Archive for April, 2011

Porsche Still Gets It

Posted: April 28, 2011 in Rants
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Just when I’m starting to get dismayed at the Bimbo Box Cayenne or that gross bloated Panamera, Porsche goes and releases something incredible like the 911 Carrera GT3 RS 4.0 (or is it GT3 RS 400 like it says on the car?).

http://www.motorauthority.com/blog/1059034_2012-porsche-911-gt3-rs-4-0-preview

http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/larger-holes-in-porsche-engine-result-in-65000-markup/


4 liters, 500 hp @ 5,250 rpm.

No turbos.

2,998 lbs.

Rear engine, RWD.

Development of cars like this (and the Boxster Spyder and the Cayman R) is where the profits from those SUVs and Sedans are going towards.

Worth it?  Probably not, unless you’re going to hermetically seal it away and sell it in 50 years – considering only 600 will be made, it will certainly be a collector’s item, and as we all know, Collector Cars have outpaced the Stock Market AND the Fine Art market.

Still, the car is quite impressive.

Drink the Kool Aid.

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The Fall of Acura

Posted: April 27, 2011 in Rants
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I can’t contain myself any longer with regards to this once fabulous brand.  You see, Acura has gone from a go-to brand for people seeking entertainment and luxury to a brand that has abandoned the characteristics that made it great..

Acura’s story is very similar to that of Lexus – an offshoot of Honda (rather than Toyota) designed to capture a more upscale market segment.  They began in America in 1986 with their introductory flagship vehicle – the Legend.  The Legend was designed to be a performance-luxury sedan and in that role it excelled.  The original Legend was attractive, fun to drive, powerful, durable, and quite nice to be inside of – it was also attractively priced versus the competition.  By the time the 1990s rolled around, Acura was actually outselling BMW and Mercedes-Benz in the United States.  The combination of traits that made the Legend such a popular car were to be the hallmark of Acura in America for years to come.

Coming into the 1990s Acura maintained their original attributes and upped the game with nearly perfect ergonomics and attractive sheetmetal.  They began to build true driver’s cars with feedback and performance capabilities.  The first of these cars was the incredibly high-tech, all aluminum NSX.  The NSX looked like a car from the future, but more importantly, the NSX was the first supercar that was truly usable.  At a time when Porsche was still spewing out essentially the same car it had been hawking since 1965, Acura came to the table with an all aluminum chassis, advanced aerodynamics, a chassis tuned by the legend Ayrton Senna himself, and most importantly – real world reliability, ergonomics that worked with an actual human body, and fuel economy on par with the average family car of the time.  The NSX forced Ferrari and Lamborghini to sit up and take notice – a supercar could work in the real world.  In fact, the NSX should be credited with the renaissances that occurred within the supercar world and resulted in cars that were more friendly to daily use.

At the other end of the spectrum, Acura produced an entry level car that has left a legacy on the automotive world.  The Acura Integra used a double wishbone suspension setup tied to a lightweight chassis and a high revving VTEC engine together to provide a truly race-inspired vehicle with entry-level luxury and an enthusiast friendly price.  The Integra placed advanced technology into the hands of the consumers – a 1.8L engine making 170-180 hp in stock trim – resulting in a specific output given its displacement normally reserved for supercars.  Even today these cars are highly sought after as superior to their descendents.

Acura didn’t stop there though.  They also unleased the Integra Type-R on the consuming public.  Less weight, a limited slip differential, 195 horsepower with an  8500 rpm redline.  This was a racecar for the streets.  Feedback was superb, ergonomics were perfect and it was even fuel efficient.  Acura showed a willingness to create a car for the enthusiast even as they soldiered on with their bread and butter near-luxury cars of the time (The TL and CL, as well as the Integra sedan) – which still combined great, intuitive interiors with good handling and power, Honda reliability and a reasonable price.

And then things started going downhill.  In 2002, Acura killed off the Integra and replaced it with the RSX – a car that did possess a gem of an engine in the K20, although it took a step backwards in terms of suspension by losing the double wishbone setup and replacing it with a cheaper McPherson Strut setup.  Its not that the RSX was a bad car – it was a good car – but to replace a dynamically superior car with one that is inferior is inexcusable in my mind – even if the justification is to save cost.  If a product is a premium product then it can command a premium price – by downgrading a product Acura was in fact asking for the car to be viewed as inferior.

The rest of the 2000’s wasn’t awful – the TSX came along which did retain an advanced, multi-link suspension.  I can personally attest that while the RSX-S did have more scoot, the TSX was the better car to drive.  Whereas the RSX would give up the grip in the front the TSX simply refused to misbehave – it was properly sorted out – if only Acura had graced it with an engine that could match the chassis.  The chassis was so good that RealTime Racing even campaigned a TSX over the RSX in the Speed World Challenge, despite the fact that the TSX was heavier.  They apparently made the right choice as they captured the title several times.

Acura’s final swan song as I knew the company was with the TL-S.  A roaring monster of a sedan with a beast of an engine, giant brakes, and a serious suspension – this car would turn in faster lap times than competing BMWs, Audis, or Infinitis.  It proved that Acura was serious about performance, despite some softening of their cars.

However, with the recent crop of Acuras, they have lost the way.  Where the sheetmetal was once attractive, it is now grossly ugly.  Gone is the clean, attractive sheetmetal – instead, all of the cars now sport a hideous new corporate beak.  Gone are the sporty, fun to drive models like the Integra or RSX – instead, we have bloated whales floundering about, like the TSX “Sport” Wagon.   In fact, the #1 reason stated by consumers as to why they chose to purchase something other than an Acura has been styling.


Worst of all, the cars have lost everything that attracted me to them.  In addition to the horrible looks, the interiors are now crammed full of more buttons than the Starship Enterprise.  One can barely figure out how to do the most simple tasks – while Honda has at least retained a semblance of simplistic ergonomics, Acura has gone the way of other luxury manufacturers by offering too many features with too many buttons.

And along with all those features comes the inevitable weight creep.  The cars are easily tipping the scales at over 4,000 lbs, more with the AWD options.  The cars have also lost their feel – replacing communication with insulation thanks to ever more sophisticated drive-by-wire and electronic steering.

Finally, Acura suffers from heinous product overlap.  They offer a TSX with a V6.  Why would anyone purchase a TSX with a V6 when they could spend a marginal amount more and get a TL?  It works the other way.  The RL is essentially a bloated, overweight, overpriced TL.  Who in their right mind would spend the money for the RL when the TL is essentially the same thing for less?  Apparently nobody, as the sales have begun to suffer.

Acura’s slogan is “Advance”.  In reality, it looks like the company has done nothing but regress.

A 150 MPH Speed Limit?

Posted: April 12, 2011 in Rants
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Looks like I’m not the only one who’s been reading American Autobahn or following the news that Texas is considering raising its speed limit to 85 mph on some roads.

John McElroy echoes essentially everything that I believe and that people who know things have been saying in his opinion article justifying a 150 mph speed limit.

click the link here – http://www.autoblog.com/2011/04/11/opinion-time-to-raise-the-speed-limit-how-does-150-mph-sound/#continued

The important highlights that you need to know:

-Speed limits have held back the development of the automobile.

-The reason German cars are so safe and good to drive is because they’re designed to travel (and crash) at 150 mph.

-Speed doesn’t kill.  Variances in traffic speed kills.  When we all travel rapidly in an orderly fashion and MOVE OVER for drivers travelling faster than us (an unfathomable concept for most American drivers) we can all get where we’re going rapidly.

HOWEVER

What I don’t agree with is his belief that we should rely on radar systems and GPS in cars to sense one another, and other electronics to keep us on the road.   I am a firm believer in proper education.

The German system requires drivers to complete a time consuming, intensive, and expensive program before they’re allowed to get their license.  This is what we need, not more electronic gizmos.  In fact, studies show that the more driver aids a car is equipped with (traction control, ABS, etc) the more risks the drivers actually take – they come to rely on these rather than on themselves as an attentive and competent driver, and don’t understand how to take advantage of these systems – ABS in particular.

I personally think that the Police should monitor the road and pull over “enforcers” and “slowsters” – people going slowly in a passing lane when they should be moving over.  If we made it a moving violation when someone engages in left lane lurking and doesn’t move over for a passing vehicle we could take a step towards an orderly system that would allow much faster travel on the roads.

The other hurdle to overcome is the insurance industry – they still believe that speed itself is dangerous when the fact has been shown time and again that a slow driver is more of a danger to those around him than fast drivers travelling safely in a pack.  They knee-jerk oppose higher  speed limits – but the reality is they oppose higher speed limits because it means less speeding tickets, and speeding tickets are what they use to jack up premiums on drivers.

And finally, vehicle safety has to come up to the modern age – we can learn a lot from German cars (with crumple zones and fully integrated roll cages, such as Mercedes-Benz has been using for years) that were designed to travel (and crash) at rapid speeds – but these cars didn’t develop that technology from the blue – in fact, most consumer safety technology is derived from racing.  Manufacturers are more than happy to sell trickle down technology that they’ve developed in competition with regards to performance, but they seem to be slow to bring the safety developments to the public – probably because horsepower sells better than safety, and its cheaper and more profitable to build a giant vehicle and pawn that off as safe simply because its huge, than it is to build a regular vehicle with superior safety equipment.

Front Wheel Drive BMWs?

Posted: April 6, 2011 in Rants
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In my latest issue of Automobile Magazine I read a rather disturbing article – it said that BMW intends to produce front-wheel drive vehicles because, according to them, that’s the only way they can reach fuel economy targets.

What?

Let me say it again, BMW, the company that has devoted itself to RWD dynamics which allow for a nearly 50/50 weight distribution, and thus wonderfully simple and predictable handling for the average driver.  Yes, that was a direct dig at people who have never experienced the awesomeness of a mid-engine car, and my way of saying that BMW drivers aren’t very good – but we all knew that already.  I digress.

Mother nature knows best – keep it RWD.

The point is, a FWD BMW is a travesty.  In my mind at least.  But, we have to face some facts.

First, we have to realize that BMW doesn’t give a shit about driving purity anymore.  They’ve made that abundantly clear by abandoning high-revving naturally aspirated engines in their M cars and moving towards turbocharged power for all of their cars.  Now, turbos are nice because you can turn up the boost, but they will never match the instant throttle response of a well developed naturally aspirated engine.  BMW has the stones to make a powerful engine without turbos – just look at the V12 they crammed into the 242.9 mph (!!!) McLaren F1.  They took the BMW V12 from the 8-series (originally rated at around 300 hp) and massaged it up to 627 hp at 7400 rpm.  So, they can make the power and not use turbos (and use a creamy smooth V12, my favorite engine configuration of all time).  But, again, I’m getting away from the point.  FWD.

Well, BMW has already said a giant fuck you to their devotion to RWD – they make pretty much every car they sell in AWD, in response to the market’s belief that AWD is a panacea for handling woes, bad weather traction, and bad driving in general (which we have a lot of in America).  As a result, there’s demand for these AWD cars and BMW is like any company in their world – they want to make money.  So they cater to their douchebag customers who seem to think that AWD will solve all the problems in the world and add weight, complexity, and fuck up the near-perfect handling balance in the process (while decreasing fuel economy).

If BMW really wants to improve their efficiency they should make 100% of their cars RWD manual transmissions.  That’d be good for a few mpg on every model.  But they’d lose sales, so they’re going to pressure, and cave.  The reality is that most consumers don’t even know the difference between FWD, RWD, and AWD anyways.

Fits up to 4 clowns inside.

And BMW has actually done a damned fine job of making FWD cars, namely, the MINI Coopers.  I myself have been the victim of their astonishing performance – last year’s Road Tire class in the local SCCA Autocross was won by long haired man and his Mini Cooper S Convertible.  Humiliating to say the least.

But my point is that FWD is for the Mini brand.  Why defile years of heritage and balance at BMW just to cater to fuel economy regs?  And furthermore, I think their claim that they can’t meet fuel economy regulations is complete bullshit.  Maybe if BMW didn’t paint their cars with osmium based paint and build the frames out of lead they wouldn’t weigh 20 billion lbs and they could eek a few extra MPG out of their cars just due to weight savings – just head on over to http://www.fueleconomy.gov and look at the Porsche Cayman S (20/29) or the Lotus Elise (21/27) – powerful, fast, fun to drive cars that get good fuel economy through light weight.

It’s not gay.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But instead, BMW claims it can’t be done.  I direct BMW to my old 1991 Mazda Miata.  Now here was a car that had the aerodynamic efficiency of a brick, yet managed to return well over 30 mpg all day long.  The formula?  Low weight and a small displacement engine.  Hell, if it had a 6th gear and modern aerodynamics I’m positive it would return over 40 mpg.  Just look at the current crop of mini cars like the Ford Fiesta or Hyundai Accent – they use exactly the formula I said – conventional engine, low weight, good aerodynamics.  Maybe if the car were RWD it might get 38 instead of 40 mpg due to the parasitic loss in transferring power to the rear wheels but come on, that’s good enough.

But BMW insists that they won’t compromise.  Their customers want powerful cars with lots of features that are safe – so small displacement engines won’t be able to move the mammoth weight of such vehicles.  I say bullshit again.  I say their current customers aren’t going to have any interest in some front wheel drive clown car that’s being built just to raise the corporate fuel economy averages.  Who in their right mind will buy the car?

A face only a mother could love.

Badge snobs?  Maybe just to get, like the current 1-series owners (that’s right you 1-series owners, your car is a cheap piece of shit with a caveman rear suspension, and the only reason you bought it was because you’re stretching just to get into that car and you couldn’t afford the extra few thousand dollars to step into a 3-series) the badge on the front of the car and the “status” that comes with such a car – but the reality is that its seen by anyone with a brain as the cheap, bottom end car and as a result, the 1-series sells terribly.  The upcoming crop of FWD cars will be seen in the same light.

So, badge snobs won’t really buy the car for fear of being frowned upon by those already in the arms of the brand.  And the people who really care about fuel economy in the first place won’t buy it because it will be a BMW – and therefore it will be expensive, and options will be brutally overpriced.  They’ll lean towards more sensibly priced vehicles.  Rich people who don’t give a shit about fuel economy, on the other hand, won’t feel any need to get these cars.

Wealthy Prius drivers love the smell of their own farts.

Ah, but rich people also like to pretend they give a shit about the environment.  They’ll pay exorbitant prices for stupid little eco cars just so they can assuage the guilt that their 6000 square foot McMansion emits as much carbon as a small town in Africa (never mind their own carbon emissions from eating too much organic spelt).  That, my pretties, is the only way BMW will be able to sell these little shitboxes.  Marketing them as green, selling them to people who shop at Whole Foods and claim to have gluten allergies (serve them gluten-filled pasta, they won’t notice because that’s complete bullshit as well).  I can see it now – the new BMW Speltmobile – made from organic, post consumer recycled wheatgrass, powered by hemp juice and fair trade coconut water.