Thursday, September 27, 2012

10 "hidden gem" cars I don't see enough of on the road

Cadillac CTS Coupe
I saw a Cadillac CTS Coupe in town the other day, which reminded me how well-designed it is. The wedge shape is distinct, aerodynamic, and downright it! But I don't see enough of these cars on the road for some reason. Click through for some other examples of great cars that people should buy more of.

Lexus CT
The CT is based on the Prius but sooo much cooler looking. LED lights, an interesting computer mouse-like dashboard controller, and the Prius-like gas mileage make this car a true unsung hero. My guess is that the CT's more traditional station wagon-like roof scares people off? Americans prefer sedans and fastbacks to station wagons, which would suggest that the Prius' more sloped trunk (and lower price point) have led to its success.

Hyundai Veloster
Having driven the Veloster through Zipcar, I am an instant fan. A lot of people complain about its space-age styling, but I think that's what makes it so interesting. The hidden third door makes getting in and out of the backseat easy, while retaining the car's coupe-like looks. I haven't seen too many of these cars on the road despite its attractive price...

Honda CRZ
The CRZ channels the CRX's awesomeness of the late '80s, but with updated technology, a sleeker body, and a hybrid engine. The CRZ's two seats and evidently sluggish engine are what I believe have made it a slow seller, but it's a shame, because I thought it would be a huge hit -- the next de facto teenager car. Maybe the article I recently read saying that fewer teens are driving works against the CRZ's favor.

Buick Regal
The Buick Regal, which is based on the European Opel/Vauxhall Insignia, is one good looking car - inside and out. GM failed to bring the Opel Astra to Saturn - probably because they had to sacrifice so much of its technology for the Saturn's low price point - but the Buick doesn't have to make those sacrifices. Despite this car's awesome looks, I don't see many on the road. Hopefully younger car buyers will get over the fact that it's a Buick and see the car for what it is!

Ford Fiesta ST
I see a lot of Focuses (Foci?) on the road, but not many of the smaller Fiestas. I drove the Fiesta off-road last year and had a BLAST. It is peppy, attractive -- even more so now with the Aston Martin grille -- and uses high-quality interior materials. Owning this car doesn't make sense in rural territory, but in urban and suburban environments, it is a great alternative to the ancient Smart car or drab Yaris. Americans should give the Fiesta a chance!

Audi A3
I see many more A4 Sedans than I see A3 Sportbacks, even though the A3 has a similar engine, is cheaper, and uses many of the same interior materials. Having driven the A3 through Zipcar, it has become one of my favorite "hidden gems".

Ford Taurus
This may strike you as an odd choice, but for some reason I don't see too many Tauruses on the road. I think it is a handsome looking car, has a well-appointed interior, and is a far cry from the Tauruses of last decade. I'd like to see more on the road -- other than Police cars.

Cadillac SRX
The SRX is, for all intents and purposes, a strong contender in the entry luxury SUV market. But for some reason, I see many more Lexus RXs and Infiniti FXs than SRXs. Having driven the SRX myself, I was quite impressed by the quality of the interior, the faux-hand stitched dashboard, etc.

The CC was supposed to be VW's attempt at knocking the Mercedes CLS off its throne at a much lower price point. While the CC arguably does not cause nearly the same emotional impact that the CLS has, it is still a looker in today's world of mostly boring midsize sedans. I see many more staidly Passats than the expressive CC. What gives?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tesla Model S Sighting in Santana Row

I wish I had the chance to snap more pictures - I saw a Model S in Santana Row, San Jose, CA the other night. This car is probably one of the best looking cars on the market today. I love how aerodynamic it is; there are practically no protrusions on the body (door handles, taillights, front fascia). It kind of looks like a next-gen Kia Optima, with an iPad-like dashboard that I'm sure will catch on amongst the other car manufacturers in the next 5-10 years. At ~$50k, I would seriously consider this car against buying my favorite Mercedes C/E Class, Audi S4, or Jaguar XF - for the ecological benefits, but also for the coolness factor. I was not the only one stopping and taking a picture of this car...

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Test drive: A week with the Mercedes C250 in Los Angeles

Mercedes C250 in front of Hollywood Sign
If you look closely in the background, you can see the Hollywood sign, haha. I cashed in some of my Hertz points and rented a Mercedes C250 on vacation this week in LA. As a Mercedes enthusiast, I loved the car, but even if I wasn't an enthusiast, the car was a lot of fun. Click through for my review.

Mercedes C250 in front of Griffith Observatory
The C250 is Mercedes new turbocharged I-4 base model. Having previously driven the C300 with its V6, I could definitely tell the difference. In "Economy" mode, the car was sluggish, but in "Sport" mode, the turbo kicked in quicker and reminded me of my old Saab 9000. It is a blast to drive in Sport mode, and handles exceptionally well given the RWD setup. At times, the car's burst of speed was a little too much to handle on LA's terribly clogged 405 and 10 Freeways. The suspension soaked up potholes and the brakes were very responsive in stop-and-go traffic. It was truly a pleasure to drive on highway and local roads.

Mercedes C250
The C250, like the rest of the C-Class, is a sharp-looking car. One of the many design features that sticks out to me is the LED DLRs, which look menacing during the day. The new CLS-style headlights and LED taillights look fantastic - a large improvement over the last-generation's taillights. I don't really get the space-age side-view indicator lights, but I don't mind them either.

Mercedes C250 interior
The interior of the C250 was, for Mercedes standards, bare-bones. Having driven the C300 and E350, I instantly noticed the lack of in-dash navigation, which almost made the COMAND stick useless. I also didn't love the sparse layout of the steering wheel buttons. Thankfully my car had Sirius radio, which was a godsend while sitting in traffic. My model had aluminum trim, which I never like in cars because it always has a plasticky feel. Wood, despite often also being plastic, just looks better. Also, who uses the little phone buttons on the dashboard? Most Mercedes owners probably have Bluetooth-enabled phones, no? I thought the ambient lighting could have been more dramatic; the E350 is clearly outfitted better, but then again, it costs more. Some of the plastics used in the car were a little disappointing, notably the flip-up armrest, which would have better in leather as opposed to hard plastic.

Mercedes C250
Little touches like the aluminum gas and brake pedals, power lumbar support, power headrest, and of course the sunroof really stood out for me. Despite the minor gripes of the C250 being a bottom-trim model, this car is exceptionally good. Many will argue that the Audi A4 and BMW 3-Series are a better buy, but I would get the C250 over either of them. The exterior styling is more distinctive, the engine is more brutish (yes, even for a turbo-4, it had an awesome grunt), and the interior layout is pleasing. While the interior material quality probably isn't up to par to either the Audi or BMW, the other factors would win me over.

Friday, September 7, 2012

What Are The Reasons I Should Change To Winter Tyres?

Winter tyres are commonly used in countries around the world that have severe winter weather conditions of snow, ice, rain and slush. The majority of large manufacturers sell rubber designed specifically for winter conditions, which are known as either winter or snow to reflect their standard times of use. A small snowflake or snow covered mountain is depicted on the tyre-wall to ensure confusion does not arise between winter and summer compounds.

Rubber designs have been created as a compound that maintains its flexibility in temperatures falling below 7C; these compare favourably with summer designs that are harder, and can become brittle in freezing winter conditions. Winter versions can be designed as narrower than regular summer wheels that cut through deep, unploughed snow; other designs include those that are wider than summer wheels that increase the amount of rubber available to grip snow covered roads. Alongside the more flexible rubber, the tread is often deeper to allow the rubber to spread across patches of snow and ice for increased grip. Braking and stopping times are often increased with a winter compound.

Many drivers believe the inclusion of electronic traction and gripping devices of their vehicles will increase the ability of the vehicle to stay on the road on snow covered roads. Although the ability of a vehicle to keep control is increased, it is not possible for a motor vehicle to stay safe on a winter road when the rubber used cannot grip the road surface. One of the main advantages of using winter compounds is the increased grip offered during dangerous driving conditions.

What Differences Should I Make When Driving in Deep Snow?

It can be very scary having to drive when there is lots of snow out, but most of the time you'll have no choice. That's why it's so important that you are prepared for when snow strikes.

You'll need to make sure you have the necessary items ready for your car. Here are a few things you can do to get ready for deep snow driving, these will all help lessen the risk.

Make sure you have a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze inside your cooling system, this needs to be done for all cars during winter months. The majority of cars have special long life anti freeze already put in the car, you can't mix this with any other kind of anti freeze. If you're not positive what type of anti freeze your car uses, stop by your dealer to find out.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Studebaker Wagonaire and GMC Envoy XUV: separated at birth?

Studebaker Wagonaire
I visited the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles this week and noticed this interesting '63 Wagonaire with a retractable roof, which reminded me of GMC's failed XUV about 10 years ago. What an odd idea...why would anyone need this feature? Click through for a few thoughts.

The Studebaker was only around from '63-'66. It was plagued with leaks and quality issues, but even more importantly, I can't imagine too many people wanted to pay extra for this peculiar sliding rear roof feature. Fast forward 40 years, and GMC offered the Envoy XUV with a power sliding rear was only around from '03-'05.

If you are a carpenter that needs to haul long pieces of lumber, you'll get a pickup truck. For the rest of the likely buyers--families--the tallest things they would haul would be a Christmas tree (put it on the roof, Mitt Romney-style) or Ikea furniture boxes (if they don't fit in the rear, have them delivered). What other tall things do normal people haul around?

Note to automakers: in another 40 years, please don't go through the trouble of reviving this concept again!