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July 30, 2008

Rally Driving « Car Issues »

Check out this video:

It just didn't look to me like he was taking the most efficient route some of the time.

I fully understand the traction issues. Growing up and learning to drive in Montana, if I wasn't driving on ice, I was usually driving on gravel or dirt. I used to "drift" (I called it "powersliding" through gravel roads in my 1968 Pontiac Tempest. I had a friend who opened my eyes to the excitement of "drifting" (again, he didn't call it that) between construction warning barrels on an ice-covered road in a 70s Datsun 210 (Bumblebee? I think). I couldn't come close to what he did on ice, but I did end up with an instinctual feel for recovering from a fishtail.

The roads I powerslid on were much narrower than the Pike's Peak track, but I feel like I did a better job of aligning myself for the next acceleration.

Then again, I was doing it between 30 and 60mph, I would admit probably mostly on the 30mph end (although I really wan't paying attention to the speedometer, to be honest...maybe I was doing it more at 20 mph, or 50. No way to know, now), and this guy is doing it more 60-80mph, right? And I didn't have anything close to his hp, acceleration, or car twitchiness. Maybe that makes a bigger difference than I would think.

I've played a few rallying video games. I'm not that good, not that bad. I don't persist because you have to drive by your visual cues, and when I'm dirt running (I've never raced...), I drive by feel as much as by sight.

I cannot describe the feel of knowing you are losing traction (can't say adhesion on dirt/gravel) and knowing you can of course brake slightly, but also sensing that if you just lightly accelerate, you'll pull the car back in line...

I've done it in both rear-wheel drive AND front-wheel drive cars (the preceding paragraph being a front-wheel drive experience), but separated by about 15 years in between, so I couldn't begin to guess what the commonality and difference is between the drives. Early on, I did end up doing a 180 in the front-wheel drive once because I didn't come out of the turn right; I'm guessing because
I was using RWD reactions? In any case, I learned and it never happened again.

I wondered at the time if I could have been a good Rally racer, but already had a career and was probably too old to boot (past 35), so it never got to be more than a passing thought.

Let's make this interminable missive more massive:
My dirt-running experiences are about 2% of the reason I've hesitated to really pull the trigger on any one of a number of Poor Man's BMWs. If I can have so much fun in a '68 Tempest or '94 Corolla on dirt, am I really going to have as much fun in a Maxima SE or Mazda3 on pavement? You don't encounter police on back country dirt roads, but you do on paved roads; I'm probably never going to get the full acceleration/traction fun on blacktop.


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posted by Nathan on 07:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 24, 2008

Eagle Vision TSi « Car Issues »

The full article, with comments from other readers and pictures, is over here.

The plain text follows:
Back when I was in high school, I remember noticing just how badly space was wasted in cars. Small cars could seat five passengers, and a large car could likewise seat five; the big differences in exterior size dwarfed the small differences in interior space. A few years later, I read about Chrysler's push towards "cab forward" design, pushing the cabin forward in the chassis for better space utilization. Other car manufacturers had toyed with the idea, but apparently Chrysler was planning to dive right in and redo their whole car line based on the concept.

I was excited, because it made sense--better stability and handling, sleeker lines, and best of all, maximum room for people and minimum space dedicated for the machine. I foresaw the Colt becoming a sleek little speedster-ish coupe. I imagined beautiful cars revitalizing the whole Mopar line. I was mostly a Ford fan at the time, but I liked the idea of the underdog Chrysler brands putting out some decent products for a change.

They fulfilled their promise, at least in my eyes, when they unveiled the Dodge Intrepid. I fell in love with that car at first sight. It looked like a sporty sedan should look like; it looked like the automotive version of an F-5 Freedom Fighter. Best of all, from what I can remember of reviews from the time, it didn't suck. That alone was a victory for Chrysler.

One semi-immutable rule of car manufacturing is that when you have a decent car (and even when you don't), you re-badge it with minor modifications to match your established brands. For the Intrepid, this meant that a slightly higher-tech version was designed and sold as the Eagle Vision. The Vision is just a little bit more of a sports sedan than the Intrepid, a little more technologically advanced, and featured a slightly different front fascia/hood design that just made it look tougher and more menacing. I loved it.

My favorite Vision was the 1996 edition, with the 3.5-liter V-6 engine. Of course, back then I was far more ignorant about cars and performance than I am now (he said modestly), so during the time I was caught up in lust, all I could really tell you about the Vision is that I really, really liked its appearance, and it probably had some gee-whiz techno tweaks on it.

Now, however, having done the research, I have a much better grasp of its features.

* Automatic Stick: The ability to control gear shifts without a clutch is commonplace now, but at the time was only available on exotics. You'd think new technology like this would be fraught with malfunctions, but apparently Chrysler engineered it well enough to avoid a pratfall with the shifting.
* 214-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6: This engine pushed the Vision 0-60 in 8 seconds (fair) and returned 17/22 mpg (ugh! ...but par for the course in those days).
* Anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes: ABS was part and parcel for upscale cars at the time, and all sports sedan manufacturers know you need great brakes to get out of trouble.
* Gas shocks and stabilizers: These increased its stability and maneuverability.
* Anti-fog heating elements in side mirrors
* Keyless entry: This is nearly a standard feature now, but that wasn't the case a decade ago.

Interestingly, the TSi's 16-inch wheels were an upgrade over the standard 15s; at the time those were considered a useful upgrade for handling and comfort, but now those are either standard or slightly small for a sports sedan. I've read some complaints about road noise and, as should be expected, the more the car is tweaked toward firm handling, the more you feel the bumps.

Still, the Eagle Vision was a credible mid-size family sports sedan. It wasn't exorbitantly expensive (about $23k new), and offered an enjoyable driving experience comparable to much more expensive mid-level European sports sedans. That wasn't what Americans expected from a U.S. car manufacturer, which is probably why the car failed to garner much interest from the buying public.

Given that, you probably won't be surprised to hear there aren't that many available these days. One online search yielded only 21 for sale in the whole United States, and that's all years and all trim levels. Prices ranged from $700 to more than $7,000, which seems a bit high, but I have no idea how these cars age mechanically. I would probably test drive one just for the fun of it, but there isn't a single one for sale within 600 miles of my location. I don't know if that's a result of self-destructing build quality or merely are result of the Vision's scarcity.

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posted by Nathan on 05:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

May 19, 2008

GM Has A Good Idea « Car Issues »

Amazing, isn't it?

I can get behind this one:

GM advocates MPG displays in all vehicles.

Make it so.

My 1986 Chrysler Laser had one, I don't see why all cars can't have one these days.

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posted by Nathan on 04:51 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

May 12, 2008

2004 Suzuki Verona: A Retrospective « Car Issues »

Back in January of 2005, To celebrate an upcoming promotion at work (about 5 months early, as it turns out), I wanted to replace my 1990 Toyota Corolla with a nicer vehicle.

Unfortunately, at heart I am a skinflint. I love Hondas, and like Toyotas, but the $18k starting price on new price on an Accord made me choke, and a Camry was out of the question. I knew I could get a Civic or Corolla for about $14k, but that would still be a base model with few options.

I checked out a Ford Focus, but was unimpressed with its small size, road noise, and bumpy ride. The salesman said, "Have you thought about a Suzuki?" I sneered at first, but he seemed insistent, so I shrugged and agreed to do a test drive in a 2005 Suzuki Forenza. It was very nice, and just over $14k. It seemed fairly peppy, but not enough to satisfy me. I tested a standard-transmission Forenza and it had more of the driving feel I wanted, but the fuel efficiency on an automatic was 21/28, and the efficiency on a standard was...21/28. I couldn't understand it then, and I don't understand it now. Then I tried a 2005 Suzuki Reno, which was a chopped-off Forenza, basically. I was seeking a "hot hatch" feel, and the Reno just didn't have it. On the other hand, it had an MP3-capable disc player. Moreover, it offered slightly better driving feel and fuel efficiency over the Forenza. I almost got it, but the only one they had on the lot had a tendency to stall when you gave it the gas. Uh-uh. I wasn't going to buy a malfunctioning new car. The salesman listened to my complaints, and offered me a test drive in an Aerio. It had a better engine with more pep and better fuel efficiency than even the Reno. Ugly as sin, but a better engine inside, and about the same price. But before I even got it off the lot, I knew I hated its driving sensation. Ugh!
The Forenza had the look, feel, and price I wanted. The Reno had the price and the MP3 player. The Aerio had the engine I wanted. Put 'em together, and I would have been pleased as punch.
On a whim, I think the salesman said they had some leftover Verona's from 2004 for about the same price. It would be a step up for a discount.
I was hesitant, but on the test drive: woah.
It was the smoothest car I've ever driven. It had speed-sensitive steering that gave me precise control at any speed. It seemed to accelerate well; not sports-car level, but not bad. The salesman seemed 10 feet away in the passenger seat. The dials were nicely back-lit with a soft blue glow. The leather-wrapped steering wheel felt very nice. The car itself looked like the previous-generation Camry (which I liked better than the 2005 model, anyway). The only problem was the fuel efficiency with just 20/27.

I went home and researched the car. editors gave it a 6.1 rating, but owners gave it an 8.1, which isn't bad. And every car I've driven has gotten better than the listed mileage. "True cost to own" estimate seemed to indicate it would be inexpensive to keep. And it had a 7 year, 100k mile warranty!
(Foreshadowing paragraph)
It had a 2.4 liter in-line six-cylinder engine. That's about the size of competitor's 4-cylinder engines. Its strength was its smoothness. Its weakness was, well, a snarky slogan for the Verona's engine would be: "All the power of a 4-cyl! All the economy of a 6-cyl!"

But it was just $14,200. I would get a Camry/Accord-level car for a Civic-level price! The $4000 price difference can buy quite a bit of gas.
So I bought it.

It cruised very nicely. It got about 25 miles to the gallon in mixed driving for the daily commute.

I took a long road trip in it. I was going to drive from Spokane, Washington over to Montana, then down to see some friends in Denver, Colorado. We had an event planned for Saturday night, but I had to be back in Spokane for work Monday morning. So I would get up around 9am and drive straight through to Spokane in one day. That's 1,092 miles, if you don't want to take the time to look it up yourself.

All went according to plan. I had plenty of music for the (non-MP3) CD player. I left Denver Sunday morning, and filled up once in Buffalo, Wyoming, where I stopped for lunch; once in Livingston, Montana, where I ate dinner with my sister, and the next morning after arriving in Spokane.

I spent 15 hours in the car that day. I spent from 9am Sunday to 1am Monday, with two half-hour breaks. I did not feel any discomfort until the last 90 minutes. I cannot imagine spending even just 8 hours driving any other car without more frequent breaks, and without killing my back, neck, legs, etc.

Even better, that car did great in the mountain passes of western Montana. It was raining slightly, visibility was fair to poor, but the car was willing to take all the switchbacks at a continual 70 mph without protest or overworked effort. There were some times when I felt the car was riding right on the edge of traction as we went around a curve at 70 I would just cut the turn a little tighter, and the car would just settle right into the track. It was almost as if following the normal track for a car wasn't taking advantage of its full adhesion capability, so going wider increased the lateral g-force. The car was capable of going tighter without rolling, and when I used that capability, we were more stable.

That car performed better at 70 mph than any other car I've ever driven. It felt more nimble, more stable, more responsive at 70 mph than the many smaller cars I've driven, including Civics and Corollas, do at 40-50 mph.

The car truly was worth the money.

But then I moved to Hawaii. And all of its problems surfaced.

- Its turning radius was slightly below average. Its wide body was slightly wider than average. Space is at a premium in on Oahu (the main island, with 85% of the population on one of the smaller surface areas), and so parking is always tight. The car did not fit well into the parking spaces.
- Most driving on Oahu is stop-and-go, to include on the freeways. For the 14 months I drove it on the island, I never averaged higher than 19 mpg, and usually just 16. I had to fill up the car after traveling just 215 miles, most of the time. Expensive, and frustrating.
- A minor problem caused by the workers who changed the oil highlighted something I didn't realize: Suzuki never sold the Forenza, Reno, or Verona in Hawaii. That meant they didn't train their mechanics in repairs. Which, in turn, meant that the excellent warranty that helped convince me to buy the car was pretty much worthless until I moved back to the mainland. Sure, any repairs were covered, but I had to pay for parts and labor myself, and then they'd reimburse me. Even worse, there was an electronic glitch in the steering wheel stereo controls, which could only be repaired by Suzuki techs; there would be no chance to repair that glitch until I left Hawaii.

The most important thing about retaining a car is your internal dialogue. If you are constantly frustrated, constantly irritated, constantly reminded of your dissatisfaction, you won't keep the car. Every time I looked at the elapsed mileage, I knew I would need to fill up soon and it was a slap in the face of how bad the car was on gas. Every time I tried to change the volume on the CD and it skipped 3-4 tracks (the electronic glitch), I was reminded of the warranty problem. Every time I tried to park the car, or had to squeeze out of the door with 6 inches of room because the car filled the entire space, I was reminded the car just didn't fit in Hawaii. The Verona was made for the ultimate in comfortable and enjoyable freeway driving, and I didn't get to experience it in Hawaii.

I finally sold it for $10,000, just 18 months after purchasing it for $14200 (plus tax, resulted in about $15600, if I recall correctly).

I know it was the right decision. I can't imagine driving the car in Hawaii over the last year with $3+/gallon gas. And now that I drive a 2002 Ford Explorer in a daily commute (until my 1998 Mazda 626 arrives) in Texas with that same gas price, I'm stunned that the larger, heavier, supposedly more wasteful SUV still gets better city mileage (18 on last fill-up, better than the advertised 16) than my old Verona (averaged 17; far, far worse than the advertised 21).

Still, at times I miss that car. I see on Edmunds that the base dealer retail price for a 2004 Suzuki Verona S is less than $8k. You should be able to find an individual selling a low-mileage and/or excellent condition for far less. And I'm tempted, because recently I've seen other Suzuki car products (specifically, the late-90s, early 00's Esteem station wagon), lasting longer and looking better than their more-appreciated Toyota and Honda rivals. I don't see many Veronas; maybe they aren't lasting at all. But if they are, they might just be a Camry-clone steal.

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posted by Nathan on 06:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

April 11, 2008

Request for Suggestions « Car Issues »

Please help. Link this post on your site, if you don't mind, and encourage your readers to comment.

If you had an $8000 limit, what [family] vehicle would you buy?


Aspects to consider:
-Fuel economy is important
-Reliability is very important
-Fun to drive is important
-Status is slightly important (Acura better than Honda, any Japanese better than Korean)
-Sports cars are not eliminated, but need a really strong argument in favor
-Being able to seat 6 or 7 would be a plus
-If vehicle can seat 7, tow 3k pounds, and still get 23 mpg city, the limit goes up to $16k

I have about 8 days to decide, and then another 48 hours to search the Dallas and/or Austin/San Antonio area to get a list of 10-20 possibilities. I want to hear what people know about cars that I might not have heard.

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posted by Nathan on 07:29 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

March 26, 2008

Ode to My Mazda 626 « Car Issues »

One of the reasons I've been doing car issues is because my commute car was totalled, and I did much car research to determine value and find a replacement.

I ended up getting a steal:
A 1998 Mazda 626 4-cyl LX with 83k miles: $1000 even. If you do the math on it over at Edmunds for Hawaii (where I am and where I purchased it, naturally), It is worth $3300 retail! The typical Mazda transmission problems should be a thing of the past, as the transmission was replaced last year.

I was looking for a car that I could drive for a month, then sell without a loss while shipping my '01 Prizm for the upcoming move to Texas. Not only did I do that in spades, I ended up getting a car I don't want to give maybe we'll sell the Prizm instead.

Without further ado:
Ode to my Mazda 626 (David J. Will Understand)
O! My 626,
You are lovely.
You look so nice parked in my assigned space,
Your aggressive stance and perfect proportions
Displayed for all to see.
You have all the gadgets a man could hope for,
Including air vents that swing at a touch of a button.
You have decent fuel economy, but enough power to
Cruise smoothly at interstate speeds.
Acceleration may not be world-class,
May not approach current sedan standards,
But your steering is so precise, so rock steady,
That driving is a simple, daily pleasure.
I feel great just slipping behind the wheel.
You are larger than most used Corollas and Civics, but
With an elegance and comfort and little
Touches of quality in materials and the way
Knobs and switches move, that I feel more
Decadent than an Accord or Camry owner.
I cannot believe I found you for just $1000.
I do not want to lose you, my 626,
But cold, hard cash is hard to resist.
I may have to look for a used 626 in Texas...

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posted by Nathan on 08:06 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)

March 25, 2008

What Is GM Thinking?!??, Pt II « Car Issues »

Along with the Cobalt not really having a decent niche, along with GM not really having a decent small economy car, it hit me the other day:

Why doesn't GM have any cars for women?

Take a look at their SUV list.

Is there anything there that can compete with the Honda CRV, the Toyota RAV4, the Lexus RX330, or similar Sport-Cutes? Nope. Their smallest is still hefty enough that they don't offer a single 4-cyl option. That's too bloated for many women. And the base model is already nearly $23k!

That's an important market segment they willingly and unnecessarily gave away to the competition.

Just for giggles, check out all the models that earned a fairly-easily obtainable "8" Edmund's Editor's Rating.*

Do they want to give up on the US market or something? The Corvette and the single Cadillac that's getting rave reviews will not be enough to revive sales across the entire line.

Read More "What Is GM Thinking?!??, Pt II" »

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posted by Nathan on 09:09 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
Rental Car Review, Pt XVII: What is GM Thinking??!? « Car Issues »

After my commute car was totalled by a motorcycle (while the car was parked for the night), I had the dubious pleasure of driving a Cobalt for about a week.

The Cobalt is a decent car, I guess.

But I don't really understand what GM is thinking.

First, the positives:
It's got plenty of power. It handles nicely. It looks good, and had plenty of room to seat 4 adults easily. Unfortunately, that's about it on the positives. Not enough to even use a bulletized list.

The negatives (all sorts of bullets):
- A severe lack of convenience electronics: No power windows, no key fob lock/unlock function, no in-car All-Lock/Unlock button. I realize I had a rental fleet car. But I have had plenty of other rental fleet cars with convenience electronics. The worst was the lack of any all-lock/unlock function anywhere in the vehicle: even my entry-level 2001 Chevy Prizm (a Toyota design built by Chevy workers) from almost a decade ago has the ability to lock/unlock all the doors from the drivers door; it was a real pain to always have to lock/unlock all doors manually when kids/in-laws were riding with me.
- I have never understood when car reviewers complained about the quality of the plastic inside a car. I really never thought about how the plastic was that I was touching. But this car had a textured plastic covering the door interior; no problem at that point...until it came time to roll down the window. No power windows, so you reach for the handle, and proceed to strip all the skin off of your knuckles on the rough-textured plastic as you crank. They might as well have used a cheese-grater!
- "Plenty of room" should be a positive...but if you want to buy a small car so that you can park easily and zip around, this car is not it. It is a foot longer than the previous model RAV4 (As I noticed in comparing to my neighbor's vehicle from the 2nd-floor balcony). But despite being longer than the RAV4, the Cobalt is not as comfortable for 5 adults, nor does it have anywhere near the cargo space. Being a Sport-Cute, the RAV4 is far more expensive, but is far more efficient with space.
And even worse, despite being 6 inches longer my 2001 Chevy Prizm, than it has approximately the same passenger dimensions except for one: significantly less rear hip room! It seems as if the only way Chevy can compete with Toyota is when it uses Toyota designs!
- Despite having plenty of room, the Cobalt's extremely short rear deck made it very difficult to put anything into the trunk.

In response to noting that Mazda drivers are usually very passionate about loving their cars, I noted that Toyotas are usually best described as "good enough, and that's about it." It almost seems like Chevrolet was attempting to imitate being "just good enough", rather than shooting for making a good car that is "good enough" to compete with everything out there. They missed the mark slightly, and it resulted in a thoroughly mediocre car. Unfortunately, cars are all getting better, and mediocre no longer equates to average. This is clearly a below-average car.

The Cobalt can't even compare to mid-90s sedans like the Mazda 626 or Honda Accord. The power/size/economy may be about the same, but the Japanese offerings are far more luxurious and comfortable. Chevy is about 15 years behind the state-of-the-art, if the Cobalt is any example.

To be honest, I don't even understand why this car is in GM's lineup. It can't compete with any of the Japanese cars on quality, economy, or comfort. It isn't small enough to be a small car (I think the Aero is supposed to fit that segment for Chevy, actually). The base Mazda 3 and Mitsubishi Lancer are just as cheap, but far more fun to drive. And there are many other cars just as cheap and equally as fun to drive, but more reliable (there are 12 total cars at an equivalent size/price point). It really doesn't fit well between the Aero and the Malibu, really.

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posted by Nathan on 07:43 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)

March 20, 2008

Car Lust: 1980 Ford Courier « Car Issues »


Much of the appeal of Car Lust is the emotional connection made between cars and people. It is the memories that tie us to some fairly unappealing vehicles, and it is the anecdotes about those memories that draw me back to the Car Lust Blog every day.

One Car Lust wasnt a conscious Lust until I started thinking about all the cars Ive ever had extensive experience withand then the Lust for a Ford Courier blazed up brightly.

Our family obtained a 1980 Ford Courier around 1982, I think. In any case, it wasnt new because I dont remember my parents ever purchasing a new vehicle. It was in excellent condition, however, with a camper shell over the bed. In 1984 I talked my parents into using it to haul our pop-up trailer and two of my friends on a 5-hour trip to the Medicine Rocks Campground outside of Ekalaka, Montana. Five people in a two-seater mini-pickup? Well, the three teens go in back, of course. We were able to spread our sleeping bags and stretch out quite comfortably among the coolers and other bundles. I remember snacking on Oreos, for what its worth. I guess my Dad wasnt worried about the dangers of carbon monoxide build-up inside the cover, but his lack of worries were justified: we survived the trip just fine.

In time, I inherited the truck. It had a manual transmission, which made it quite peppy when accelerating from a complete stop. I learned to drive a stick in itand in what I think is typical youthful idiocy, I practiced getting to full speed from a complete stop in 2nd gear, then 3rd, and even from 4th once. Okay, more than once. Its possible with an extremely liberal use of clutch, of course. And yet, the transmission and clutch never slipped, never needed replacing even as the mileage approached 140,000.

In high school, my girlfriend(s) would sit close to me and wed do tandem shifting, i.e., after I pressed in the clutch, shed shift gears when I said shift.

I drove it to college, and was able to fit every single thing I owned in the world in the bed to a height that still let me see out the back window, which served me well in several moves between dorms and student apartments. And when my fraternity pledge class needed transportation, we managed to cram 12 adult males in the camper shell.

Throughout its life with me behind the wheel, I would get close to 34 mpg, but that was mostly highway driving. Even in my teens, I liked to take long drives.

The truck finally met its demise (insurance-wisethe truck itself was still easily road-worthy) when a women across the intersection turned left after not seeing me. The car suffered a mighty blow behind the drivers door but in front of the rear wheel-well. The damage was enough to take my pickup away from me. But I certainly had fun, fun, fun until then.

Heres some more information:
Wiki page.
An interesting Courier fan site

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posted by Nathan on 09:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 01, 2008

Volkswagen Squareback Lust « Car Issues »

Back in 1997, a friend of mine had gotten into buying old damaged cars, fixing them, and then selling them for a (sometimes) profit. I went to the junkyard with him once, and saw a powder-blue volkswagen squareback, and it was like $300. Everything was in great condition, no rust.
The only problem was the engine was disassembled. For about 30 minutes, I thought about trying to put the engine back together with my friend's help. I eventually rejected the idea as likely ending up to be more trouble than it was worth.

I regret that decision, slightly, after reading this.

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posted by Nathan on 11:50 AM | Comments (31) | TrackBack (0)

February 26, 2008

Business Trip Rental Car Review, Vol. 2 No. 6: 2007 Toyota Rav-4 « Car Issues »

Okay, ignore the inconsistent numbering system for a second.

The Rav-4 is an awesome car.

It's a small SUV, or Sport-Cute, if you will.

But for the normal person, it is just about everything you want, and nothing you don't.

It is easy to get in/out of. I strained my back, and had no problems.

Plenty of space for my 6-ft frame and overweight carcass. The 2nd row of seats looked like plenty of space, too. It could seat 5 pretty easily, as long as 2-3 were not obese.

Plenty of storage space, too.

I had the 4-cyl. It got 30 miles to the gallon, yet had enough power that going up long, steep (for an interstate system freeway) grades were no problem. It felt nimble and its turning radius was pretty tight. Plenty of acceleration off the line at stop lights, too.

Good seats and driving position, as well. I drove it for 3 hours straight (from San Antonion to San Angelo) from 1 AM to 4 AM, and never felt any discomfort at all.

In short, it was as easy and fun to drive as my 2001 Toyota Corolla (which isn't inconsiderable, actually), with better gas mileage, more room, better visibility, slightly more power, and more little gadgets like automatic limited slip differential.

And it is nice-looking, too.

The 6-cyl has nearly as good gas efficiency, probably would have gotten 28 or 29 to the gallon on the same trip (which mixed mostly freeway driving with some town driving), but I can only imagine the smooth power and speed the 6-banger would have given. In fact, about the only cost in choosing the 6-cyl over the 4-cyl, is, well, cost. The gas mileage drop is neglible, and more than offset by the increased power, acceleration, and towing.

I fully recommend the Toyota Rav-4 to any small family, or anyone who wants the comfort and convenience, and fuel efficiency of a small car, with the utility and space of a wagon.

I am seriously considering buying one. The only thing holding me back right now is that I want the 3rd-row bench seat (suitable for children only), but those are only available on the 2006 models or later, and:
1) you can't choose options on used cars, and the people who purchased the 3rd-row bench seat option are apparently all hanging on their Rav-4s
2) 2006 is a little too recent. I prefer 4 to 5-year old Hondas/Toyotas, because they are down to about 1/4 the cost of new, but can still be driven for another 4-5 years with negligible repair/maintenance costs.

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posted by Nathan on 09:03 AM | Comments (331) | TrackBack (0)

January 25, 2008

Yeah, I Could Buy a Ford « Car Issues »

This car sounds pretty good, anyway.

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posted by Nathan on 07:06 AM | Comments (23) | TrackBack (0)

January 22, 2008

Which Car Should I Purchase? « Car Issues »

Poor Man's BMW?


Rare (more expensive to fix/maintain), cool, fast, AWD sports car?

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posted by Nathan on 08:40 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)

October 16, 2007

Car Audio « Car Issues »

I'm thinking about buying a new stereo for my car.

JVC, Sony, Kenwood, and Pioneer all seem to have a head unit priced about $99 with 3-band EQ, MP3/WMA capability, and a front, 3.5mm jack for mp3-player connection/playthrough.

Any thoughts or suggestions as to which might be best? I would prefer something with more EQ bands, but the only decently-priced head unit I can find with more is a Sony with a 7-band EQ...but it doesn't have the mp3-player connection...

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posted by Nathan on 11:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

September 13, 2007

Cool Synthesization « Car Issues »

...of a BMW and a Russian jalopy. The results are pretty cool.

I'd call it Impressively Retro.

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posted by Nathan on 07:08 AM | Comments (277) | TrackBack (0)

August 07, 2007

Car Owners: Why American Cars Don't Sell Well « Car Issues »

Straight from the horse's mouth: the owners themselves.

On the other hand, Popular Mechanics says there are still some great cars being made here. That's true. But they are few and far between. The US doens't have the technological edge any longer.

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posted by Nathan on 03:05 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

June 27, 2007

Tesla Roadster, Tesla Motors, Tesla ROCKS! « Car Issues »

Are you familiar with the Tesla Roadster?

Here's info:

Tesla Roadster, Wikipedia Entry.

Tesla Motors, Wikipedia Entry.

Tesla Motors Website.

To tell the truth, at roughly $100k, I'm only mildly interested. They have plans to come out with a performance sedan (I'm thinking like a BMW/Audi) for about $50k in a few years, and a family sedan (I think like a Civic/Corolla) at competitive prices a few years after that.

I'm such a cheapskate, my interest rises exponentially with each cheaper model. If they even come close to expectations, I'll buy the BMW competitor for $50k in 2010 without a seconds' hesitation.

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posted by Nathan on 07:36 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

June 20, 2007

Fascinating Read on Selling Cars « Car Issues »

A new writer goes undercover to give you the goods on car salesmen.

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posted by Nathan on 10:15 AM | Comments (61) | TrackBack (0)

June 19, 2007

Honda, Leading Carmaker « Car Issues »

Check out these descriptions of the 2007 Honda Accord 4-cyl.:

Aside from the discordant chrome moustache on the grille, the Accord is one of the best examples of understated automotive styling this side of an Aston Martin DB9.

The sedans precisely dampened switches, knobs and levers are more than a pleasant surprise. At this price point, theyre a miracle.

Activating the Accords turn signal stalk is like biting into a Lindt chocolate truffle. The glove box and lower dash storage binnacle doors open with all the graceful, elegant motion of a sunflower blooming in a time lapse movie. The Accords portal treatments combine rich cloth inserts, classy vinyl and integrated storage nooks, creating a segment high watermark. Theres space aplenty for kids and cargo, with the ideal amount of visibility for pampered back seat passengers.

In the final paragraph, the writer points out that at $20k, you can get a 6-cyl Ford Fusion or Hyundai Sonata that are smoother than the Accord's 4-cyl. Well, duh. 6-cyl. engines are always smoother. But note that price point. We'll talk more about it in a moment.

Now how about the 2007 Honda Civic?

Fortunately, the Civics high quality fit and finish create a suitable cavern for A to Bers determined to enjoy their daily dose of gridlock or weekly jaunt to the local supermarket. The Civics cloth doesn't look or feel cheap, even having the foresight to spend quality time on the inviting door panels. True to Hondas heritage, both major and minor controls are faultlessly, sensuously ergonomic. And theres plenty of head, leg, shoulder and trunk space for five Civic-minded adults.
Honda's funky-fresh wedgemobile handles in a manner more befitting a Gran Turismo endurance race. Most everything from the ghosts of Civics past is present and accounted for: linear steering, powerful brakes, confident handling and reasonably well controlled body motions. The Civics 16" wheels encourage fast cornering and deep braking, even if the chassis limitations are strictly R&B (reached and breached).

How about the 2007 Honda Civic Si?

Honda salesman? More like order taker. The new Civic Si sedan is guaranteed to sell itself, no product specialist needed. After all, the stock version is already a hit. Honda can legitimately claim theyre moving them by the boatload even if theyre assembled on Ohio acreage. And Si coupes have always done well even when they havent been well done. So, offering a four door variant with a sprinkle of go-faster and look-sharper for a few more bucks is a no-brainer.

And the 2007 Honda C-RV? Gotcha covered:

Enter the CR-V and experience the joys of ergonomic correctness. All the trucklettes switchgear and controls are intuitive enough for the cognitively challenged, with dials that are more legible than the top line of a DMV eye chart. Washable plastics cover all major surfaces and buttons except the leather wrapped gear selector, steering wheel and cruise compatible seats. The center stack is a vast improvement over the previous effort (file under faint praise), with the rich-sounding MP3-ready radio finally assuming its rightful place below the air vents.


And the bottom line here is that the CR-V is still the best buy bar none.

Here's what is clear from these reviews: Honda puts luxury-level quality into cabin materials and design. Furthermore, the only way to criticize Honda is from the perspective of idealistic perfection, not its competitors. More on that in a moment.

There are a few things missing from these reviews, all of which come from the same source. The most salient points not emphasized can be found in a copy of Consumer Report's most recent Car Buyer's Guide. In that issue, a few things become clear:
1) Hondas are either the #1 or #2 best buy in every single class of car Honda makes.
2) Honda is no longer attempting to fill a marketing niche slightly less expensive than Toyota. The Civic is actually a few thousand dollars more expensive than the Corolla.
3) Honda is pretty much the most fuel efficient car maker on the planet across the entire line.
4) Honda is tied with Toyota and Hyundai for best initial quality and most consistent reliability over the life of the car.
5) ALL Hondas have a problem with road noise. That includes their upscale Acura products. Apparently Honda has decided that noise insulation adds too much weight for their engines to maintain the sweet spot behind adequate power/acceleration and impressive fuel economy.

Yes, Hondas are no longer an inexpensive alternative to other vehicles. But they are worth the cost.

Because there is one other thing not covered in either review: Street Value.

In 2005, when I was looking at vehicles, it was possible to purchase a used 2001 Honda Civic VP (value priced model) with low miles for $13k. The price of the car new? In the high range of $14k. I don't know if the dealership ended up getting that much, but it is impressive to even be able to ask for a depreciation of less than $2k on a 4-yr-old car.

Looking for cars again in early 2007, I saw a 2000 Civic with 90k mileage and water stains on the floor carpeting (very limited flood damage) going for $9k at a dealership. I ended up getting a 2001 Chevy Prizm with 90k miles and some cosmetic paint problems for $3k.

And looking through the want ads, comparing Accords to Camrys and Civics to Corollas, an equivalent amount of mileage and options consistently cost you $2-3k more for a Honda than a Corolla for 3-8 year old cars.

A 2-yr-old Honda was consistently not more than $2k less than the new price (excluding fully loaded cars, where the options apparently depreciate faster than the car itself).

Quite simply, even 2-yr-old Hondas are worth more than equivalent new Chevys, Fords, Chryslers, Kias, etc. At the very least, every prospective car buyer should start with test-driving a Honda in their desired car style to understand what the state of automobile art is.

The bottom line is: if you can handle road noise, a Honda is the best value vehicle for efficiency, reliability, and driving enjoyment.

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posted by Nathan on 10:11 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
News Flash: Toyota Isn't a Sports Car Maker « Car Issues »

This article says that Toyota's sportiest vehicle isn't, really.

I wasn't really surprised.

When was the last time Toyota had a great sports car? When was the last time Toyota had the hottest sports car in a market segment?

Nissan has had sporty cars, all-time classics like the 280z, 300z, and now the 350z. Their upscale line has the G35 that apparently challenges BMW for driving excitement.

Honda has always made great little fuel-efficient cars that are (nearly) infinitely-modifiable/tunable to be great little sprint cars. The CRX was pure fun. The Civic Si provided great road-racing excitement. The Fit is the most fun of all the little econoboxes.

Mazda is a poor man's BMW. Mazdaspeed 3 and 5 are designed to compete with the BMW 3 and 5 series, if I understand correctly. Well, not exactly compete...but give you 80% of the performance for 50% of the price, which is a bargain from the perspective of most paychecks. The Miata revived the roadster's popularity in the US, and remains the best in its class after more than a decade on the market. And, of course, the RX series is a truly unique sports car offering unique thrills.

But Toyota? Fast and/or exciting? Naw.

Toyota = efficient, comfortable transportation. Not flashy, but perfectly tuned to getting you there comfortably and safely for 80% of the population.

It's turned them into the world's largest carmaker, so I guess that ain't too shabby.

I have a '98 Corolla and an '01 Prizm (made by Chevy, but to Toyota specs on a pure Toyota design) and love 'em both. I'm convinced that no matter how wealthy I may one day be, I'm going to stick with a Corolla-sized and Corolla-powered concept. It suits me.

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posted by Nathan on 08:09 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

August 04, 2005

Toyota's First Big Blunder? « Car Issues »

10 new hybrid models rolled out, and they announce intentions to have hybrids make up 25% of their vehicles sold.

This could be a mistake because hybrids aren't anywhere near as good on gas as touted. The lifetime use of a hybrid is also still unknown...a horrible resale value because hybrids turn out to be a disposable car (not worth the cost to replace the hybrid components) wouldn't be good for sales, and would be horrible for the environment.

Which is mistake number two: with consumer awareness rising as to hybrids not meeting gas mileage expectations, but with the company already committed to producing hybrids (having gambled on it being the Next Big Thing), they have to point to a reason, and they seem to have seized upon "It's for the environment!" But I think with all the chemicals involved in producing batteries, a hybrid probably isn't all that environment-friendly, and if more information on that drifts throughout the car community, Toyota may have a boondoggle on their hands.

I admit it: I wanted a hybrid based on their claims. But I waited, because new technology is often buggy. With the information coming out over the last year, I'm glad I waited.

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posted by Nathan on 09:47 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

June 16, 2005

Some Good Reviews of GM Products « Car Issues »

I thought about being snarky and leaving the body blank, but GM deserves better than that.

And the new products are, in most cases, jaw-droppingly beautiful in their execution and details.

This may be the writer's taste...but I'm willing to start getting interested. Don't let us down, GM!

Scroll down to below the pictures to read the story.

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posted by Nathan on 04:22 PM | Comments (1)

June 10, 2005

On The Other Hand « Car Issues »

And just when I think GM is swinging at strike three and out, Bob Lutz says something like this:

...not to introduce vehicles that are merely competitive, but to really target being the best. This has, frankly, also required some recalibration of the internal culture, especially in the United States. And it’s taken some time to lift ourselves to the best international standard in sheet metal fits. Take a look at the upcoming Chevrolet HHR. I ask you to compare that $15,995 Chevy HHR —- in terms of sheet metal fits, hem flanges, the way all of the panels fit to each other —- to a Lexus GS 400, and tell me if there is any significant difference.

And, don’t forget to spend some time examining the beautiful interior. You could argue that in the past General Motors interiors were a little bit utilitarian. They were easy to keep clean, but they lacked charm, they lacked warmth, and they lacked attention to detail. Not any more. You’ll experience well-crafted interiors, great materials, knobs and switches that feel like they’re on an expensive Japanese camera, even in our inexpensive cars. That is the standard that the public expects –- it’s no longer just a question of: Does it last? Is it reliable? Does it start every morning? Those are givens. That’s the transportation part of the automobile business.

Now, words are just words. Anyone can say things like this. But if he's not just blowing smoke...if GM follows through...if the HHR is even close to the Lexus in quality, and all the vehicles are reliable and last beyond the car being paid off, well, GM's prospects could be really bright. That could make those layoffs be only a temporary measure. I sincerely hope so.

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posted by Nathan on 05:18 PM | Comments (0)
Repeat After Me: Demand Should Drive Supply « Car Issues »

This article, and the attitude of many of the consumers dismissing what they think the "average consumer" wants/understands, seems to assume consumers should just accept whatever GM decides to sell.

That's resulted in another planned layoff of 25,000 workers at GM.

But what about their benefits, like getting a discount on purchasing a car? Don't worry, GM's got that covered.

Whew. That makes it okay, then.

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posted by Nathan on 05:13 PM | Comments (0)

May 24, 2005

Good on ya, GM! « Car Issues »

I'm encouraged by how things are proceeding for the Pontiac Solstice.

So much so that when I'm ready to purchase a roadster (probably in 2-3 years), I may check out the Solstice along with the Honda S2000, and skip the Miata.

I also think this is exactly the right strategy. Sort of.

Basically, I'm not sure if there's much room for an upscale line below Buick...but maybe they are taking Buick higher? And where do Buick and Pontiac fit in, exactly, if Cadillac is trying to take on Lexus, BMW, and Mercedes?
Personally, I consider Cadillac its own niche; I can't really believe that someone that wants the elegance of a Mercedes or Lexus could be swayed by the brashness of a Cadillac. But maybe I'm missing something.

In any case, focusing more tightly on putting out a few top-notch cars for each brand is exactly the direction I've been advocating on this website for months.

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posted by Nathan on 06:21 PM | Comments (0)

May 05, 2005

Suzuki: 16 Consecutive Months of Sales Increases « Car Issues »

Of course, they started pretty low to begin with. Which doesn't mean that this sort of success is automatic, by any means.

I'm also a little miffed that Verona sales have dropped off so far. But I guess since I'm still so happy with my purchase, it doesn't ruin my enjoyment if I'm right and people are missing out, or other people are right and the Verona isn't worth the money. Although, since so few people have even heard of the Verona, I think the odds are in my favor. Especially since all the things the reviewers complained about are exactly the same in the brand-new VW Jetta. I'll do a comparison of them soon, but it looks like Suzuki was ahead of the power curve...they just didn't have the name recognition to pull it off.

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posted by Nathan on 09:41 AM | Comments (0)
» 测振仪 links with: 测振仪

April 25, 2005

New Car X « Car Issues »

I picked up my Suzuki Verona S from the shipping arrival center today. Whew! It's nice to get my car back.

I wondered if I had been building it up in my mind in the 2+ weeks since I last drove it, perhaps so much that the actual car couldn't match up to how good I was mistakenly "remembering" it was.

That turned out to not be the case. My Verona is still just plain a fun car to drive. In comparison to the 2005 Chevy Malibu LS V6, the strengths of my 2004 Suzuki Verona S are:

The driver's seat is far more comfortable.
It may not have as much power as the Malibu when you floor it...but the power curve on the Verona is much more smooth and evenly distributed. No matter what speed I'm going, a slight extra touch of the pedal brings a smooth surge of power to do whatever I want.
The sound system is better.
The steering is more precise and controllable.

The ultimate in luxury in US-style vehicles is to 'float like a cloud, not feeling the road...', right? The ultimate luxury in European-style luxury is to feel every aspect of the road so as to facilitate control at extremely high speeds, like on the autobahn. Well, just like in the debate between economical-but-rough/shrill 4-cyls and powerful-but-noisy/wasteful V-6s (in which Suzuki chose a third option: 4-cyl-sized L6 for smoothness), Suzuki chose a 3rd option for luxury: feeling the road well enough for good control, but isolated from the negative aspects of the road. In other words, bumps and noise are eliminated, but you still feel exactly what the car and the road are doing.

In the Verona, every driver input results in a proportionate car response. That's how the Verona's steering seems to know where I want to go before I do, how it settles down in a track when turning, why I was frustrated with having to force the Malibu to give me its available power...

I've never driven a BMW. To me, the Suzuki Verona truly defines the ultimate driving machine. The marathon trip I took last month rather backs that up. I see no reason to put that much money into a BMW when I can have this nice of a car for this little money.

When I purchase my next car in 5-7 years, I will be sure to try out a BMW. I'm sure it will have more power and more comfort than any Suzuki's being offered. But $20k-worth of extra luxury? I sincerely doubt that is even possible.

One last note about the Malibu: As I was going to return the vehicle, I noted that the black rubber (plastic?) strip that covers the passenger-side roof/body seam weld was coming off. This car has less than 2000 miles on it and cost the rental company right around $20k, or maybe just slightly less. And the quality is so bad its already coming apart just weeks after they bought it.

For shame, GM!

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posted by Nathan on 05:49 PM | Comments (0)
» 红外测温仪 links with: 红外测温仪

April 22, 2005

Good News For Pontiac « Car Issues »

Just think how good the numbers would have been if the G6 had been a better car! As in, either more competitive with Camry/Accord, or such a price value (like the Suzuki Verona) that, combined with brand recognition, the G6 could have challenged for being a best-selling car in its class. Anyway, here's the facts::

FACT: Estimated January through end-April (at current rate of sales), the available version of the G6 will be outselling the same version of its Grand Am predecessor by more than 70 percent. That’s comparing V6 sedan to V6 sedan.
FACT: We are currently selling 75 percent fewer vehicles to rental fleets.

On top of this, it looks like the Solstice will be a hit, too. GM needs volume sales, to be sure. I hope they get it, and I hope they learn to keep pace with consumer expectations more effectively in the future!

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posted by Nathan on 06:53 PM | Comments (5)

April 20, 2005

Getting Around « Car Issues »

It looks like people are starting to catch on to the value of the Suzuki Verona...

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posted by Nathan on 08:44 PM | Comments (0)
Bob Lutz Fires Back; Misses at Least Once « Car Issues »

We're not dead yet! We think we'd like to take a walk!

But some good stuff there. Particularly:

For one thing, I am enthusiastic about the Buick Lacrosse. It may be a bit conservatively styled, as are many excellent Japanese cars, but it's wonderfully executed, has fabulous workmanship, is dead-quiet, and, with the sport suspension and the four-cam V-6, has sensationally good dynamics. Plus, on the road, it has very nice "presence." And it’s already selling better than the old Regal and Century combined. In March, we delivered 8,233 units, a 36% increase over February. That's not bad.

I think that's a pretty decent assessment. As I said, if I were going to spend close to $30k on a car, I'd at least look into the LaCrosse. The article I read rated it lower than the Chrysler 300 or Ford 500, but the way it described the LaCrosse made me think it fit what I wanted more, whereas the 300 and 500 were more set to please a professional test-driver; and I've already determined they don't see things the same way I do, for the most part.

I have a huge problem with something he says when speaking about the GTO:

Since this is a true muscle car, I'll hardly mention that this car has a beautiful interior and a great stereo.

No. He still has problems getting it. The niche market is too small to sustain a model these days. You can't just label a car a "muscle car" and ignore its other aspects. Good, I'm glad GM gave it a beautiful interior and a great stereo, because it needs those things to sell and build loyalty. But Lutz almost makes it sound like an accident. It is on your flagship muscle cars that you must provide the best experience. Because someone will come it to do a test drive without intending to or being able to buy the car, but the impression they get from that test drive will cause them to form judgments about Pontiac and GM.

They can't punt on any issue with any car. They have to put the best car out there for every car. If they can't do that, they need to cancel the model.

The other good news I glean from this is that I don't think GM is going to cancel Pontiac or Buick. And with the Solstice roadster is a step in the right direction, too.

Good on ya, GM! Keep it up. You can cover your high health/union costs if you sell enough cars.

...of course, you still don't make the car I want, and only come close in the price range I may never spend...

But still, things are looking up.

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posted by Nathan on 10:16 AM | Comments (0)

April 19, 2005

Car Review: '05 Chevy Malibu LS V6 « Car Issues »

While waiting for my car to arrive, I rented a Chevy Malibu. Driving it for 3 days, I think I have a good idea of the car and what it can do, as well as its nature. Keep in mind, many aspects of this car will be in relation to my '04 Suzuki Verona S, as well as my '01 Honda CRV and '91 Toyota Corolla.

The Good:
-I didn't like the dash at first, but it grew on me. The steering wheel is cool, allows unobstructed viewing of gauges
-Good sound system, controls easy to use
-Excellent air vent system...although it is prominent enough to dominate the dash
-Good power
-Cavernous trunk
-Cool engine sound. It was obviously tuned to sound good, and reminds me of a big-block V8 gurgle
-Fairly nimble handling
-Fit/Finish quite good. Nothing feels or looks cheap
-Good driving sightlines/visibility
-auto lights and auto sound is nifty

-Despite good handling, the car doesn't settle into a track; I'm constantly having to adjust in the turns
-Despite having plenty of power, it doesn't want to give it to you. Want to go a little fast? Press down a little on the accelerator and nothing happens. Press down harder and get decent acceleration. Floor it and get pushed back in your seat. But why should the car make you work so hard to get that acceleration? It clearly could easily out-do my Verona, but I feel like there is a better connection between acceletor throw and acceleration output in my Verona. Even with less acceleration, I feel in better control in the Verona. More on that later.
-Braking is weak to adequate. I hate feeling like I'm straining to stop the car when braking on a downslope
-The plastics and fabrics are average at best. While not 'cheap', obviously Chevy spared nearly every expense to make the interior
-The car is too bulky and sightlines of bumpers/fenders are too ambiguous for tight spaces; I can't really feel where the bumpers are.

Conclusion/Overall Impression: This is a car. Not really a good car, or maneuverable car, or fast car, or powerful car. On the other hand, not a bad car or weak car or cheap car. It's just a car. It's not really fun to drive, or irritating to drive. It doesn't impress me in looks or turn me off. It's got all you need, but nothing compelling. It's not mediocre, but not exceptional, either.

It would have been a hit five years ago. It would have been a top seller 8-10 years ago. GM's problem is not that it is making bad cars, but that it is still 3-5 years behind the power curve. With better cars by Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Chrysler (gasp! well, yeah: the 300) out right now, there is really no reason to spend $18k on this car. On the other hand, if you like GM or feel some loyalty, there's no reason not to, either. You won't feel cheated or ripped off.

It's just that, I like my Verona because it cost thousands less than similarly equipped cars from other manufacturers. While the Malibu has more power/speed than my '04 Verona S, it really doesn't beat it in any other aspect, and lags behind in many others, despite being a year newer. The Verona S simply looks nicer, has as much cabin room, a slightly better sound system, better brakes, more precise handling, is far smoother and far more quiet, has more even power distribution throughout normal driving speeds, and every time you see it or drive it, you still get a thrill. The Verona is just plain fun to drive. I don't get that from the Malibu. It's a better deal than my CRV, and beats the old Corolla in every way imaginable...but the Malibu isn't competing against 5- and 10-year old cars. GM has neglected car technology for too long in chasing after high truck/SUV profit margins, and it shows in the Malibu.

Bottom Line: The Malibu pretty much just ties the Verona in overall ratings, but will get many more sales because of brand recognition. While someone could try them both out and still prefer the Malibu (since the Malibu has a clear edge in horsepower), it isn't really good for GM that the Malibu couldn't bury a 1-year-older competitor that costs thousands less. When you get into the Malibu price range, there are cars better than the Verona that clearly outperform the Malibu in every aspect.

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posted by Nathan on 02:13 PM | Comments (2)

April 15, 2005

Bottom Line on Detroit Automobile Corporations « Car Issues »

It's not that GM and Ford aren't improving. They are. They put out far better cars now than 10 years ago. It's just that the automobile manufacturing world is amazingly competitive these days. The internet is creating an extremely savvy, sophisticated, and demanding customer who won't get bamboozled into a sub-par car as easily.

Look at all the reaching that BMW has done to maintain their market share. It looks like they miscalculated. Even Toyota, Honda, and Nissan are taking some risks to try and increase sales; and then Hyundai, Kia, and Suzuki are trying to gobble up customers/market share from the opposite end. VW is trying to explode on the market and turn a 4-car line into a best-seller of affordable-level performance/style/luxury ("affordable" being relative to the market demographic, of course).

Detroit had the chance to fix things 10 years ago, when SUVs were getting to be a big deal. They should have anticipated that relatively cheap gas wouldn't be around forever, and that things come full circle, bringing more and more people out of the truck/SUV market. But instead of plowing profits into entry- and family-sedans, they just expanded their SUV lines in a move toward short-term profits. In the end, they all chased after the same market demographic and totally lost the bulk of the car market to the Japanese and the Germans.

To those who might think I'm kicking GM when they're down: how many posts have I made worrying about BMW's mistakes and offering my thoughts on how they could fix it? Zero.

I'm upset, yes, that GM didn't want to make the car I love so much that I'm 90% a Suzuki customer for life.*

Read More "Bottom Line on Detroit Automobile Corporations" »

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posted by Nathan on 01:30 PM | Comments (3)
Detroit's Continuing Problems « Car Issues »

From Via Drudge, the NY Times say Ford and GM stuck in Neutral.


The Big Two automobile giants offer plenty of explanations, from soaring health care costs to rising gas prices and creeping interest rates. But consumers and industry specialists say G.M. and Ford have swerved off course for a more basic reason: not enough people like their cars.

"I still hate to buy a foreign car," said T. J. Penn, a 44-year-old painting and drywall contractor walking through a Toyota lot this week in Ann Arbor, Mich. "But the quality and reliability makes it hard not to."

In other news, I think GM is probably going to end up killing off Pontiac, rather than Buick, if it decides it must kill off a division.


Because as Motor Trend (I think...I read it a dentist's office waiting room) editorial pointed out, Buick is a best-seller in China, whereas Pontiac has no such following anywhere else.

Making things even harder on Pontiac is that GM seems to be positioning Cadillac as the line that will take on BMW. That's really the only niche I think Pontiac ("Driving Excitement!") could go after. Not to mention, GM's entries into the Performance Sedan niche is further complicated by owning Saab and putting the Saab platform under the Malibu*.

The Corvette is going to be the ultimate horsepower production car for GM, and since they apparently have no plans to bring back the Trans Am, well, I don't see much space for Pontiac to grab customers. The general flop of the G6 just makes things even bleaker for Pontiac.**

I also gotta tell you: I think GM is making a mistake in its battle plan. Cadillac might be an excellent RWD performance car, but they seem to be trying to take on BMW and Lexus and Audi and maybe Benz, all at the same time. That's not smart. These cars all have different demographics, with the most overlap probably being between BMW and Audi. One car line can't attract everyone, and the recent Cadillacs are even more polarizing. I think they look like an 8-year-old's vision of a 'cool' car, and I probably wouldn't be caught dead in one. Yeah, despite my pragmatism about how a car performs, I really hate the ostentation of the current Caddies.

Lexus is "refined luxury for the rest of us". I heard it said once by a salesman in Hawaii that "Benz is for rich people, but BMW is for successful people". That seems to fit, too. BMW also aspires to be the "ultimate driving machine", and the car reviewers have agreed they do it quite well, with only Audi coming close. Cadillac doesn't usually get mentioned in the same articles as BMW and Audi's sports sedans (the others usually being Jaguar, Volvo, Lexus, and Saab, and the VW Phaeton for the top-of-the-line---complicating things for GM Saab never comes close to the leading Audi and BMW cars!), nor is it usually compared favorably to Lexus that I've seen, so it seems as if Cadillac is failing in its assigned mission. It seems to be making its own niche, and that's a good thing...but "testosterone-driven ostentation" doesn't seem like a very expansive category. They seem to be going after the type of person who would buy a truck just to brag about its horsepower without ever using it to the limit, and who now wants to buy a car.

That doesn't seem very smart.

Of course, that's just my impression.

Put another way, one that seems a little smarter, or more admirable: rather than analyzing why people buy cars and trying to put out the best car in a few chosen categories, GM seems to be trying to make the best car it can and hoping that demand will follow. But they are pricing it high enough, and cladding it in controversial enough appearance packages, that bunches of people will never even consider it. Not when there are other cars out there already meeting what they already know they want: reliability, comfort, and enough performance for daily commuting in a relatively inexpensive package, found in the Civic, Corolla, Camry, Accord, Altima, Mazda 6, and even Lexus (I'm not including the Forenza and Verona because few people really know about them yet).

My problem with GM continues to be summed up with the car I purchased:
An extremely comfortable/luxurious, sophisticated/grown-up sedan for an extremely inexpensive price. And GM decided it didn't want to make the car, so gave it to Suzuki.

Why should I even want to look at a GM product?

Read More "Detroit's Continuing Problems" »

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posted by Nathan on 10:48 AM | Comments (5)
An Excellent Review of the Verona « Car Issues »



Now along comes the Verona, Suzuki's first attempt at a midsize car, and I was surprised to find a Toyota Camry clone.

Made in South Korea, the Verona resembles Camry in looks and performance and is very close in fit and finish. Outward styling looks like a combination of Honda Accord and Camry, and the tail is nearly a dead-ringer for the Toyota.

Its lines are more slim and attractive than either of its main competitors.

The price starts at $19,499, and even adding traction control, the test car hit just $20,499.

If you want a lower level Verona, there's the S, starting at $16,499 (anti-locks are optional) or the LX for $17,799 (sunroof is optional). You're lucky to get into a good compact or subcompact for either of those prices.

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posted by Nathan on 12:19 AM | Comments (0)

April 14, 2005

What I've Driven/Owned « Car Issues »

I have driven/owned:
a '68 Pontiac Tempest (HS car inherited from older sibs) --drove about 2 years
a '84 Ford Courier (inherited from parents, sister got the Buick) --drove about 2 years
a '84 Escort Station Wagon (bought with insurance money when lady hit the Courier) --about 3 years
a '86 Chrysler Laser turbo (1st wife's car) --about 3 years
a '89 Pontiac Grand Am (boughtt with insurance money after wife totalled the Laser) --3 years, went with 1st wife after divorce
a Datsun station wagon ('81? bought for $500 in Hawaii, after being carless for a year) --about a year
a '80 Volvo 240 (bought for $200 from someone about to donate it) --about a year
a '95 Honda Civic (bought in 98 when my wife was worried about the Volvo breaking down) --3 years
a '01 CRV --more than 4 years, currently going to wife in this divorce
a '91 Corolla (bought in Alabama when I graduated OTS to get us to TX because the CRV was still en route from Hawaii) --about 4 years, traded in for:
the '04 Verona, current, plan to keep 5-7 years
What's your list?

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posted by Nathan on 04:17 PM | Comments (8)
» ResurrectionSong links with: Two Things to Read
New Car IX « Car Issues »

I think I'm getting completely committed to my Verona. I have Suzuki Media - Auto in my bookmark toolbar so I can check daily for reports.

I usually spend as much time looking for articles about Suzuki cars (not SUVs) as I do looking for news about the Kansas City Chiefs.

Anyway, here's a post on the Suzuki Verona forum at Edmunds that matches my own recent research. This guy noted it in Sept 2003, so I wish I'd stumbled across it when I was researching vehicles, as it would have totally erased any worries about the engine on my part.

I drove several sedans yesterday again. By far the Toyota, Nissan, and Mazda V6 are more powerful engines than the I6 in the Verona, BUT to get a similar equipped car you have to pay between $6000 and $11000 MORE. To compare closest priced vehicles to the $20.5K Verona, we have the V6 Sonata $21,459, I4 Altima $26,171, I4 Camry $25,310, I4 Accord $24,800. NONE of the 4 cylinder engines came close to the smooth transfer of power to the wheels and were much slower off the line to the I6 in the Verona. Here is the short list of what I test drove just yesterday: 1. Verona $20.5K , I6 155HP at 5600RPM with 171FtLbs Torque at 4000rpm. 2. Accord EX Leather $24,800 (no sunroof), I4 160HP at 5500rpm with 161 FtLbs torque at 4500RPM. 3. Camry 2.4L Top of the line with the I4, $25,310, 157HP at 5600RPM with 162 FtLbs Torque at 4000RPM. By far the quietist and smoothest car was the Verona. Interior materials and fit and finish were comparable between all three. The extreme smoothness of the power in the Verona made it seem like it was less powerful, but actual acceleration times were better. It simply did not have much engine noise or vibration at all under hard acceleration. Upon initial impression due to the noise of the 4 cylinder in the Accord it seemed like it had more power, but in reality the Verona was much quicker off the line in normal driving. The Verona is priced like a 4 Cylinder comparable car, but has better low end power like a 6 cylinder engine. If the only gripe is the lack of passing power when compared with more expensive V6 engines, no big deal. Try getting the same passing power out of one of the similarily priced I4 engines. I think the car hits the mark on filling in a GAP left by all the other manufactures, a very smooth, quiet, and easy to drive sedan. The closest comparison in quiet ride is something like the Buick LeSabre, with handling close to the Mercury Sable. Just an all around smooth quiet sedan for $20.5K and under.

Yeah. I got mine for $14.7k. Woot!

At this point, I'm just looking for after-market tuning improvements to boost horsepower or fuel economy...or both.

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posted by Nathan on 11:12 AM | Comments (0)

April 13, 2005

New Car VIII « Car Issues »

Okay, with the help of Consumer Reports "New Car Reviews 2005-6" (or titled something like that), I did some more research on my 2004 Suzuki Verona. I guess I want more evidence I'm not an idiot for this car...

I found out a few things.

First, the car review media seems to have a bias against Suzuki, for some reason.

As I discovered, the difference between a 4-cyl or 6-cyl isn't as big as I thought. So my previous statement of incredulity (echoing the reviewers' criticism) that there are 4-cyl engines that put out nearly as much horsepower as my car's inline 6-cyl needs to be retracted. What makes the difference, it seems, is the amount of displacement of the cylinders. So when you compare my 2.5 liter I-6 to other engines in the 2.3-2.5 liter range (regardless of cylinders), you see that most of them put out between 130 and 160 horsepower. That puts my cars 155-hp at the high end. And while a 4-cyl might get 1-2 mpg better than my car's I-6, they are almost always noisier, rougher, and slower to 60 mph and in the quarter-mile. There are 4 exceptions: the Camry's 4-cyl, the Accord's 4-cyl, the Altima's 4-cyl, and the Mazda 6's 4-cyl, all of which have just about the same horsepower, 3-5 mpg better, and about 1 second faster to 60mph. But they all also cost at least $5000 more for similar equipment, so I don't feel that bad.

I also found that few cars have Continuously-Variable Transmissions, so Suzuki not having that engine to offer doesn't seem so strange, now.

And so, lacking a CVT for smoothness, it seems clear that the Verona used a small-displacement Inline 6-cyl engine for smoothness rather than power or fuel economy. And yet, the Suzuki Verona wasn't the worst at acceleration or fuel economy for that level/size car; rather, that dubious honor belongs to Big 3 vehicles, Kia, Mitsubishi...Hyundai actually seems to be fairly close to the top Japanese cars for engine ability. But Hyundai gets accused of using cheaper materials that break/fall apart/disintegrate before the car is paid off, much less reaches 100k miles. One of the few points of praise the Suzuki Verona and Forenza earn is that they at least use good quality materials that should have a long life...since both Hyundai and Suzuki get points for being good workmanship (from most reviewers), it should be the better materials that sets the Suzuki apart.

Why was Suzuki knocked down for having a substandard engine? True, there are few manufacturers putting out 2.5l 6-cyl engines to compare it to, but you'd think a car reviewer would understand that and critique accordingly.

The media bias was confirmed for me today when I read a complimentary review of the 2006 VW Jetta today. Now, it supposedly will offer a bigger engine in the future, but for right now, all you can get is a 2.4l Inline 5-cyl that produces 150-hp. 5 less than my car. And despite being a much smaller car, it does the 1/4-mile at only .5 seconds faster, and gets to 60mph less than 1 second faster, as well. Yet there were no negative statements of "lacking power" in this review; rather, it said it had just enough power to give the driver confidence. Well, that's what my Verona's engine gives me, in a much bigger, much more comfortable car. And despite using electric steering assist to improve fuel economy, the Jetta only gets 2mpg better than my Verona. Again, in a significantly smaller/lighter car.
...and let's not forget that VW vehicles are known for having electrical problems. And it's not even like the brand-new Jetta looks any better than my car, even. Plus, the Jetta they tested, lacking many of the appointments of my car, starts at $21k, according to the article (the 2005 model starts at $18k and goes up to $25k). $7k is a great deal more money to pay for a car that doesn't perform appreciably better and doesn't look any better, either. So why doesn't the Verona get as much notice as the Jetta, then?

The other thing I noticed from all the reviews I've read is that nearly all criticize the Verona's (and the Forenza's, as well) handling as being "mushy" or "imprecise". I really don't see where they're getting that.

Most reviewers also praise the Ford Focus's first test-drive in the quest that ended with a Verona was a didn't really feel much different than my 1991 Toyota Corolla, to tell the truth. But the first thing I noticed when I test-drove a Forenza was the tightness and response of the steering. I felt like it went exactly where I wanted it to.

That same feeling was in my Verona. I only test-drove it as a comparison point, at that stage. To tell the truth, I was happy enough with the Forenza that I would have purchased it, but the 2005 Forenza had pretty much the same starting price as the 2004 brand-new Verona. It just seemed like there was more room to negotiate a better price on the Verona, then (they were desperate to get it off the lot), and even if I couldn't negotiate much further, it seemed like I was getting a much bigger and better car for the price.

Well, the more I drove my Verona, the more I liked it. I previously said that it seemed to know where I wanted to go before I did. Driving over mountain passes, it took the corners great at high speeds and wet conditions. I found that every time I felt like I was at the edge of the tires' traction (where you would normally brake to retain control), I could actually cut the turn tighter, and the car would settle in and corner like it was on rails. That's not mushy or imprecise.

On a whim, I checked out the review of the CRV (our other car). Guess what? Supposedly it had tight/precise steering...but where it did used to feel nice and tight to me (about the same as my Corolla), it now feels mushy and imprecise compared to my Verona.

What gives?

The other inaccuracies in reviews (one reviewer said the cupholder couldn't hold anything but 120z cans...I found it holds a 44oz cup fine, and more securely than any other car I've been in), the overall wonderful impression I had from the very first time I drove it, and that wonderful impression only being strengthened in the month I've driven it since just makes me think Suzuki is getting a raw deal from car reviewers. Why?

I might think that maybe it's just me; maybe my driving habits and style and preference are different than most other people. Except that my friends all seemed suitably impressed when given a chance to ride and/or drive it themselves. Not enough to make it a wishlist car, no...and they might have just been being polite...[shrug].

All I can say is, if you are considering purchasing a new car, or if you just like going on test-drives, I think you'd be a fool not to include a Suzuki Forenza and Verona on your list of cars to try. At least to have a baseline of what an inexpensive, nice-looking car can be.

If anyone else has test-driven a Forenza or Verona, I'd love to hear what you thought, especially the negatives. Obviously, there is a huge disparity between what the reviewers think and what I think. I'd like to know who is crazy, and I'm okay with it if it turns out to be me.

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posted by Nathan on 05:07 PM | Comments (2)

April 05, 2005

New Car VII « Car Issues »

My car performed admirably last weekend. I drove from Bozeman down to Denver one day, then two days later drove the entire way from Denver up to Spokane.

I have never driven such a comfortable car. I felt no fatigue at all in the first 10.5 hour trip, even though I stopped only for gas and bathroom stops. I only felt a minor stiffness that I shook of in 2-3 minutes of stretching. On the way back, I felt no fatigue, stiffness, or pain at all in the first 15 hours. My legs did start hurting somewhat in the last hour; I guess sitting in the car seat for those 15 hours did finally affect circulation enough that my knee hurt for about 30 minutes after I got home.

But I still cannot believe it. I have never driven in a car that didn't cause fatigue/pain within 6-7 hours until now!

It got 28 mpg the entire trip, even with strong headwinds for a few hours, and going over several mountain passes. The cruise control was rock steady, keeping me at 80 mph the whole trip. Only going over the Continental Divide was the road steep enough that I felt it better to turn off the cruise control and adjust my speed according to the slope...but I still kept it at at least 70 mph. With every other car I've driven, if I have to slow down, I accelerate back up to my desired speed before hitting "resume", to avoid the jerkiness of overacceleration and speed overshoot. But in my Verona, it smoothly and quickly made up 10-mph deficits and stopped precisely and smoothly at the old speed.

I know, I keep using "smooth" as an adjective, but that's the best word for it.

I got a couple glances at my car, too. A guy at a convenience store obviously glanced down at the badge to see what car it was, and even a construction flagman turned to look at my car after I passed it. Yeah, that's a little bit of an assumption on my part as to why, but all I can tell you is the expression and body language seemed to be, "Huh. Nice car...what brand?"

This car was made to cruise, and not just look good but feel good doing it. If you commonly travel long distances in your vehicle, I'd highly recommend a Suzuki Verona.

It's still too early to say definitively there are no quality issues, but after one month and 4k miles, there's still not a single squeak or rattle.

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posted by Nathan on 06:24 AM | Comments (0)

March 26, 2005

GM Decides to Become a Niche Company « Car Issues » « Social Issues »

But he pulled the plug on the North America models after determining the vehicles could not be engineered and assembled to sell at prices competitive with the popular Chrysler 300C, Ford Mustang and other models, without sacrificing quality and content.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not happy about this. I would prefer to purchase a good car at a good price from an American car maker.

...but to be frank, I can't. Not for what I want, not with the money I need to be careful with in order to continue to take care of my family.

After musing over this situation for the last several months, including some near-arguments with my-friend-with-connections-to-the-US-automotive-industry, Jo, here's where I think the Big3 failed:
They never realized when the terms of the "internal dialogue" war changed.

Remember the term "planned obsolescence"? From what I understand, it was never a proven thing in the car industry, but the idea was that car-makers would use materials good enough to last until the car was paid off (80k to 100k miles), but not beyond that. Whether or not that was an urban legend, it does seem that American cars are falling apart by the time they reach 100k miles, that often fuels a desire for a new car.

Now, that was fine when it was only American cars on the market. But when there are more choices, and someone can buy a car for the same price that won't be falling apart at 80k miles...don't you think more people would buy it? I often see Audis and VWs and Hondas and Toyotas that look brand new even at 3-4 years old. Can you say that about any domestic product?

Part of that is using good materials and top-notch paint jobs (that still look new-shiny after 3 years). Part of it is choosing styles/designs that might look somewhat "blah" at first, but the very aspect that makes them not stand out when new makes it harder to tell when the current "style" has passed by.

Anyway, back to the internal dialogue issue:

When I bought my C-RV, I really enjoyed the test drive. I liked the visibility, the seat felt comfortable, and it had plenty of power and room. But I was in Hawaii...what is adequate for that location doesn't work in Spokane, where you have to cross a mountain range to get anywher else, just about.

While C-RVs are quite popular, retaining excellent resale value, I wouldn't buy another one. Why not? Because my internal dialogue is something like, "Sheesh. For the price I paid for it, I could have bought a nicely-equipped Accord. Instead, I paid 'Accord' prices for 'Civic' amenities..." And, "Wow, that road noise is bad. I can't hear the subtleties of that song without turning it up loud enough to inhibit conversation! It would be even worse if I tried to listen to classical music, where the fortes are too loud if you set it for the pianos, or if you set it for the proper level on the fortes, the pianos are inaudible!" Or, "Man! That engine sounds like it is going to explode going up to the pass!"

But with my new Suzuki Verona S, the internal dialogue includes things like, "Mm-mm! I still like how the car looks. The grill/hood look tough, the line of the sill looks rakish. I think it compares pretty well to a Toyota Camry!", and, "Hear that door close? Even if you close it lightly, you still get that 'Japanese thunk' of a solid, tight doorframe!", or, "Boy! It sure took that corner nice! I feel glued to the road!", or, "This is a really nice interior. Comfortable. I can hear the music clearly on just "3", and can still talk to the kids!" And under all this love is the thought, "I would have paid $4-6k more for an Accord or Camry! Sure, it would have been even nicer, with better gas mileage...but not $5k nicer! And a US car wouldn't be this nice for anything less than $10k more!"

Now, Suzuki could still lose me. I'm irritated with the low fuel economy. Sure, it's smooth...but they could have had the same smoothness if they'd used a Continuously-Variable Transmission, which would have given it even better mileage than the average sedan. But Toyota and Honda are on the forefront of car technology for a reason. Suzuki is about 5 years behind on engine technology, I think. 20/28 would have been industry standard then. But, over the life of my ownership of the car, I might spend an extra $1000 on gas over an Accord, so it still seems worthy to me. However, the next time I buy a car, I'll probably be able to purchase an Accord or Camry easily, if not a BMW or Audi, so Suzuki must get a better engine. And if the car starts having lots of little problems with it while I still owe money, I'm not going to be so willing to give them another third/half-year's salary.

That's where the Big3 lose it. They don't pay attention to the minor details of designing the cabin experience to make someone sigh with pleasure every time they sit down. They don't always make the doors close solidly and firmly. They don't make sure the car holds together for a good long time. Sure, making a car last might mean someone waits another year to buy a car...but the way they do things now, the person probably buys a foreign car when their Big3 car starts to have too many annoyance problems, so what has the Big3 gained? Nothing.

I have a friend who plopped down a great deal of cash for a very nice Big3 performance car. It had a dozen minor things wrong with it before it reached 40,000 miles. He traded it in for another Big3 car, thinking that lightning couldn't strike twice...but when he ran into financial difficulties and tried to sell it back to a dealership, they pointed out exactly how shoddy the workmanship was. Not that he didn't already know it from driving it himself, but that highlights the problems of Big3, UAW-made cars: lack of quality, lack of concern over shoddy work and cheap parts.

You know, I used to sneer at the appearance of the early-90s Corolla and Accord. I did always like the early-90s Nissan Stanza, even though it was nearly the same...some minor difference of angles made me like its appearance, but what made me fall in love with it was driving one as a rental when our car was totalled. I never expected you could have the combination of power, quietness, and fuel economy. When it came time to buy to replace the totalled vehicle, we got a nearly-new Grand Am, and we were fairly pleased with it: good power and decent fuel economy. But its coolant system gave us no end of trouble, and so the Grand Am wasn't even on the list when I went looking for used cars a few years later...

We ended up buying a '95 Honda. I thought it was perhaps too small, and really didn't think much of its was just reliable transportation.

But after driving it for 3 years, I got to the point where I would think, "Huh. Nice looking car..." as I walked toward it in the parking lot. And after driving my '91 Toyota Corolla for a few years, I started feeling the same way about it. So now I think, "Hm, nice car" when I see one in good condition drive by. The early-90s Corolla/Camry are the epitome of bland...but they still look decent, and have plenty of room for normal-sized drivers and passengers. From 110k to 146k miles, it gave me zero mechanical difficulties. It had some cosmetic problems, like a sagging headliner and other functional irritations, like the outdoor handles breaking...but I fixed every one of them for less than $80 total from "Pick'N'Pull" lots. And even being 13 years old with nearly 150k miles, I replaced it for appearance reasons, not because it was used up. It probably has another 100k miles left on it, at least. I actually considered putting $2-3k into its appearance, instead. I finally decided it wasn't worth the risk, because I didn't know its history, and couldn't vouch for it having decent treatment throughout its life, only my portion of it.

...but I can't imagine even considering that for an American car, other than a top-of-the-line Caddy or Lincoln, or perhaps a classic car of some stripe. THe internal dialogue that goes along with a US car is something like, "What's that rattle? Should I bring it in to have it looked at? Shoot, they'll charge me $100 just to look at it and tell me it's nothing. But if I don't, the car will break down and I'll have to take the bus to work for a month. And I'll probably have to take the car in again a month later for the same thing. Why did that light come on? Do I smell burning oil...?"
I can't tell you how many Big3 cars I've been in where the owner tells me the "Check Engine" light comes on for no reason, and the dealer says to not worry about it, that it would cost more to fix than is worth it. I can't remember the last time I saw that on an import car, though.

And so all the Big3 have anymore is nostalgia. They only get hit cars when they strike some chord of memories of the past in styling...never, it seems, in quality or performance*. Apparently, they punted on those issues long ago.

A rebuttal, of sorts, from Bob Lutz

Read More "GM Decides to Become a Niche Company" »

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posted by Nathan on 05:53 PM | Comments (3)

March 24, 2005

...and, GM Sucks!

Well, that's not really his point. But another commenter did express my feelings in saying the Chevy Malibu is pretty atrocious-looking.

It's weird, it was a decent-looking car in 2002-3, but wimpy under the skin. So they use the Saab underpinnings, give it more performance....and proceed to give it one of the cheesiest looks I've seen in the past decade.

Don't pull the tube on Terry, pull it on GM!

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posted by Nathan on 09:22 AM | Comments (5)

March 18, 2005

New Car VI « Car Issues »

Well, it's been three weeks, and I still love my car.

I've really grown to love the feel of the leather-wrapped steering wheel, by the way...

Our other car is a 2001 Honda CRV. It's a decent car. People like it enough that its resale value has stayed quite high; its still worth more than $12,000!

And yet, I can't help but think it comes off far worse in comparison to my Suzuki Verona S.

Obviously, the CRV is a mini-SUV, a Sport Cute, and so it isn't focused in on comfort or power. Being a Honda, it has a tiny engine that handles high RPMs well, but noisily. Living in eastern Washington State, you have to cross mountain passes to go nearly anywhere, and it nearly screams acceleration uphill. Road and wind noise aren't too bad, they impressed me when I test-drove it and it is one of the reasons we purchased it.

But nothing about the driving experience in the CRV can compare to the Verona. Well, of course! The Verona is supposed to be a nice sedan. Acceleration is smooth and quiet. I was hurrying down a backroad yesterday to get my son to a dental appointment, and we accelerated to 80 mph while going up a fairly steep grade, and yet the music was still clearly audible at '6', which is soft enough to not affect conversation.

And the smoothness and precision of the steering is wonderful. When I have to drive the CRV, I feel like I"m constantly swaying in trying to keep it in a straight line, after the intuition-level response of the Verona.

There are two things that bug me about the Verona, however. It doesn't seem like they put much thought into the sounds system. They included a cassette player (for the older crowd?)...WTF, over? The steering-wheel mounted controls are too far forward, so can be pressed accidentally, and aren't the controls I would want there. A single CD disk...weird choices for the EQ and sound adjustment and track management buttons...none of it intuitive. I'd yank out the whole thing and put in my own except for a few worries: If it caused a problem with the electrical system, my warranty probably wouldn't cover it; it would probably affect the appearance of the car; and I'm not sure how it would/could/should work with the existing steering wheel controls.

The other thing that bugs me a little bit is the engine.

6 cylinder, 2.5 liters....and 155 horsepower is all they can get out of it? And just 20/28 for gas mileage? The Camry and Accord and Corolla are all similarly sized and get that sort of performance out of a 4 cylinder! The Altima is similarly sized, but their 2.5 liter 6 cylinder gets more than 200 horses, I think--at least close to 200--and still gets better gas mileage! But the money I saved buing it will buy lots of gas...I think I could drive it for 7 years and the gas mileage difference still would cost me a total of less than $1000...
And I do love the smoothness, which seems to be what the engineers were designing for, to the expense of power and economy. And someone said the economy improves as the fuzzy logic shift control gets used to you. I don't know...I've filled it up 3 times, and the last time I did get 21.5 miles to the gallon, rather than the 20 it says I should get and I did get the first two times I filled up. So if it continues to improve, I might end up with 24 mpg? 25? Or maybe I'll stay at 20-22. I can live with that, but it is something Suzuki will probably have to improve for me to stay with them the next time I buy.

Show Comments »

posted by Nathan on 06:27 AM | Comments (2)

February 24, 2005

New Car V « Car Issues »

I'm just going to rename this blog: "My New Car Blog".

One of the things I think that the test-drive writers miss when they give reviews of cars is perspective.

I mean, sure, they drive alot of cars, so they get a good idea of what kind of rattle gets annoying after a while, how much power you need to merge, which seats are just plain the least comfortable. And they can pass that on to the consumer to purchase the best car.*

But here's the thing. I say that my car is excellent compared to a Sentra, Corolla, Civic, Focus, Cavalier, Neon, Spectra, Excel, etc... And I may insist that I think it is the equal to the Camry, Accord, Altima, Sebring, etc (lacking some things I don't care much about but for a significantly lower price)... But I'm not actually comparing this new car to those, am I? I'm comparing it to the car I drove to work over the last four years: a 1991 Toyota Corolla. So if my Verona lacks an inch of legroom the Camry has, I'm only going to notice that there's more space in the back seat of my new car than my old car, even with the driver's seat pushed all the way back. I'm only going to notice that it has more power, more torque, smoother shifting, and quieter operation and drive than my 2001 Corolla.

I say that Honda priced themselves out of my loyalty. That's sort of true. I did get onto their lot to see what was offered for what price on their Civic Value Priced car. But I saw that they were adding things like a trunk liner, ugly rubber floor mats, splashguards, etc, that I didn't want to pay for, and lacking a few things I would prefer, like cruise control, or maybe manual transmission for better mileage/acceleration. When I went to look at any of their other models, the prices jumped to above $17,000 way too quickly.

When I went to look at Kia (the Optima, specifically), it was to see what kind of car I could get that was supposed to compete with the Accord and Camry for around $10,000. But again, when you started getting a few options that are nearly non-negotiable, like a V-6 for decent power for that size car, CD player, power locks, etc, you were over $17,000. If you wanted the leather, it was over $21,000... ...for a car reputed to just about disintegrate before your very eyes the day after the bumper-to-bumper warranty expires. But I guess they got me on the lot to at least look.

I went to look at cars this time for the Ford Focus. I'd heard about its "spacious" interior and "deft, European handling". Well, I felt jammed up against the salesman (also over 6'0" and wide-shouldered), and I felt every bump in the road and heard the road noise. The salesman suggested we try a Suzuki, and I very nearly blew him off based on the derision I've held toward the Grand Vitara, XL-7 and Samauri (which at least one reviewer said was totally unfair...). But I went to check and was stunned by how comfortable the ride was, how much power it had...and, of course, how much I got for the listed price. Keep in mind, I was comparing to the car I drive daily. So I just had to be impressed enough to get into research. What I learned in research led me to go into negotiations. And the negotiations went well enough that I got a car I love for the price. Would I love a BMW 5-series more? Yes. But I'm not willing to pay that price.

I got my car for $14,700 flat out. Let's take a look at all the other sedans I could get for under $15,000. Be sure and notice how many of them start just barely under the magic $15,000 mark, and consider how little you probably get on that baseline car, and how easy it is to go over just with floor mats, base sound system and air condititioning.

Suzuki hit on the lure to get me in and interested. It will be interesting to see if any other companies figure it out...or if I'm unique enough in my cynicism and frugality to make it worth it for any company to try...

Read More "New Car V" »

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posted by Nathan on 11:33 AM | Comments (0)
New Car IV « Car Issues »

Okay, I found the trip odometer. In fact, it has Trip A and Trip B. The buttons for it are hidden by my hand in my normal driving position. I didn't get an introduction to the vehicle because it was late at night and we were both tired. I told the salesman I'd call him if I had any problems and would stop by on Saturday for the complete introduction.

I actually only looked at this car once in daylight, and was only driving it at that time for a comparison. I was somewhat focused in the Forenza or maybe the Reno, to tell the truth. But throughout the process, I wanted more and more to get a more "grown-up" car, one I could take my commander home from the airport with without embarassment. And I guess as the process went on, they were getting more excited about getting a 2004 off their lot...!

I was reading the reviews of the car at Edmunds, um, after I bought the car. I know I mentioned that before, there is another point I want to make from that. One of the commenters said that after the car adjusted to his driving, he had plenty of power and got gas mileage far above the posted ratings. I mentally shrugged, considered the guy a little out of touch with reality, and moved on.

It turns out he may not have been so crazy.

When looking at the car and all the literature, I had been paying attention to the horsepower, gas mileage, fit/finish, price, and amenities (can't call 'em 'options' since they are all standard). One thing I missed in the literature was that the car has something called "smart" transmission. Here's a quote from a press-release puff piece:

The front-wheel-drive Verona comes standard with a "smart" computer-controlled four-speed automatic transmission. A feature called adaptive shift control allows the transmission's computer to "learn" the Verona owner's driving behavior and then adapt shifting patterns to optimize the car's performance.

Does any other car do this? I can see where this would be a definite cool thing, and could explain why the I-6 seems underpowered compared to its competitors: the test-drive editor hadn't driven it long enough! (perhaps)

Now, if this is already the industry standard, then disregard. But I haven't seen any other car company claim this feature, much less make a highlight out of it...

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posted by Nathan on 10:48 AM | Comments (3)
New Car III « Car Issues »

This is day three of my new car ownership.

I love it even more.

I had developed a pretty strong like of Honda products. I had purchased a used 1995 Civic back in 1998, and it did a great job for me. We purchased a brand-new Civic in 2000, and loved it. A year later, we felt we needed something bigger, and so traded both Civics for a brand-new 2001 C-RV. I have come to know what to expect from them, and appreciate their quality, workmanship, engineering, and price.

But they have now pretty much priced themselves out of my loyalty range.

And I even had some buyer's remorse on the C-RV by day three, to tell the truth.

But this Suzuki...Wow. I'm beginning to feel like they should have used the "Superman" S for their symbol.

The speed-sensitive steering works like a charm. I feel almost like it knows where I want it to go before I tell it. I've never had to use more than a light touch. The turning radius is tight, too.

Whisper quiet in operation. Plenty of power for my tastes. I still find it absolutely beautiful to look at. The engine as smooth as silk in acceleration. The fit and finish is excellent, I can't find a flaw in it anywhere.

One minor annoyance: I wish it had a "Trip Odometer" in addition to the regular one. It seems like they could have added a button and programmed the computer for a handful of bucks, and it would be worth $100 to me over the life of the car.

Still, though, this is a great car, and if it holds together well, I will probably buy a Suzuki for my next car. Of course, that should be in about seven years, since I expect to keep this car for some time.

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posted by Nathan on 07:32 AM | Comments (7)

February 23, 2005

New Car II « Car Issues »

So last night I purchased a brand-new 2004 Suzuki Verona S. I paid $14,700 and got $500 for my 1991 Toyota Corolla in Fair condition with $146,000 miles...

Here's the thing: I don't think there is a car out there that is as good as the Verona for that price. (The same goes for the Forenza, but I didn't buy one of those...)

If you have a chance and would like to purchase a new car, I'd go to your local Suzuki dealership and see if they have any 2004s in stock. The engine, materials, style, and everything is identical to the 2005...the only thing they add for 2005 is the side-impact air bags. So you can get a brand new car that they are desperate to get rid of, that should have been off the lot last October.

The Verona compares well with mid-range Accords and Camrys in looks, fit and finish, materials, and size. But a similarly-equipped Civic or Corolla or Ford Focus or Dodge Neon (all a step below) will cost you a few thousand more than a brand new 2004 Verona.

I'm sure you could get a Forenza (which compares favorably in all but power and gas mileage to all entry-level vehicles in everything but gas mileage) for an even cheaper price.

I think even the 2005 models are worth checking out, and probably still the best deal going. There are cheaper cars out there, yes. You can get a Kia Rio or Spectra or a Hyundai Accent. There are cars out there with better gas mileage and more power, like a Ford Focus or Honda Civic.

But the Suzuki represents a far better value than any other vehicle, in my opinion. The cheaper cars don't have Suzuki's quality. The more powerful cars don't have Suzuki's inexpensive price. The cars with better reputation don't have all the added extras without going into the upper echelon prices. You can walk out of the dealership with a brand new 2005 Suzuki Forenza S for the neighborhood of $15,000 (maybe less). A similarly-loaded Honda Civic would cost you at least $3000 more, and you'd also overpay for bunches of gee-gaws you don't really want, like mudflaps and a trunk tray.

In some ways, having all the extras be standard is nice: it simplifies things, and you get all the stuff you normally want even on a baseline vehicle like the S. In some ways, I admit it is a problem, in that you can't mix and match things. There's no way you can just get the sunroof on an S without simply upgrading to the LX level, with the extra things (like alloy wheels) that you may not want.

I keep comparing it to the Accord and Camry, but when it comes to options, it even beats out the "cheap" cars like the Kia Optima. Because when you go to look at the $10,000 Optima, and you think of the options that you really want, like a 6-cylinder engine, cruise control, CD player, floormats, etc... you very quickly get into the $18,000 range.

And for what it's worth, rates the Forenza S and Verona S (but not the LX and EX models, strangely) as being Top 10 for both low depreciation and low maintenance costs. For a car that's only 2 years old (they factored that in), it's pretty impressive.

One thing you'll note at Edmund's reviews of the Verona S, is that while the professionals rate the car only a 6.0 out of 10, the actual owners rate it an overall 9.1 out of 10. I'm going to wait a few months before I put my rating in, but I think I'll probably be about the same. I think the reason for it is, the professional writers just judge a car on its merits alone. They don't have to drive a Kia or Hyundai long enough to see it disintegrate before your eyes (within about 2 years lots of the stuff is broken or shabby looking), they don't own an American car long enough to hear its rattles and squeaks. And they certainly don't need to worry that much about price.

And price matters. I'd be depressed if I paid $30,000 for this car, sure. I'd have a heart attack if I'd been able to get this quality for less than $5000. I don't care how good a Civic is, if it costs my $19,000, I'm going to be a little unhappy, wondering how much I paid just for the reputation. Every time I get in this car, I'm going to think about how comfortable it drives and how nice it looks and how I would have gotten a noisy, boxy, cramped car from any other car company for the price I paid, and I'm going to feel quite happy and proud. The professional writers don't really get to have the experience to add to their writing.

Oh, and I found a picture of the same car, same color for your viewing pleasure.

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posted by Nathan on 06:09 AM | Comments (1)

February 22, 2005

New Car « Car Issues »

By this weekend, I will probably purchase either a new 2004 Verona S or a 2005 Forenza LX. My goal is to pay no more than $13,500.

Thoughts? Advice? Things I should know, but don't?

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posted by Nathan on 08:19 AM | Comments (20)