About Harvey Duncan

A hopeful automotive journalist, or anything in automotive media (video and photography have slowly crept into the ranks). My blog is titled "Manually Shifted Soul."

The Auction Block: Cars I would own

There are days when I get into my Toyota Echo and head to my job as a wholesale car-auction driver/transporter, and I can feel just how old my cars suspension is, how rattly the interior panels, the road noise, and just how upright the seats are… also how slow and quiet it is even with a TRD muffler, header, and cold-air intake.  Days like driving a 650hp, $120,000 Cadillac CTS-V, and realizing just how easy they can be at a cruise, yet how much of a landmine lives in the throttle pedal for a brief freeway passing (leave it in sport, not full manual mode for the transmission).  Or days when stepping out of another ex-rental Versa Note which corners the understeer market at any hint of enthusiasm.  A short-list of cars I’ve driven thus far that I would own, recommend, could take-or-leave or improve upon is in order.  Lets make this a series.  Motorweek may not have the most entertaining presentation, but they tend to retain reviews of all kinds of vehicles, so they’ll be posted when possible to share more about what makes these vehicles what they are.

-Mk5 VW Golf R32: This is a low-production AWD hatchback which combines being comfortable, sporty, and practical into one package.  The interior controls are easy to work, thanks to being the usual VW fare as opposed to some of the Audi silliness, exterior styling is muted for what lies under the body (AWD and a punchy V6 mated to a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual), and a soundtrack that rivals Porsche.

Of course there are downsides to the R32, like a slightly firmer ride than some vehicles on this list, a transmission that doesn’t take well to much more than standard horsepower (which is a fine amount), and being a limited production they cost a pretty penny and would equally be expensive to fix.

Essentially you get an Audi TT V6 with a useable back seat and trunk.  I just wish the U.S. had the five-door version, not just the three-door which means a harder-to-access rear seat.

-Dodge Magnum SRT8: While I can appreciate the ease at which a Challenger SRT8 drives with a manual transmission—not at all heavy in clutch nor cumbersome in shifter—the larger SRT8 Magnum is a willing partner for drivers.  While portly, it drives smaller than its 4,000lb+ weight would suggest.  An old five-speed automatic with manual mode will make quick work firing through gears, and firing is indeed the correct term as each shift sounds like a shooting range.  Brakes are just as adept for the heft, and suspension is balanced when transitioned right with the throttle and steering.  All this while seating five in comfort, and cargo-hold to boot.  What’s more, the visibility that seemed awful in 2006 has suddenly become on-par with the average family car.  Vehicles from this platform are also plentiful, and seem to age quite gracefully which is a good sign for longevity.  Other benefits specific to the SRT8 are the seats, which seem to sit lower and feature suede inserts (which make for excellent seat-heating) and large form-hugging bolsters.  The normal and even RT models be it a 300C or Charger tend to have a higher, less secure seating position.

Sadly, the fuel economy would be woeful, some interior (and exterior) pieces are cheap and/or fragile, and these vehicles hold their value well enough to be just as out of range as some buy-it-new vehicles on this list.
-Ford Fiesta ST: Yes, of course the FiST on the list.  And over the big-brother Focus ST, no less.  Having driven the Focus ST on numerous occasions (one of them was even modified, moving more like a Mitsubishi Lancer than a FoST), the Fiesta still made me laugh and love the drive.  The Focus never did.  What the Focus does wrong are little things that add to big disappointment.  For one thing, the large Recaro seats never seem to fit right for me, making the steering wheel, clutch pedal, and shifter always seem to be in the wrong place.  This seating issue from the Recaro’s is further augmented by the center armrest, which makes the shifter location feel even more awkward.  In the Fiesta ST, however, this never seemed to be an issue.  It’s a smaller, more fleet-footed car begging for fun without being terrifying.  Taking it through a small hilly road or tree-lined canyon treat would be more enjoyable because the Fiesta footprint is so much narrower than the Focus, let alone in the city.  Also being slower but just as eager, the Fiesta lets the fun last longer in a “more fun to drive a slow car fast” mantra, with 200hp instead of 252.

Usual complaints of cheap interior materials in bad places (window sill… I’m sorry, but I want my arm up there sometimes), small back seat, and lack of a genuine exhaust note are all minor issues all told.  I’m not too concerned with track-related issues such as lack of tow-hook in front, true limited-slip differential for the front tires, etc.

The FiST offers about as much room inside as my Echo, with hatchback useability for bulkier items, coming in at around $24,000, and getting in the 30’s for MPG.  All Fiesta’s are a good driving package, with this being a well sorted topper for the model.

 

-Mazda Miata MX5 NB: More specifically, I’d love a green 2001 with the silver five-spoke 15” wheels, tan cloth seats, and wooden Nardi steering wheel and shift knob.  Some of that is likely not in the package, but I’d swap out leather for cloth no issue.  I wish I had more time in the silver example I was in, but while I was it was simply natural.  At the very least, trying the six-speed would be nice, having the hard-top added would be practical, and minor stuff like a mild exhaust would happen.  Probably not over the Fiesta ST just for the sake of the impracticality.  But as a drivers car, it’s truly amazing how easy and at-one it can be when behind the wheel.

-2005 Mazda3 manual: A middle-road between the Mazda MX5 spunk and the Fiesta ST’s hatchback usability, the Mazda3 is a common enough vehicle to find to split the difference.  I drove the 2.3L sedan with a manual, and that was enough to make me forego any of my Toyota fanboyisms leading me to familiarity in the Yaris, Scion xA, or Matrix/Vibe family.  Steering, interior, shifter, seating position, power delivery—everything was an orchestrated and put together in a way Mazda didn’t even replicate in the next generation.  Mazda had a solidity to this car, and a certain austere sportiness that made it almost BMW-meets-Audi to the interior.  While there may be a few things to improve, they don’t immediately come to mind.Downsides are the big-brother Mazda6 exists, offering V6 power with automatic or manual transmissions, multiple body styles (four door, four-door hatch, and wagon), and handling like a grown-family Miata.  The Mazda3 also has a back seat is relatively small even for the class, and that it’s a bit of a stylistic mix of boy-racer and late-high school/early-college girl chic (much like the Scion tC… except I consider the Mazda3 a worthwhile car to own).Nevertheless, the Mazda3 has aged well enough and performs acceptably over its modern rivals to make a solid case as a more visceral experience than the more vague 3’s that replaced it.

-2015 Mustang V6 automatic: Speaking of high school/college girl chic, this is pretty much the epitome of such a horrifically cliché aspect of life that, frankly, I’m very distant from but don’t see changing any time soon.  What makes the 2015-2016 Mustang V6 coupe so special is that it is so hated on because the EcoBoost and V8 exist.  Ford has gone out of their way to make the V6 as drab to the enthusiast as possible by highlighting the new turbo-four and ‘Murca V8 that the very capable V6 is left out in the cold for no good reason.  Ford even dropped it by five horsepower just to make it even less attractive to the EcoBoost.  I’ve driven the old 3.7L Mustang’s with that live axle (think of a truck, and that unsophisticated hopping feeling on full throttle bumpy roads), and while plenty quick, they weren’t something to be proud of unless you optioned them up a bit with performance parts and packages Ford offered.  Not so for this new style.  Now it comes standard with hot looks inside and out, decent materials, a push-button start, leather-wrapped wheel, huggy cloth seats—I could go on for a while.

All said the V6 Coupe is a viable means for a bargain enthusiast coupe because it offers all.  It rides better than the early Genesis Coupe, visibility is better than any modern Camaro and Challenger (the only modern coupe I can think of that’s this good might be the second and third-gen Audi TT), and it keeps up fine with 2005-2010 Mustang GT’s in a straight line.  I understand how awesome the GT feels, having driven the 2014’s both manual and automatic, but the V6 is so balanced that it’s a shame the 2017 is booting it all together.  Nothing seems to overpower each other in this package: brakes work with handling works with power works with ride—at least with how I drove it.  But like the Miata, it’s not the practical choice.

-2009 Subaru WRX: While what I drove was a 2008 (most hated of this generation by enthusiasts), and though it was a slightly trashed repossession car, I was amazed at just how nice it was.  Mostly the seats and ride were noticeable in this package.  Supportive, comfortable sport-buckets that I missed as soon as I was out.  What’s more, I know these Subaru’s have more room inside than its predecessor  (which in looking back it looks like they share the same headlight design).This repo also had an aftermarket exhaust, but with the windows up it was quiet, without drone like some other vehicles, but it still had lovely fuel-pops when relieving the throttle.  A tight turning circle also makes the WRX a handy car for maneuvering in town or tight backroads.

Bad things this generation of WRX brought from the old generation was a somewhat rubbery shifter (forgivable), and a fairly heavy clutch pedal (not kind over time).  On modern (2015+) WRX’s and faster STi’s, the shifter and clutch are light and smooth like a Honda (a trait of the 5.0L Mustang GT’s of recent years, and the Dodge Challenger Hemi’s, oddly enough).  What’s sad is the current Impreza performance hatches don’t come in a hatchback, while this older generation did– and I’m a sucker for that hatch usefullness.

Why did I specify the 2009?  First of all the power rose from 230hp to 265, which is nice.  More importantly, the later model WRX became too much like the more butch STi.  Flared arches, scoops and vents everywhere, large wheels and big exhausts… it diluted the STi look while at the same time being a WRX that looks like the faster STi without the go-fast bits.  Subaru shot itself by making the WRX so much more aggressive later on, as it was too close to the top-tier.  Sure they looked cool, went great (nearly as fast), and sold well, but the 2010-2014 simply doesn’t do it for me.  The 2009 fits the gap of the bland 2008 by adding some modest changes like charcoal colored wheels and a WRX badge in a new sport-mesh grille, but being less “look at me!” machismo of the faux-STi.

-2013 Lexus GS350: How can this be so good?  I mean, as a drivers car in an age where Toyota is the laughing stock, and Lexus is its soft luxury cousin who tries to take on the Germans.  But really, it does.  The GS has a wonderfully done up suspension, accurate steering, and great interior materials.  For being so massive, the turning radius is superb for U-turns, and when it comes to ride and handling it’s a breath of fresh air for not being overdone.  Too many German and American (Cadillac) luxury-sport sedans go for heavy steering and harsh rides to take back some of the hard-core feeling of the “good ol’ days.”  But we don’t live in the old days, and even though I’m in love with the idea of hating technology, Lexus did right by making this a comfortable and competent machine.  Most of the throttle noise is a trumpeting from the intake up front, otherwise being a smooth and unnoticed engine.  The transmission is on par with most in this class, revving the engine to smooth downshifts with the best of them.  What’s more, the traction and stability aren’t very intrusive, and work quite well even in the genuinely wet.

Of course, Lexus has things wrong, like their dashboard screen controlled by a mouse-like feature near the gear selector.  BMW and Audi have better systems than this, and while Lexus does have some of the important controls as redundant buttons, it’s not enough of them.  This forces you to clonk around through menus through an non-intuitive interface.  I also wasn’t a fan of the windshield wiper stalk, which doesn’t have the usual detents, but that’s aided by an automatic mode which makes it less hateful.

As long as I don’t have to use the menus on the screen, this car would be an excellent vehicle for nearly anything– a blast across the U.S., a night out with friends or family, and even out in a canyon alone.  This isn’t even the sportier F-Sport package I’m talking about, here. The GS350 is a V6-powered rear-wheel drive car with over 300hp.  The Hyundai Genesis, Infiniti G35, Camaro,  and Mustang V6 come to mind alongside the Cadillac ATS (a class smaller than the GS), and the GS would still easily be my choice for the size, materials, and driving capabilities.  That’s how capable and confident it is, and how surprising it was both times I’ve piloted one.

-2010 Cadillac CTS Wagon:While I haven’t driven one of the wagons (or coupes), the 3.6L sedan takes what the Camaro V6 is built on, but it’s in a body that can be used.  Unlike the 2009 Camaro– or any modern Camaro– the CTS wasn’t designed for pantomime and Transformer whoring.  It was a Cadillac.  Leather.  Wood (ish).  Comfort.  While the interior was a bit too similar in material quality of lower-wrung GM’s, that’s not horrible to say for this era.  The Malibu LTZ’s are fine for interiors compared to the 2004 predecessors.  A CTS Wagon does what a Magnum SRT8 offered on a smaller and slower scale, but with better fuel economy and nicer treatment in the cabin.  There are more surfaces with richer tones, less cheapy exterior with jeweled lamps littered with modern LED’s and projector-beam headlights.  No need for a V8 here, with a potent enough 306hp V6 and a choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions.  Camaro’s offered a dual-mode exhaust that could probably be fitted to open up (and sound awesome over 3,000rpm when the valves open in the mufflers).  That automatic isn’t infallible, nor does the CTS offer an obvious paddle-shifter steering wheel like the Camaro, or newer ATS line, but as a touring wagon it’s a commendable piece that still comes close to mixing comfort with pony-car fun.  Sadly the rear corners are so blocked by sheetmetal, I may change my mind on the wagon aspect.  The CTS is at least a bargain GS350 contender.

-Ford Flex EcoBoost: While I’m more a believer in minivans, the Ford Flex makes a nice case for large cross-over vehicles.  The long, low shape is a breath of fresh air for the segment that tries too hard to be rugged in looks.  The interior cargo volume is apparently smaller than some of its competition, but that’s a surprise at it actually feels quite roomy over-all.  Later Flex models had an improved interior with better seats, materials, and steering wheel for a richer feel and more comfortable driving.  The base V6 is adequate, but the EcoBoost and all-wheel drive puts the EcoBoost into an easy roadtripper with family or stuff.  Handling for such a large vehicle is surprising, with just enough rear-end rotation to make corners a bit more of a joy.
-Honda

Element: I don’t care if it’s a boxy, top-heavy CR-V with less practicality—I’ve always liked them.  And now that I’ve driven a few of them (both manual and automatic), I’m fine with it for sure.  It’s amazing willing to be wrung-out and driven like a Honda.  The stereo is crappy for the acoustically challenged interior, but I’m no audiophile (which I suppose really hits home how bad it can be).  Mostly I just want this as a joint vehicle for me and my long-time, live-in girlfriend to take day or weekend trips in, with the E-Camper up top.  The Element offered curtains the entire way around the interior, and a pop-tent that mounted to the rear lift-gate for over-night campers.  Having the E-Camper with these already availible features makes for sleeping for up to four people (which is all the Element will seat), and the popped-roof and curtains make for an at-beach changing room… not that I’m active, but the Element would help push that along.

Auction Drives: new segment coming.

While blogging isn’t a high priority for me anymore, I’ve been getting interest from coworkers in my new position in the company.  My old position was driving cars (both in pristine shape, as well as dilapidated beyond belief) through a dealer auction.  It’s pretty straight forward: my employer is a large auction house that acts as a middle man for dealers of Northern California to buy and sell vehicles.  My promotion gives me far more hours, and time on the open road in quite the slurry of different vehicles– from Chevy Aveo’s to Porsche 911’s.  Of which, I take notes of impressions, and quick cell-phone pictures to illustrate the vehicle at hand.

Having been an auction driver for a year, I’ve been able to see common trends on vehicles based on make and model, whether it’s wear-and-tear, or more common gremlins such as the “Heisenberg Button” as I call it (pushing it brings on a knock… go watch some Breaking Bad already!).  Other media I’ve shot are just comedic glitches that could technically happen to many modern cars, or simply the condition people leave their vehicles when they trade in without cleaning.  Because of all these comments and media clips, it’ll take quite a bit of time to compile, but I’m sure my co-workers (and Facebook car-group buddies) will appreciate a place for these exploits to be found for all.

2015 Honda Fit surpasses the Sonic RS; Fiesta EcoBoost makes non-ST more of a contender.

You’d be correct if you’re looking at this blog post thinking “hasn’t he done this already?” Well yeah, but that was over a year ago (https://manuallyshiftedsoul.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/small-and-simple-2014-corolla-to-the-ford-sts/), and a couple things have changed. Namely in the Ford Fiesta, Chevy Sonic, and more importantly, the Honda Fit.

We all knew the Fiesta ST would be something when it hit the U.S., and it is. But something I didn’t foresee was the 1.0L three-cylinder EcoBoost engine becoming a middle-spot contender for the buyer, between the regular 1.6L four and the hot ST 1.6-turbo mill. Tests put the new EcoBoost three-pot in an above-average 0-60 time of around 8.5 seconds (C/D got 8.3 for hatch, and 8.7 for sedan)—in a land of Sonic and Accent pushing 7.9, and Versa’s in the high 9’s, that’s a commendable improvement of half-a-second or more off the usual Fiesta run, while chucking out a 45mpg EPA highway rating. With the inherently good Fiesta chassis still there, it’s a good little package, but still small in the class.

Chevy’s Sonic hasn’t really moved up its game with the RS model, and with the price sitting painfully close to the Fiesta ST, it’s no bargain. To add to that, the 2015 Honda Fit is the new kid in the lower-classman playground. With a new six-speed manual transmission and direct injected DOHC powerplant, Honda took what was already good about the Fit (efficient use of space and relatively nimble dynamics), and adding in some power and fuel-economy. The Fit EX manual, as tested by Car & Driver, had barely surpassed the Sonic RS manual in 0-60, and further embarrasses it even beyond that (still pulling away into triple digits), while still providing better as-tested and EPA economy ratings. Plus having a better shifter than the Chevy, and the MagicSeat for less money, the Honda is just the better choice unless you step up to the Fiesta ST—and we haven’t even seen a sport trim for the Fit yet.  Though the Fit still has its downsides, as the C&D test points out (the gearing will still make it a frantic revver at freeway speeds, and things like the steering, brakes, and clutch aren’t as crisp as they once were).  This doesn’t come as much of a shock, since the 2001-2005 Civic seemed to do the same thing compared to the generations before and after it.

Updates and what to expect in the next couple weeks.

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After nearly a year of hiatus, I figured in my spare time between school and work, I can blog about what all has been going on for myself, my car, and the industry (at least from what I’ve seen of it). People tell me not to give up on it, and really, I guess I never will, since cars are still something I love.  That and I know there are a couple new subscribers, so here’s to not disappointing.

Firstly, I’m loving the new career direction of being a railroad worker. It’s pretty much common sense stuff in class (like looking both ways before crossing the tracks). I’m actually giddy about the prospect of doing it for a living.
IMG_1958
Until my railroading classes are complete and my career officially begins, I have my first real job in years, as a driver for a car auction house. It’s not a lot of hours, but it’s great to be able to say I have a job, and I really like the environment. The position has put me in a number of vehicles of varying ages,, conditions, layouts, and performance levels. I’ve been able to feel for myself the difference between the 2010 Mustang GT 4.6L manual, and the 2013 Mustang GT 5.0L manual—5.0L has the more forgiving clutch and smoother shifter, but the 4.6L still has the better sound. There are numerous other manuals (and otherwise) I’ve been able to sample, which has slowly built my palette for what a car should be like, and what cars tend to age better than others.

A downside of my moving and going to school in Sacramento is the wear on my car. Exposure to the elements as opposed to being in a garage has made my clearcoat start going berserk, and more recently my trunk seems to have sprung a small leak around the seal from all the rain and leaves of this much-needed wet season in Northern California. Most notable, however, is the original engine giving up at 474,991 miles (I kept the it to tear down later). Cheaping out a bit on oil changes may have been a key factor in this, but it did allow for a fresher engine to be swapped in with only 35,000 miles, and my header was put on.  For some reason they couldn’t get the pulley on, and I still can’t break the bolt to do it myself.
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Upgrades like Scion xA seats (more supportive), xA center console and shifter (aesthetic), a strut-tower brace, larger throttle body from a 2000 Corolla, and 195mm tires on all four corners (though I miss the rotation of the 185’s in back) are in place since my last post, topped with a red accent to the front grille for a little added rice sportiness, because I can at least argue it isn’t exactly stock.

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The transmission is a bit messed up from a badly aligned clutch, but it’s not like I was ever nice to it anyway… though I did order a short-throw shifter with the early Christmas check I received, probably going to increase the wear on it.

Upcoming posts are undoubtedly about observations on recent automotive releases (probably of subcompacts and sportscars), and some of my experiences during my time as an auction driver (at least, the more memorable vehicles).

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.

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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.

RPM
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.

Driven
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.

Drive

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!