Taking downtime for a professional transition.

There hasn’t been much updating here at MSS, so I decided to drop in and say what’s up.

At the moment I’m in a transitional period– yup, one of “those” things. Deciding that the blog and efforts to get into automotive media can take a back seat to actually, I dunno, having a career.  As much as I wanted to advance and clean up this site, separating the CarsDirect content from my own more unique stuff, I just can’t get a system worked out to make a page to transfer the CD articles.


Having a new direction in life means my shift is just going a little more practical.  Not long ago I went over what it’s like trying to bust into the writing market– it’s not pleasant, and I’m fortunate to have gotten this far.  But I don’t want to have to fight for small gigs that, at times, don’t even pay enough to pay a tank of gas (and that’s for 11.9 gallons of Toyota Echo– not much past $30).  Railroading is going to be my aim, so I’ll be wearing a hardhat and orange vest while dangling off the back of an inter-modal railcar (good thing I’m one of those people who can pull off orange).  That’s a job that isn’t some soft luxury for peoples’ entertainment or information, but an economic backbone of steel, wood, and concrete.  There would be a feeling of genuine usefulness and more meaning than sitting behind a desk, pretty much faceless and unknown except for a few loyal readers/watchers.  Yo, Jalopnik!  I don’t know a single one of your names!  (Mike Spinelli doesn’t count, I know him from /Drive)

Fear not (if you had the heart to be concerned), I still love cars and will still write here and on forums (likely Motor Trend; easy layout and I know the people better).  Writing is just a back-burner thing for fun– leave it to writers that are lucky enough to be more timely and get more money and satisfaction.  I’m just not motivated to blog what with having to move, swap out for a better bank, get the paper work for the school taken care of, etc.  It’s time to move on in life.  That, and as much car stuff has been going on as of late (new Mustangs, Camaros, the demise of Paul Walker,  and such), I’ve been more distracted by my own toy– I have a 4-2-1 header off Craigslist for the Echo, and it only cost me $30, if that’s any indication of my distraction. But hey, it’s shiny and something I have actually been wanting for years.

The header and light weight pulley are two of the better bolt-on pieces for making the Echo less slow (I won’t say “quick” right now).  The bug has bitten me.

Hopefully once donning Village People worthy garb as a rail-yard worker (eventually engineer or conductor), I can earn enough to settle down, get the fun/cheap bits on the Echo and a beater Miata on the side, maybe buy other quirky/cheap cars and try to portray my fun with them as I have with the Echo all these years.  A ’94 Escort hatchback is a great little machine to drive, for example.  I drove a ‘Scort worth under $900– the headliner shredded with dog paws, the drivers seat wiggling like one of those spring-mounted animals at a play-park, and a dancing speedometer that like watching a sped-up Nurburgring take.  Absolute ball.

If you haven’t already subscribed or liked Manually Shifted Soul on Facebook (or something more active such as Pheobe the Echo) and want updates for when I do feel like there’s something worth writing, subscribe/like now so you can get the updates.

CarsDirect review: 2014 Scion iQ

Like with the CarsDirect Ford Focus review I posted before, the Scion iQ review was written to give an overview of the car and its changes over the years, different model variations (of which there technically are none), and cars which one might also look at.

Here’s the original text I sent in.

Scion’s diminutive iQ model reaches it’s third production year for 2014, with little changes.  There are less colors available for 2014 than the 2013 model, and a few minor options and accessories missing as well (so long, cargo tote— car collectors write that down).  Also noted for collectors, all Scions celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Toyota branch with a special “Silver Ignition” paint, and an adornment of lighting fixtures inside and outside of the vehicles.

Inside the iQ, you find that the four seats are more like three and a shelf.  Exterior size being a great way to fool a passer-by, a six-foot passenger with a 32-inch inseam (important, as not all 6-footers are alike) can sit in the one useable back seat with an equally proportioned six-footer directly in front of them.  This is acceptable at least around town.  This party trick is due in part to the engine being mounted farther forward of the front wheels than usual, thus putting the front passenger slightly ahead of the driver.  Another way Toyota’s youth division accomplished this feat was removing the conventional glove-box in the dash, in favor of a hidden slide-out drawer under the front passenger seat.

With more clever engineering, the Scion kills two map-lights with one swiveling LED lamp, letting whoever needs the illumination have it.  The iQ also has a surprisingly supple leather-wrapped steering wheel; welcome in this class and $16,000 price point.

The iQ is a single-trim vehicle, but can be optioned out with two sets of wheel covers for the standard 16” steel wheels, or for about $700 one can adorn their car with swanky 16” aluminum wheels, though the 175mm wide tires remain the same.  Foglights can also be equipped, and for those wanting a little more fun with their iQ there’s even Toyota Racing Development (TRD) sway bars and springs that lower and stiffen the car.

Like before, the iQ commences down the road via a 1.3L inline-four good for 94 surprisingly growly horses, and 89 foot-pounds of torque.  Making the best of that power is a CVT transmission.  While no rocket ship, the iQ does get along well enough in town, and the fuel economy ratings are nearly matching each other for city/highway with 36/37 EPA ratings.

Chevy Spark
The only city-car in America sold with rear doors, the Spark adds convenience competitors don’t.  Spark gives a choice of manual or automatic transmission while most hold to just automated.  Weaknesses include not being the most powerful in the class, and economy is good but with wider gap for consumption ratings compared to some smaller competitors.

The Alternatives

Fiat 500
The 500 is the powerhouse of the city cars, with a 101-horsepower engine.  It also stands out as the cute one out of more aggressively angled small cars with more pumped up fenders.  Regardless of the power, the 500 still yields good fuel economy and choices between a manual or automatic transmission.

Toyota Yaris
A big brother of the Scion iQ, the Yaris has similar equipment in a larger package.  It lacks the tight turning circle or better city mpg, but the highway mpg matches the iQ, and is more at home on the open road for those who find themselves out of town more often.

smart fortwo
The fortwo is the grandparent for this class.  The similar Scion iQ seats more people, and regardless of more power and size, the iQ still bests the Smart for turning circle and economy—the Smart also requires premium fuel.  Fortwo’s tight exterior size still wins for parking, but it’s not just the all-lowercase name that makes the smart seem not-so.

Cars and film: Some of my favorite disappointments

(Image from “How it should have ended: Fast 6″)

Hollywood loves to play with cars.  Blow ‘em up, slide them, crash them, whatever.  It’s entertaining to people.

What gets to me is when they’re so wrong or inaccurate in things, as though there aren’t enough of us to consult to make it… well, better. When Hollywood gets stuff wrong, it puts us car-guys going into fits for yeeeeaaars (the The Fast and the Furious of 2001 was enough for us, let alone another five after it– excuse the CanHazCheezbugerz writing of Wiki).

First, the reason I’m even posting this, is the Need for Speed movie, based off the once  popular game series.  Heck, I played Need for Speed 2 all the way until Porsche Unleashed and Hot Pursuit 2 (the latter on PC).  After that, I gave up for the likes of Playstation’s Gran Turismo and xBox 360′s Forza.  But just because these games sell well, doesn’t mean they should be turned into movies.

^It’s movies like this that create atheists, because a higher power wouldn’t allow such things to occur.  It’s right there with hurricanes and genocide.  When a “yo mama” joke is inserted into the trailer, you’re in some very serious shit…  I laughed so hard my soul is broken.

These are just a few of the films or scenes that I particularly want to share.

Back in 1998, there was a similarly bad-acted B-movie (redundant?) called RPM, starring David Arquette (see “redundant”).  In fact, the star characters between RPM and Need for Speed uncannily similar in look, which considering the 15 year gap is a bad sign, especially when the Y2K-encroached film already screamed more 1993 than New Millennium.

Just for a taste of what Bollywood gives us for entertainment, and I’m hoping is more camp than serious.

Here’s a fun scene from a movie I didn’t even finish.  The movie Driven from the late 1990′s or early 2000′s– I’m not bothered looking of which– was about formula driving… or indy cars… something like that.  Doesn’t matter, it was bad.

Things to note, here:
-There’s no way you would be able to hear someone at those speeds just from the wind rush, let alone a super-loud, high revving engine in a tunnel.
-This should be their faces:

-Cars like that generally don’t just “start.”  The pit crew more or less cranks them, and even then that’s after pumping hot oil and coolants through the not-running engine in order to prepare it.  They are very tight tolerances, and without optimizing the lubrication and temperatures, that engine will be pissed.
-Apparently, every hum-drum front-drive commuter and luxury barge in Chicago is prone so professional-grade oversteer when the steering wheel is yanked.  Need to see understeer and oversteer?
<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/59415579″>Toyota GT86 @ TopGear</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/benistus”>Benistus</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>
-After they get out of their cars, note how one of them just throws that steering-wheel out of the car.  I guarantee that steering wheel is worth somewhere around $10,000-20,000 because of the materials, engineering, and technology put through it.

The best scene was probably early in.


That got me and fellow car friends excited– seeing a black Hemi-powered Chrysler hauling after a Mustang GT (the new-at-the-time come-back for the 5.0L badge) had me imagining an automotive icon reminiscent of Bullitt.*

Then I rented it… oh deary me.

Here it starts off in a silver Impala SS… boring looking, but quick enough in a straight line, but no getaway car.  Gosling does anything but portray a professional driver, and instead sits more like a cruiser or someone who watches The Fast and the Furious as an example of how driving is done… which it isn’t.  Show me any real professional racer that drives with one hand at 12 o’clock (or 1 o’clock with a left hand, or 10 o’clock with right hand– whatever extreme).  That’s not car control folks, even if he eventually choked up to a slightly better grip once the fuzz caught on.  What’s more: a silver Impala in L.A.– there’s nothing odd about that.  Rental fleets LOVED these cars.  Why did he have to confirm “yup, I’m the one you’re looking for!”  Pull into a McDonalds drive-thru or step into a Holiday Inn like any tourist would and remove suspicion.  To make matters worse, they were going WOT in this torque-steer monster Impala in wet city streets with little lost in speed, more gears than the car had, and what sounded like manual shifting.  That’s only the first scene.

What Drive actually was, minus some stabbing and Christina Hendrix’s head turning to Jello, was this:

Why did they bother?

*To be fair, Bullitt is a very dry, quiet movie.  Steve McQueen was an actor who used facial expressions rather than dialog… stares.  Yes, Bullitt been revered as one of the best car movies ever, but that seven minute chase is just a small bit of the film.  It’s confusing initially, and really takes some attention and appreciation to see it outside just the chase.  I highly suggested watching all of Bullitt without commentary, and then again with commentary, as it brings out a lot more of the film and what was going on at the time as it explains the stares.

The difference between the stares of Bullitt and Drive is McQueen was a master of the art, and aimed for realism and subtle points of social structure of the 1960′s.  Ryan Gosling, on the other hand, was thrown in with a different director and intention, making Drive more blank and awkward rather than a conveyance of emotion.  Culminate that with a horribly 1980′s jacket for that touch of not-quite Hipster, and you lose me.

If there’s a car movie you love to hate, feel free to comment and share.  There are plenty out there!

Poll: Should we bring “boxed fenders” to dull side profiles?

Do you ever look at the way cars of recent years do the side styling of their cars?  Big, round front fenders with a line that runs off to the back, but nothing more than a slight rounding over the rear wheels?  Maybe you’ll see it now, if you hadn’t already.

Often times with cars of the 1980’s, ‘90’s, and even the 2000’s got sported up, part of the treatment was box fenders—it helped allow for wider wheels and tires.  A good example of a “plain” model against the fast would be the commonly revered BMW 3-Series E30 coupe which, in M3 guise, featured those sharp creases in the metal to help beef it up.

More modern sport-compacts to do this last were the Mitsubishi Lancers, which the Lancer Evolution vastly improved the aggressive looks of.

There’s no need to limit the boxed fenders to the performance models, either—especially for the rear of the vehicles.  Subaru had boxed fenders on all the 2001-2007 Impreza models.

While perhaps a biased statement as an owner, I have a whole new appreciation for the Toyota Echo and the crease over the rear fender.  It’s actually quite a small protrusion, as you can’t even make it out in the photo below.
However, when the light hits that slight jut in just the right way, it creates a much welcome break in what would be an even more awkward panel.

Look at all the current entries in the subcompact and compact classes of automobile, and you’ll find them absent as these examples show:

Even performance brands like BMW’s 1M Coupe have long gone without boxed flares.

Wouldn’t those look better with a strake over the rear arches than a minimal bubble?  Thank goodness the Lancer Evolution still does it.  Apparently so does the Honda Fit (partially) and (not pictured) Audi RS5.

All photos from WikiCommons, save for my Echo and the red Lancer Evo RS which links to the original page.

Could the current (NC) Mazda MX5 be the last of the proper Miata’s?

Any car guy that “gets it” knows that the Miata is the answer for many enthusiasts looking for a inexpensive, fairly reliable, common, good-performing car with a large aftermarket to boot.  If you’d rather see the Miata as gay/an old womans car, this post isn’t for you.  Otherwise, the Miata is a car that ended the reign of what would become (at least to me) one of the most over-lived poser mobiles to grace the American market: the Alfa Romeo Spider.  The funny thing is, the MX5 and Alfa Romeo Spider (if you haven’t already heard) will be co-developed between Alfa and Mazda to lower costs, much like the Subaru/Toyota/Scion BRZ/GT86/FRS… that’s the worry.

There’s no doubt in my mind the car I only acknowledge as “Subaru BRZ” is a true enthusiast vehicle.  I’ve seen them two out of three times I’ve been to Thunderhill Raceway (not even the same car), and I can’t go for a fun mountain drive without seeing at least one owner enjoying the same drive I am.  Rather my concern is that the Miata/Spider connection will somehow water down what made the Miata such a special car.

The little Mazda didn’t need a movie with Dustin Hoffman stalking a girl in San Francisco to make it a success, and the Alfa Spider did (also note: hoodies date back that far).  Why else did the Spider live in such a relatively archaic state until 1993?  The common “Alfa Romeo Graduate” nomenclature should be enough to make my point.  The old Duetto Spider was a great car in the 1960’s and was part of a dying breed in the 1970’s and ‘80’s (thanks to the VW Golf GTi), but the mid 1990’s?  They changed very little underneath from the 1966 origins, making for a nostalgia piece rather than a modern drivers car.  At least the Duetto had four wheel disks and avoided leaf springs (I’m looking at you MGB’s). Come the Mazda-copy of the Lotus Elan, the Miata injected a hint of reliability and build quality (the roof worked for more than just shade) and the Alfa Spider soon disappeared.  Indeed Alfa as a company left the American market until now soon eventually with the 4c.

Sharing a platform doesn’t mean the Alfa RoMiata will be a simple cut/paste rebadged and a slight change in rear sway bars (I hear the BRZ has a larger rear sway than the FRS). Instead both companies will use different engines to say the least.  Still, there’s that inkling of not bespoke that the new Miata will have.  At least the NC Miata (the third generation that came out around 2004) shared some platform and chassis pieces with the RX8, which was still in-house.  The distinct Mazda-ness of the car remained.

“Come the Mazda-copy of the Lotus Elan, they injected a hint of reliability and build quality (the roof worked for more than just shade) and the Alfa Spider soon disappeared.  Indeed Alfa as a company left the American market until now soon eventually with the 4c.”

Not only is the brand split of the platform a possible downer, but the prospect that the Miata has done.  A lot of what the Miata purity could accomplish since its inception have been so whittled down by regulations or trends: power steering makes it easier, air conditioning and power-everything more comfortable to live with, ABS and stability/traction control for required safety and so on.  Popular Mechanics put out a list of “10 Great Analog Sportscars” that highlighted just how long the Miata had put off things like power steering, anti-lock brakes, and traction/stability control as standard equipment for the sake of remaining a pure drive.  The only other car on that list that is still produced in the Viper, which may be a brutishly fast car, but doesn’t have that same finesse that makes the Miata such an instant classic.

We shall see if the Miata still rules the roost, as the BRZ seems a compelling competitor for the Miata for not using the exact same two-seat, I-4, convertible recipe so many companies failed-n-bailed with.  Now that the Mazda and Alfa may remove some of the distinction, only the long wait until they are finally done can tell if the Miata remains an honest-sportscar king.

Steelie Resolve Reveals a Hidden Truth: Tire sizes, and buying used rubber.

For those of you who might not be on Pheobe’s Facebook page to see what all goes on with her, I figured I’d let you know about the little discovery I made this week when getting back to my steelies from the Miata wheels.  This may be a lesson to pay better attention if you’re trying to save a buck by buying or trading used tires, as I asked for a full set of 185/60/14 sized tires for barter of the same size snow tire.

Here are some reference points for those who don’t know the technical points of tire size:

See this chunky, Miata-wheel mounted rubber?

Well these tires are apparently 195/60-14′s and not the 185/60-14′s I’ve been running for years– the latter already adding a chunky look against the factory 175/65-14 look.


Look like gibberish code?  Here’s how to decipher it, albeit backward:
-14 is just the wheel (metal bit) diameter in inches.
-60 is a percentage of the width of the tire (what we look at next).  This is usually called “aspect ratio.”  A common reference you hear today might be “low profile tires,” which are when there’s a massive wheel and very little rubber seen from the side of the car.  Well that is a small aspect ratio.  If you look at the photo below, the sidewall (basically from the ground to the bottom of the rim– the tire thickness) is 60% of how wide that tire is.  Both tires below are a 60% ratio, but the front tires are wider than the rear by 10mm.

-195 means the tires are 195mm wide where they meet the road.  The difference between the right and left tires below is 10mm.

Go look at a ruler and laugh at 10mm all you want, but when you compare a 195 to a 185 (albeit the Miata wheels are 6″ wide while the steel wheels are 5.5″) you see it’s not such a bad change on an Echo.

And what of that wheel width making a difference in tire stance?  Well, the side-walls are going to be more flush with the lip, of course.  As it turns out, the Miata wheels were 195/60′s on two wheels, and the other pair were 185/60′s.

Looking at the back here, you’re looking at a 185/60-14 on a steel wheel versus Miata wheel.  Still a difference with identical tire sizes.  Also note my new red Eibach springs perched in back.


I know she doesn’t sit super low on the steelies, but this is still a considerable drop of around 2″.


CarsDirect review: 2014 Ford Focus

One of the few reviews I was asked to do for CarsDirect was the 2014 Ford Focus.  Fortunately for me, the Ford Focus is a fairly cool, modern, fun economy car which is right up my alley.  Unlike the comparisons, where I had some words and observations to add, I’m fairly sure this is my actual take on the ’14 Ford Focus and the competitors I listed.

Like before, I’ll list my original text below:

Ford’s Focus has been an intriguing entry in the compact segment since its introduction in 2000, offering unique and fresh styling inside and out, and class-leading handling.  In 2012 the newest iteration of Focus hit American shores, and still holds true to unique styling and top-shelf handling in 2014, while also offering the strongest standard engine in the class with still competitive economy and feature content.  Little, if anything, has changed between the 2013 model year and the 2014.  Trims still consist of base S, mid-level SE, and top-end Titanium.

While the aggressive styling of the Focus may not be as staid as some entries in the compact class, since the 2012 model year other contenders have come up with likewise flashy shapes to run against it.  None have the barracuda-teeth grille, nor the Focus Hatch’s sharp cut forward from the tail-light to fender.

Inside the Focus is a cozy environ, with a fairly small passenger volume in the class, especially for the rear.  Focus is also somewhat dark even with brighter surfaces and colors like the optional dark red or white leather, and the metallic trim.  The dash is very angular, and the center stack remains a familiar “gremlin face” look as started in the 2009 Fiesta, the Foci’s subcompact brother.  Materials are of good quality in higher trims.

With a 2.0L direct-injected four-cylinder across the range, the Focus is still one of the spryer of the compacts.  The 160 horsepower shift through either a five-speed manual or a six-speed Dual-Clutch Transmission (DCT).  The DCT is optional for the S and SE trims, while the top-end Titanium is oppositely equipped where a five-speed manual is the option.  A manual shifting toggle switch dubbed Select Shift for the DCT is available for some packages of SE, and standard on Titanium.

The EPA fuel economy for a five-speed manual sits at 26/36mpg city/highway, while DCT’s accomplish 27/37, and the slicked-out SFE package (based off the SE models) comes in at 28/40mpg with the dual-clutch only.

With 160hp standard, the Focus can proclaim the most horses from the base engine, though torque (148lbft), the Focus is quite the force to be reckoned with in a straight line.  If the five-speed manual chases those wanting six gears for lower freeway cruising, there’s not much difference—a mere 200 RPM’s.  Likewise, the SelectShift DCT isn’t a lightning-quick transmission like those found in higher performance vehicles, lending the manual a very substantial win in acceleration tests.

Handling is well compromised with daily usability thanks to good damping, though the Titanium Handling Package raises road noise and thuds with marginal benefits aside from braking.

Quick model variation overview:
For 2014 the Ford Focus has few changes since the 2013 model, which itself had few changes since the cars inception in 2012.  Regardless of sticking to its guns, the Focus remains a strong contender in the compact segment as one of the strongest, best handling vehicles in its class while still maintaining a good hold of fuel economy.  Such a feat courtesy of the 2.0L direct injected four cylinder, powered to the front wheels through either a five-speed manual or employing a six-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) to take automatic duty.

Who should look at S? (Those who crave simplicity without too many compromises)
The base Focus S is a sedan only affair, and while no stripper econo car, it shows its humbleness (aside from flashy styling inside and out). Crank rear windows while the front are power, four speakers and a lack of Ford’s Sync system (optional), no cruise control, and color schemes come right out of 1920’s-film with a pallet of white, black, and some colors in between. While not bright in hue, the Focus S is no slouch. Lightest of the Foci, that makes for easier fuel economy and still-welcome performance . The thinner, less grippy 15-inch rolling stock will aid economy (and ride), but a good platform means handling won’t be spoiled for the practical enthusiast. The standard four speakers may not seem like much, but they do the job for this size of interior and have speed-sensitive volume. Also nice is a tilt/telescoping wheel standard.

Who should buy SE trim? (Anyone who likes options from super mileage to sport, the SE covers the widest range.)
Ford’s Focus SE offers the most flavors. Not only does it come in sedan and hatch, but it gives the package range for different lifestyles which is reflected in being the largest take rate in the range. For those wanting to push their fuel savings the SE sedan has the SFE Package to reach the claimed 40mpg, while the SE sedan and hatch up the fun factor with the Sport Package for those more driver Focus’d. Speaker count jumps to six, and adds Ford’s Sync voice activation. Luxury items found in the Titanium can also be had if desired. The SE used to offer the “Tangerine Scream” yellow paint, which has since been dropped to be exclusive to the fast Focus ST color choices.

Who should by Titanium? (The buyer who wants the best and most from the get-go.)
Top model Focus Titanium trim coddles in such features as dual-zone climate control and optional two-tone leathers, 10-speaker Sony with improved MyFord Touch Sync system. Bigger wheels (two styles of 17-inchers or optional 18’s) surrounding standard four-wheel disks also highlight the Titanium badge. Think of the Titanium as the easy way buying a fully-loaded SE, with a few additional perks (the optional 18” wheels are for the Titanium only, for example). In the shuffle of changes through the years, the Titanium was originally a DCT now offers a manual as a no-cost option, but the DCT is still standard fare.

Four competitors:
Dodge Dart

Dart has the exact same power when equipped with the base 2.0L, and a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox like the Focus.  A six-speed manual can be had, too.  Dart has more conservative styling and a larger back seat.  Weight slows the Dart considerably and puts economy lower than most compacts.

Chevy Cruze
The Cruze is a softer, less sporty compact with more hard plastic and a tidier exterior footprint.  Power comes from two engines, both making the same horsepower, but the small turbo engine provides greater torque.  A six-speed manual or automatic are available in most models, as is a 40mpg Eco model.

Honda Civic
A perennial best seller, Civic received a mild refresh of a refresh on a car dating back to 2006.  While still competitive for sales and dynamics, more is needed underneath if Honda expects to keep their reputation besides good economy, handling, and reliability.  There is at least a hybrid advantage.

Mazda 3
An old cousin of the Focus, the Mazda3 is biased for performance and style.  The SkyActiv technology models rival the Focus for driving fun and economy, but the interior is far too drab considering the step the first models had over the old Mazda Protégé.  Comes in sedan and hatchback.