

I raised an eyebrow in suspicion as I scrolled through the rental car options for a Gulf Coast SCUBA expedition I was planning for Christmas 2012.

You had to be 30 to qualify for the 911 and the Mustang Convertible could only be had in a V6, so I was left with no logical option but to go most-cost-effective.

There, on the bottom of the list (who can resist looking at cars by “Most Expensive” first?) was the heading “ECONOMY”

“Nissan Versa or similar.”

I ran through alternatives in my head.  There had to be something cooler I could drive for the week.

Could we get on with a scooter?  One of those two-person bicycles I’ve seen in P-Town?  Perhaps even some alternative means of conveyance?

But none of those ideas landed with Sydney, my dive buddy, so a supermini from Alamo Rent-A-Car it was.

Carrying on with the theme of “cheapest-possible-transport” we touched down in Tampa, FL at something like two in the morning.

While my sidekick sought our luggage, I was charged with getting us mobilized.  Alamo’s desk was closed and I was greeted with this sign:

IMAG1345

Seems logical enough I guess… though it didn’t at the time, I’ll confess to at least one “bonus lap” around the garage looking for the location this sign was describing.

Finally reaching the desk I was met with the exact scenario I had been bracing myself for- a line, complete with disgruntled employee, disgruntled customer ahead of me, and flat-out furious five-month-old screaming at the top of his/her (its?) lungs.

The decision on which human to engage was easy enough.  I nodded at the baby and offered what comfort I could;

“I hear ya, bro.  Florida airport at 2am?  Fahgetaboutit.”

I figured I could get away with a Seinfeld-era New Yorkism in Tampa… they couldn’t possibly have advanced past 1998 yet, right?  At any rate the child’s mother was not amused.  I pretended to ignore her by trying to think of some witty Facebook Check-In to peck into my phone.

What felt like ninety minutes later the one person in line ahead of me was allowed to leave the glass prison we were occupying and I was meant to approach the bench.

The first stage of negotiation began almost immediately; “You need to have a return flight to rent through this policy” grumbled the car tender.

“Right, I’ve got one.  Here” I replied, producing a document with both directions of flights, booking numbers and confirmation numbers like it was Dr. Who’s psychic paper.

Of course, the desired effect was not reached.  She didn’t believe me until I read the ticket to her out loud… perhaps she couldn’t read, but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she just forgot her glasses that night.

She then had somebody fetch the car, which was not a Nissan Versa at all.

2013 Ford Focus White

To my pleasant surprise, the vehicle I’d be entrusted with by the Alamo rental company was a 2013 Ford Focus SE hatchback.  Fresh Continental tires on aluminum rims and just shy of three thousand miles on the clock.

“Would you like insurance to cover any damage you may inflict upon the vehicle during your rental?”

I looked back to size up the Focus once again.  Not an ST (performance variant) model, not a proper three-pedal, but I liked the look right away and reckoned we could have some fun together.

“Insurance?  Ho yah.”

Paperwork signed; I was finally free to retrieve my special lady and the luggage she had presumably recovered.

As I buckled in I prepared myself to adhere to the standard rental car credo; WWJD.

What Would Jason Statham Do?

Everyone knows being behind the wheel of a vehicle not owned by you or anyone you’ve ever met is free license to behave like an absolute imbecile on the road with complete disregard for the safety of yourself and others.

Without so much as a glance in the rearview mirrors I mashed the accelerator into the carpet and felt the front wheels tug and chirp as I began barreling toward a concrete wall.  A ninety degree left turn was negotiated easily by dropping the wheel and snapping the handbrake with a quick countersteer.  Unable to find the headlamp switch with everything ablur, I plunged through the Tampa Airport terminal parking lot at full noise in total darkness.  Using my bat-like sonar sense I measured my distance from the walls by the volume of the echoing tire wails, pinning the tachometer to the rev limiter as the car corkscrewed down the garage-exit ramp.  With the terminal in sight, I charged ahead before getting back on the handbrake.  The car squealed to a halt through a 450O spin, pointing the tailgate, which began opening as the car came to rest, toward Sydney who was waiting on the curb.

And I’m pretty sure if any of that had actually happened she would have torn her clothes off right there and jumped in my lap.  At least, that’s how it seems to work out for the other guy.

Since Sydney and I had travelled to Florida specifically for the purpose of SCUBA diving, the bulk of our time there had been allocated to that activity.  When wind proved too severe for our boats to disembark (both days!) we were left with more time to experience the pleasures of Gulf Coast Florida; grain-alcohol daiquiris, line dancing, and in our case the 2013 Focus SE.

Let me disclose that I haven’t spent much of my automotive career as a fan of domestic vehicles.  First building cars in earnest around 2004, the American cars my friends and I could afford (things from the 80’s and 90’s) just felt so much “cheaper” than their European or even Japanese counterparts.
And, yes, a certain California couple may have had more influence then I’d like to admit on my penchant for Hondas and Mazdas as I entered the world of tuning.

But since then, things have changed.  Starting with the 2006 renaissance of the Mustang, Ford in particular has been on the up-and-up for the last few years in terms of style, performance, and overall value.

When the first Fusion came out, both my father and I had an opportunity to drive a few variants and were pleasantly surprised with every aspect of the car.  Now, the thing looks as lovely as an Aston Martin for christsake.

The Focus, while not quite as striking in appearance, is very tidy for a supermini.  And more significantly, leagues ahead of what domestic cars in this size and price point were ten years ago.

The car we had, wearing white paint befitting of its Floridian backdrop, featured a nice balance of chiseled lines and swoops.  It’s not at all ostentatious, but really looks like it was designed with care.  The back compliments the front, the sides tie the tip and tail together, and the whole car just looks correct.

Sydney emerges from the '13 Focus

We paused by a causeway in Sarasota for a quick photo shoot, give yourself a virtual walkabout;

Being a rental car, our Focus was equipped with minimal frills and options.  But the Ford factory infotainment setup; a Microsoft-based system called “SYNC”, had an aesthetically pleasing layout and was easy enough to operate.  You get two little screens; one featuring driver/vehicle focused information that’s logically located between the clocks, and another keystoning the center console for audio, ect.  I didn’t bother trying to pair my phone to test the Bluetooth functionality, but the option was there as was an auxiliary audio input.  Come to think of it, I didn’t test that either.  What the hell was I doing all week?

Well, I did get to road test the vehicle a fair amount due to the fact that our scheduled engagements were cancelled for the week.  The first thing I had to conquer was my discomfort with an automatic transmission.  Having never owned an ATX, it always takes me a few miles to re-acquaint with a two pedal layout.  The Focus made this pretty easy though; the car’s automatic shifted smoothly and didn’t feel awkwardly “between gears” at any speed, unlike some auto’s I’ve piloted recently.

Acceleration to highway speeds was more than adequate  if not exactly up to Statham-Standard, and the car an cruise comfortably with Florida’s fast ‘n furious freeway traffic.

That is actually not a joke- I was amazed at the pace I was being overtaken at by petrol pickups with local license plates.  Floridians got places to go.

Sydney was a fan as well, and gave me a chance to clamber about the cabin while she took the helm.  The rear seat is comfortable for 6′ adults, and since the cargo bay easily swallowed our gear I’d say this vehicle would be able to accomodate twice and many people and travel-paraphernalia as we taxed it with.

Sydney pilots a 2013 Ford Focus along a Floridian highway

With about 600 miles of driving, a lot of that in urban traffic, we averaged just under 32 MPG.  At least according to the car’s computer.  We only refueled once- right before returning the vehicle to avoid the surcharge.  It was then that I discovered the funky “capless” fuel filler.  Idiot proof, I love it!

2013 Ford Focus Fuel Filler

So, what more is there to say about this reasonable little compact car I lived with for a week?  It’s competent, cute, not too expensive, and seems like it’ll hold together well enough.  Not a riveting driving experience, not an asphalt-eater or a rock-crushing off-roader.  But as an urban runabout, its intended disposition, it’s most agreeable indeed.

It’s a lot more pleasant, in my opinion, than comparable Toyotas and Nissans.  Though I think I’m a little too much of a Honda fanboy to completely sell this against a Civic.  But if you passed up the latter in favor of a Focus at a great price, I wouldn’t hold it against you.

Looks like a Focus comparably-equipped to the one we had cashes out at about nineteen grand.  Check out Ford’s site yourself for a more complete spec-list, and of course an always-fun “Build Your Own” app.


So Many Redneck Clichés…

…that I could never think of one to adequately surmise my reaction to this hunting-camo’ed Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Camo ZJ 1

I spotted this monstah at an auto auction over the Summer and completely forgot to share it with the world.  Thank god I came across the photos while deleting the “old junk” out of my phone’s camera roll, this treasure might have remained hidden from you forever!

Here in Metro Boston we see a few “TERRORIST HUNTER” permits on the backs of F-150’s, “Ducks Unlimited” stickers on lifted Sierras, even the occasional pair of prosthetic testicles hanging from trailer hitches.

But I frankly, I thought I’d have to travel well into the depths of northern New Hampshire to find something like this.  Or, at least to some of the wackier full-sized dioramas they put in the L.L. Bean Outlet Store.

I’ve got to give this guy credit- that paint job is extremely well done.  And the “faux-rock” bumper panels?  I mean, this car has cooler landscaping than some minigolf courses.  Though he made a surprising choice for a vehicle that was obviously built for dedicated off-roading.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ZJ (first-gen Grand Cherokee) on a trail.  Ever.

Hunting Camp Jeep Grand Cherokee rock pattern

But hey, maybe that’s because the camo’ paint job was so damn good!

Zing.

Since this truck was at a dealer auction, it’s likely the bloke who built it traded it in to another dealer for a newer vehicle.  Can you imagine the look on the salesman’s face when I saw (or didn’t see) this thing?

I hope whatever he bought next is just as committed to whatever his new hobby is.  Former owner, if you read this, please email me pictures of your new project.

Hunting Camp ZJ Jeep 3


Survivor: 1985 Toyota Corolla

How?  Why?

…and hundreds of ancillary questions popped into my head when I saw this 1985 Toyota Corolla, in what appears to be damn good condition, sitting on an auction lot with less than fifty thousand miles on the clock.

Yes, it started and ran just fine.  Though the engine block was coated in a thick layer of oil, indicative of a blown head gasket (at least at one point).

Would you believe it sold for about $1,500?  Hopefully to a museum owner.  Otherwise somebody is going to quickly realize how annoying it is to have a car for which nobody can supply tires.


That One Time Snow Tires Might Have Been Useful

People in Boston love to complain about winter driving.  In preparation of fording foul weather they buy 4WD and AWD cars in droves, touting their dependability when they have to brave school-canceling conditions to get to Blockbuster or the grocery store.

But let’s be real guys, were the streets of the greater Boston area ever so gnarly, for so long, that you could justify guzzling fuel all year with a center differential adding drag to your station wagon?

Alas, who am I kidding… the people I’m concerned with don’t know what a center differential is.

I’m not going to stand by this claim for those living north of the MA border, but for drivers keeping most of their motoring within 50 miles of downtown beantown- you’d get on just fine with RWD and a few hours reading on how to drive in the snow.

Now if you’re reading this and calling me an idiot, here’s your chance to laugh like Dr. Evil.

I keep sport tires on my Acura all year because 1- I think I’m man enough to master the snow without studs and 2- that’s what the car was wearing when I bought it and I’m too poor to afford a second set of wheels.

This year, the weekend after Christmas placed me in upstate New York with the easy task of driving twenty-something miles from my grandmother’s house to the farm on the other side of the Hudson where my special lady was staying.  Under normal conditions, the trip would forty-something minutes and be quite scenic.

On this day, the skies decided to open up like a broken saltshaker and start dumping champagne powder about an hour before I powered up my engine.

By the time I reached the highway visibility was down to a hundred meters, the breakdown lanes were littered with the carnage of rear-endings and spinouts, and state police had cut the speed limit in half.

This of course was also the time I remembered I had meant to replace my windshield wipers the last twenty times I visited AutoZone.  The pathetic ribbons of rubber, all that remained of the once-glorious Bosch range toppers the previous owner had splurged on, groaned in protest with each stretch across the glass as salt and slurry were smearing all over my field of vision.

Dear mum was blowing up my comm system from back at grandma’s, delighting in acting out a cliché of panic as usual.

But bless the great state of New York, as they had been quick enough in dispatching rescue vehicles and warning lights that I was able to draft amber strobe lights all the way across US-84 eastbound.

West of the Hudson, I was on my own.

Risked a concentration lapse for an illustrative photo; that’d be a “winding road” warning off to the right as seen through the poorly-cleaned windshield of my TL.

This is about the right time to cut your speed.

Veering off the highway I quite literally skidded under the shelter of a fuel station in hopes that I might kick some snow off my undercarriage and  clear my windshield with my sleeve before braving the winding secondary roads that lead into my destination in the Catskills.

My tires were caked with crud, taking the form of Flintstone-style steamroller wheels.  I pawed a few lumps of ice melting salt from the barrel between petrol bowsers and rubbed it all over each tire.

That’s correct.  I knowingly, willingly, and even intentionally increased the exposure of my vehicle to the insatiable metal-eating appetite of road salt in the interest of traction.

I could only justify it by telling myself the car would stand a better chance against the slow torture of corrosion than the alternative- a virtually inevitable impact with an obstacle.

Climbing back into the cockpit I made ready for the remainder of the journey.

Ten miles of winding, slippery road wrought with danger and idiots in Outbacks lied between me and the welcoming arms of a gracious hostess.

I accepted the challenge and nosed out from under the awning.  The car bucked and yawed in protest for almost the entirety of the trip, but a combination of light throttle pressure and traction control made the journey a successful one.  Albeit ninety minutes longer than I had anticipated.

With the destination visible on my GPS screen, just when I thought I was in the clear, I came up on this:

"The Bridge"

Really?

The car stuttered in protest.

Could those planks of timber support the sedan I was piloting?  Because that “bridge” looked like it was built out of tree bark by the animals that helped Cinderella get dressed.

I rang to confirm I was in the right place.  Yes, my headlights were visible from the house window.  And if my car had eyebrows, one would definitely have been visible as well- raised in disbelief.

Sure, I’d crossed sketchier bridges in heavier trucks.  But those were Australian diesels- just as happy to splash in the river of which the bridge spanned as to stay dry on the road above.

And yet- that bridge marked the last barrier between myself and the company for which I had been pining all week.  I crept over in safety and breathed a deep sigh of relief as my tires escaped unscathed by splinters.  On the other side, trip proved well worth the trouble.

So, yes, there was this one time I wish I had sprung for snow tires.


Guilty Pleasure: Cadillac SRX

Until the CTS Coupe arrived a few years ago, Cadillac products from the late 70’s to present day carried little to no cache with most auto enthusiasts.

You don’t see anybody modifying Cateras, and there’s nothing collectable about an Escalade.

And yet their angular early 00’s crossover known as the SRX has caught my fancy and I dare to say I like it.

My interest was piqued when I realized they could be had with a lovely panoramic sunroof that is almost completely retractable.  With the glass in place, excellent interior lighting and ambiance is created.  But best of all, the window is so massive that once the glass is retracted you’ve effectively got yourself a targa top.

As long as you could resist installing a ski rack, you’d have yourself a very pleasant summer driving experience in this car.

I’m even feeling the styling just a little.  Angular, aggressive, albiet little… like a terrier with a mean streak.

I’m imagining one of these setup like an SRT Grand Cherokee; massive brakes and an even bigger engine roaring out of a center-exit exhaust.  Some ostentatious interior-stitching and it could be great fun to mix it up with Range Rovers other luxury barges peacocking in the drop-off area at ski resorts and beaches alike.

The new bodystyle is even sexier, and I imagine a lot more polished inside.

Maybe I’ll go ahead and pitch this idea to Cadillac and see if I can get my hands on a press loaner…


Driven: Toyota Scion FR-S

Toyota Scion FR-S Gauge Cluster

At the end of last fall, I was lucky enough to get some seat time in one of those pokey little Toyotas everyone got so excited about when they arrived on the public stage twelve months ago.

Why didn’t I write it up then, like a real journalist?  I think that question just answered itself.

At any rate being a real enthusiast at least, I was not short on excitement to have a go at the helm of an FR-S.

A Boston-based nightlife event operator named Ed had taken delivery of one of the few RWD Scions to be sold in New England, and was kind enough to show me around it one night outside his office.

Exterior

I’m going to make the claim that this car looks much nicer in person than it does in photos.  Long nose (relatively speaking), squat rear fenders, and a sly expression in the headlights makes for a pretty appealing appearance on your screen here.  In reality, all those great features are there… and the whole package looks a lot less cartoon-like.  In a sedate color like a dark silver or blue, I could imagine one of these sneaking through the city relatively undetected.

FR-S in Boston

The rear quarters and taillight section (not pictured, obviously) remind me a bit of a new Z4 hardtop, while the long-nose (keep in mind, I say that “relatively” speaking) I’d like to think pays homage to the Toyota 2000GT.

On second thought, that comparison feels like a reach.  What kind of family resemblance are you seeing here?

Interior

The inside of this car is tiny.  After getting used to the stateroom spaciousness of my TL’s interior, climbing into a coupe of any kind can feel a bit claustrophobic.  But wedging oneself behind the little wheel of an FR-S would make a Civic feel like a flagship.

That’s not a bad thing, it’s all part of the experience.  Some people like little.

I thought I did, and then I got into Land Rovers.  But I digress.

It’s hard to argue with the gauge setup.  From a performance-standpoint, centermount tach is huge (literally).  The focus on engine speed with the speedo tucked below like an afterthought lets you pretend you’re playing Gran Turismo as soon as you crank the ignition.
Or, as many of my internet-using automotive accomplices would eloquently put it:

“Because racecar.”

The rest of the interior is typical Scion construction quality; you get what you pay for in this department.

And of course… The Drive

Now was the chance to figure out if all the drama insinuated by that full-moon tachometer was for real or if this was an xA in a Tiburon’s clothing.

Sort of.

Being on public roads, in somebody’s brand-new personal car, there was only so much “testing” I was able to accomplish.  And I can’t contain the disappointment I experienced when I put my left foot down for a clutch, only to be met with a giant brake pedal.

Powering up and powering on the engine didn’t yield the kind of voracious roar I had been spoiled by spending a few summer days in a friend’s DB9, but it did remind me how fuel efficient this vehicle must be.

Nonetheless, I can report that the little machine can indeed go zero-to-the-speed-limit in fairly short order, and is delightfully willing to navigate between parking lot lampposts at significantly stronger clip than most cars over two meters in length.

Could this ATX four-banger catch my six-speed TL on an on-ramp merge?  No.  Could it beat me on a gymkhana course?  Probably.  Could it beat my full-size sedan in a race around the isles and obstacles of a Toys “R” Us store?  For sure.

Then what’s the verdict on this little rascal?  Clarkson loved it.  The forum following is cult-like.  I was almost able to get over my phobia of all-motors-modern enough to enjoy it.  But like almost everything in the “affordable sport” market- I can’t really make the case for a new one of these over a well-used M3.  And secondhand, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find one that hasn’t been thrashed.

But for the lucky few who are able to pick one up from a careful owner in the next couple years, this will be a reasonable motor.  Perhaps even collectable, if anyone can keep theirs clean enough.


Aston Martin Vanquish: Revealed for 2013

IMAG1372

Aston Martin has revived what may be one of the coolest pieces of nomenclature to exist in the world of automobilia.

Yes, the Vanquish has returned to AM’s lineup.

“Vanquish” …a word at once elegant and aggressive.  Exactly what Aston’s team was going for when they slapped the badge on this coupe; a vehicle they’re billing as a “Super Grand Tourer”.

Hey, Aston Martin marketing department, I’ll give you that one for free.  Lend me a car already?

Well, they wouldn’t.  But they did let me sit in one.

Alright, fine, not even.

A friend who owns a DB9 is at Aston Martin New England all the time for repairs (haha, sorry couldn’t resist), and as a result is on their mailing list.  He forwarded me his invitation to see one fo the first new Vanquishes here in the US which was being touted around highline dealerships all over the region.

Yeah… scraping the credibility barrel here.  But when it comes to Astons, an anglophile like myself has no shame.

I stole away to the Waltham, MA Aston/Lotus store around lunchtime to have a look.  Nestled in the center of the showroom, completely devoid of fanfare, sat the 2013 Vanquish.

My first impression?  Nothing short of what I expected: It is a tremendously exquisite machine to behold.

IMAG1372

Even with the engine disengaged the car lept off the pavement (floor?) and into my face.  Swooping lines of white, bristling with chunks of exposed carbon fiber, encasing a crisp quilt-stitched interior the exact same red as a cherry-dipped-kiddy cone at Dairy Queen.  So perfect you’d think you were watching TV.

Moving into the cockpit the interior didn’t blow me away as much as the bodywork, but I was a huge fan of the wacky flat-tire shaped steering wheel.  I’m pretty sure that’s illegal in this state, but surely the gentleman scholar who will buy this car won’t concern himself with such things as “passing inspection”.

The rear seat, which is actually an option, is reserved for Hobbits.  Since the likelyhood of one of them finding their way into an Aston Martin is low, my money’s on the back seats never getting used ever.

The car is powered by a 6 liter high-compression V12 that burps out 565 horsepower and just shy of 460 lb/ft of torque.  That, mated to a six-speed “touchtronic” automatic, lets the car leave a light to 62 MPH in 4.1 seconds and top out at just over 180 MPH.  Fuel economy is surprisingly reasonable at 19.6 in combined driving.

It breaks my heart to report that while the engine did indeed look glorious with imposing symmetrical intake manifolds ever so slightly eclipsed by a beastly swaybar, I was not permitted to start it.  So my review of the Vanquish has to end… here.

There were many other exciting distractions at the Aston store though, including a Rapide (that funky four-door) which I learned has a terribly uncomfortable back seat, and an exceptionally tidy V12 Vantage.  Finished in a glossy interpretation of British Racing Green with just enough carbon trim, suede headliner and a proper three-pedal six speed, this would have been my dance partner of choice.

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The service bay, which was visible through a large glass internal window behind the Vanquish, was quite literally a treasure trove of many cars I lust after on a daily basis.

A near-perfect widebody 911 eclipsed a Mercedes 300SL and deep in the garage I spotted a Lamborghini Miura; the only one I can ever remember seeing… ever.

I made a note to come back the next time this dealership was on my way someplace.  Maybe I’ll be able to sweet talk my way into a test drive after this favorable review.

Eh?

Guys?


Mercedes Geländewagen: A New Mania?

Merc’s internationally-prevalent off roader known as the G-Class, G-Wagen, or “Geländewagen” to traditionalists has carried pretty much the same look since it’s design was suggested to Mercedes by the Shah of Iran in 1979.

Oh yes, I had to cross-check that Wikipedia entry with the boys over at TopGear.com… but I have verified that is indeed the true origin of this riotously aggressive looking 4×4.

2002 Mercedes-Benz G500

In most of the world, the G-Class can be found in several engine/wheelbase/appointment levels.  If you don’t mind an older one with cloth seats and a smaller powerplant, a ‘wagen can be a legitimate option for those needing a dependable and capable 4×4.

Here in the US, Mercedes would have us believe that only the 500+ and AMG levels exist.  Combine that with limited shipment counts and you’ll be able to work out why many of us seeking luxury off-roaders have to stick with Land Rovers, which are much cheaper and easier to find.

I’ve sat in brand-new G55’s at the Mercedes store before, but when I saw this 2002 model waiting in line to be auctioned off I saw a unique opportunity to explore a G-Class that had actually been lived in.

This blue breadbox had over a hundred k on the clock, gnarly-soggy carpeting in the cargo area, and a host of MILs on the dash, but the interior and exterior were in fairly good knick.

Sitting at the helm and pushing all the buttons, moving the truck around a bit in the lane, and catching myself in the mirror, I could definitely see myself importing an old diesel G-Wagen and outfitting it as my vehicle of choice for long range expeditions.  For a diehard Land Rover fan that’s saying a lot, but this Benz ticked all the boxes.

Andrew Driving G-Wagen

It’s got an imposing exterior presence, excellent visibility from the cockpit, ample cargo room and a rough-n-tumble military surplus shape.

G-Wagen Profile G-Wagen Interior

Plus the three-pointed-star in the grille says “Pardon me, peasant” almost as well as the raised-letter RANGE ROVER stamp on that vehicle’s bonnet.  Main difference being… the Mercedes might actually, you know.  Work.

Time to hit eBay…


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