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.


Blogs, Gigs and Gaps: The requisite post about being a small car-blogger.

An old story this, repeated for many decades and through many a blog: the hardships and triumphs of would-be car writers and those who made it with some scuffed enamel on their pearly whites.  It’s been said in one or two online outlets that automotive journalism has lost a certain mystique that it once had– they used to live like rock stars, traveling the globe, beautiful women in their hotel rooms and absurd amounts of alcohol the night before the quick drive that brought them there.  Faux playboy status is not what draws me to the job.  I don’t aim to entertain readers with crudity or flinging insults at publications I’m jealous of.  Richness and wine parties with cucumber finger-food isn’t a delight in which I wish to indulge.  Rather my goal is to shed some insight on practical automotive enjoyment can be found– the “fun” in function, and to do so as beautifully as I can polish it.

With a slow-down in not just the economy of 2013, Octobers are notoriously bad (look at 1929), and with that comes a slow down in car reviews and comparisons at CarsDirect (see older blog entries).  Most of the new models have been written about by a slurry of contracted writers.  Many of those writers are trying to make headway in the very market that I, and undoubtedly a handful of the dozen people who read this post in a years time, are frustratingly familiar with.  What would the company need us for once everything has been scribbled about and compared 20 times already?

There’s no being mad about the slow down; I had a few hundred dollars of spending cash to finally put me in the “paid gig” camp of automotive-journalist wannabe’s– a step that I’m sure a large percentage never reach.  Now it’s time for me to move on to the next step, leaving me looking at different websites where I can apply some of my finer moments to the interwebervets.

Every writer has their battles, be it small ones like inspiration or writers block, or finding an outlet (or additional outlets) to actually legitimize their position in the field.  In the case of the latter, there are three I’m looking at in particular: Scripted.com, Contently.com, and the somewhat larger-name (but slow to be commented on for some folks) Yahoo! Voices.

As of writing this blog post, I can attest to a usual hindrance us car guys come across: no automotive section.  Scripted.com does have a “lifestyles” section, but that’s as close as I could come to my specialty, to which I made use of the “Contact Us” section:

I was looking through the different specialties and what I’d really love to write about. While some of them I might be willing, under the right circumstances, my real passion isn’t on the list directly. My specialty lies in cars and the car market– reviews, comparisons and the like. Perhaps car comparisons and reviews are to be held loosely under ‘lifestyles’ to some people, but I think cars are more than a lifestyle.

Seeing as there are far fewer car enthusiasts than there are regular, hum-drum consumers caught up with badge weights (“because it’s a Honda or Mercedes it MUST be good!”), and that the real enthusiast mindset is ever shrinking, no it’s not a lifestyle. Likewise, I’m not here to write about how to change oil or how to choose spark plugs.Yes, I tinker, but am far from a technician. There is a wide variety of car/truck enthusiasts and consumers, and just as wide a market of writers to meet the needs of those wishing to be informed. Speaking for myself and fellow automotive scribes, hacks, and crayon chewers, please open up the market for us a little bit.

What a pity that this suits so much more than just Scripted.com.  A great number of decently sized publications disregard the possibility of an automotive section.  Here in Northern California we have a chain of “News and Review” outlets, that are both online and print.  Walking into businesses throughout Sacramento, it’s rare to find a news stand without the “SN&R” logo.  Yet, with a great reputation in the region, a strong readership and website, and their chains that extend as far as Nevada, I don’t see any car section.  Can those not be reviewed?

Of course I’m not being objective here.  The job market is dismal– there’s no getting around that, and you don’t need to read it here again.  Nor do you need to hear that youth aren’t interested in driving anymore because of improved public transport, the added cost of driving thanks to rising insurance and fuel costs against a relatively weak dollar.  Yet with those excuses about why cars not being worth writing about, somehow golf resorts (and requisite realtor ads nearby) and four-star restaurants are practical somehow.

Sure, there are hundreds of automotive publications in the United States that a consumer can turn to for their information, but I think it needs to be more localized and personal to the area.  Furthermore, the local journalists throughout Northern California tend to be a different generation, trained for print, physical film, and radio-voice coaching.  The youngest major automotive media personality I can think of in my region is pushing his upper 40’s and graying.  This age gap doesn’t help bud the younger crowd, not just locally but nationally (John Davis and the Motor Week programing have changed very little since the 1990’s).  High-end video, sound clips, and photography are just as important as spec sheets and affluent prose.

The simplicity of the Youtube /Drive (Chris Harris’ tests tend to be my favorite segment) and WindingRoad channels are a shining example of what young automotive-driven males want.  Furthermore the Petrolicious upstart is another well executed and artful piece of involving media, even though it dabbles more with older European classics of the 1950’s to the 1970’s, often driven by people that (like I alluded to before) live a life of richness and wine parties with cucumber finger-food.  Do I find it appalling that someone dared insinuate he lived a dire life thinking he could never own a Porsche, when his first car was a Alfa Romeo Spider, and his parents had a golf club membership?  Yes I do.  But I’m typing here without fighting cockroaches off the keyboard, and am not living in a clapped out station wagon like my oldest brother had to do from time to time, so who am I to judge?

No matter what, those Youtube channels I pointed out are undoubtedly pulling in the same demographic that my Youtube channel and the Facebook page I have for my car— both bring in 80% or more males, aging 25 to 34 years old.  A friend of mine has connections to an editor in a small local newspaper, and has offered to put in a good word. As much as I appreciate the sentiment, I  know the reality is all in demographics: who reads that paper or the website?  Then consider the two sites I have where I can visually graph my audience as a damned-near polar opposite (which is pretty spectacular considering it lingers around a Toyota Echo).  To make the point clearer that the older journalists locally don’t have the younger audience captivated, I know that younger gentleman has an audience that is primarily women over the age of 35– I should know because he asked me to come up to meet him.

Like any of the other posts of the trials and challenges we all face, I guess I’m obliged to say “keep pushing, we all go through it.”  Talking about this very same subject with a fellow writer the topic of trying to find new gigs, about how even choosing between new shoes or a stick of deodorant is a way of life, I hear that all the time from a friend “I completely understand, we’ve all been there.”  I told him “past tense– still better than present.”  Those connections and networks– great and small– go a long way.  Now if only this blog post didn’t feel grossly cliche at the end.  Perhaps a better plan would be to demotivate others and lessen my potential competition.  Soon… soon…..

Washington Redskins player Alfred Morris: kindred manually-shifted spirit

Some good old fashioned car love has struck the nation– at least briefly– as an NFL player has made press by keeping his old car alive.  Yup, I’m talking about Washington Redskins running back, Alfred Morris and his 1991 Mazda 626 sedan he named “Bentley.” 

Three reasons I appreciate this enough to blog it:
-Great show of humility and practicality even when faced with money and fame
-It’s a manual transmission
-My grandfather was an avid Redskins watcher in his day

Morris has his Mazda back from being restored to beyond-new condition including updated AC system and diamond-stitched leather befitting the cars name “Bentley” with the famed luxury marques interior touch.  The Mazda is three years newer than Morris (born in 1988), but the pro-baller plans on keeping it so his own kids can drive it (hopefully they, too, try and keep the self-rowing passion their father has now).

Morris has made an impression as a grounded young man who sees this car as a connection to his humble roots, similar to how renowned car guy Jay Leno still owns the Buick Roadmaster he bought when he first moved to Los Angeles in search of his big break.  This isn’t the first time the rich and famous have stuck to something dear to them (a comment in Jalopnik’s coverage by poster “Hooneriphic” points out former New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy and his old Honda Accord ), but it’s refreshing to know that not all those who are more fortunate go out of their way to flaunt it, or are so willing to part with something of their past.

(other sources)

Shifted Attention: Plug-in’s

Even while there’s a large amount of money that can be made on car enthusiasts, there will always be a far larger percentage on the consumers that just want some wheels and seats beneath them.  Some of those consumers—quite possibly a smaller group than car enthusiasts—may even surpass an internal combustion engine to do so.

The benefits of going electric are debatable, since many attest that the electricity that recharges these cars isn’t always as clean as activists might believe.  Likewise the materials used for the batteries (and the hazards that lie within them) are also up for argument.  To me, if someone wants an electric car and has solar panels on their roof that they themselves paid for, rock on.  I dig wind power myself, or even a nifty hydraulic float that generates power from ocean waves.  Even going more ancient and using water wheels would be an interesting technique.  The reality is, though, that a lot of power still comes from coal, nuclear, or hydroelectric means which have some form of environmental impact.

With energy production techniques put aside, the next hurdle is cost for electric cars.  Unlike in the past, the car-buying public has a fairly open market for body styles, prices, and luxury levels.  The vehicles I drove were usually based off an existing vehicle, but produced by that manufacturer, and two of them were actually hybrids with a gasoline engine as emergency backup.  What’s nice about such a breadth of vehicles is there is now competition, and trickle-down technology to lower coIMG_1094st.

For the sake of seeing what that group of greenies has offered to them, I took an opportunity presented to drive them for about a mile with each car around McClellan Park, an airfield just north of Sacramento California.  Vehicles present were the Ford Fusion Energi and Focus Electric, Chevrolet Volt, Fiat 500e, Nissan Leaf, Tesla Roadster and Model S (both for viewing only), Mitsubishi MiEV (also not for driving), and Toyota Rav4 Electric.

The first vehicle I drove was the Fiat 500e.  Already liking the cheeky character of the little Italian 500, I had plenty to talk about with Fiat representative Daniel Martinez (note: business cards are always good to have).  Telling Martinez this was my first time in the 500, he informed me that the cars usually have more space to them, especially for rear seat foot room.  However, with the battery packs being placed slightly more toward the rear of the vehicle floor to maintain a proper balance of the 500e, it cut into that space.  As I’d always read in Fiat 500 reviews, seating was upright and tall just like my own Toyota Echo.  Regardless, lean was well controlled at the tame city speeds that inhibited the drive.  Probably my least favorite aspects of the 500e were the controls for the seat being toward the center console, and the orange cloth-mesh in the steering wheel rim, which seems likely to chafe ones thumbs if it weren’t for the cars short 90 mile range.  The cost is $31,000 ($17,000 with incentives) with no acceleration losses to its non-turbo siblings.  The 500e is a California limited model.
My second drive was in a much sleeker package—the Ford Fusion Energi.  The Fusion Energi is a very unassuming package, and probably my favorite drive of the day because of that.  I say it’s unassuming because the Fusion already comes in a regular hybrid form, making the little green badges blend yet easier into the landscape.  The chief exterior sign that you’re looking at a Fusion Energi (aside from actually reading it) is the plug-in door on the left front fender—a door which reminds me of a Koenigsegg supercar’s doors on a miniature scale.

Both the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Fusion Energi have a gasoline four cylinder on board, but the Energi uses it as a backup when the batteries are depleted similar to the Chevy Volt, while the hybrid uses gas and electric jointly like any other hybrid.  What I don’t like about the Fusion is the battery placement in the trunk, combined with 60/40 folding rear seat.  Since the battery pack takes so much space out of the trunk (reminiscent of Ford’s now extinct Panther platform), I found the roughly 8”x36” gap of useable pass-through space for the folding seat laughably pointless.  Regardless, the base price of $38,000 doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Stepping back from these newer entries, the elusive joint effort of Toyota and Tesla (the Rav4 Electric) was present, while the Prius Plug-In strangely wasn’t.  Regardless, the similarly bearded representative from Auburn Toyota (of whom I didn’t catch the name or card) and I had a nice discussion about the merits of this old Rav4’s sales and potential.  He said 2,500 were to be initially built at the NUMMI plant only two hours away, making it quite a rare prospect to see on the road.  One of my first inquiries was about whether the switch to a new Rav4 would decrease the amount of sales for the Rav4 Electric, which he doubts would be a problem.  I also asked if the lack of a third row might have decreased interest, which the rep discounted that not many people seemed to mind.  The lack of all-wheel drive, however, has been a problem for him, stating a man in the Lake Tahoe region bailed on the electric version because of needing a snow worthy vehicle, buying a regular Rav4 instead.  The rep then opened the rear cargo door and showed me all the space where extra batteries and an electric motor could easily be placed to make such a vehicle.  My thoughts then came to the Mercedes AMG SLS Electric, and its use of individual motors at each corner of the car.  Perhaps a more versatile AWD system could be Toyota’s next move?  Especially since Tesla shall soon sell an AWD Model X, we’ll wait and see.  My driving impressions of the Rav was that it shows its age, with a touchier brake/regeneration mode, and of course an old platform and basic, bland interior.

Following the Teslota Rav4, I poked a tadpoles’ nose—the front plug door of the Nissan Leaf was open, and I closed it.  Already somewhat familiar with the Leaf from an Earth Day gathering at school some time ago, I knew it had a somewhat tall rear floor when seated in back for the under-floor batteries.  One of the Nissan reps that were there, Ron Shaw of Future Nissan in Folsom, asked me if I knew why the front lamps stuck out the way they did.  Of course I already knew that it channeled air away from the mirrors to reduce drag (the Nissan GT-R uses similar sculpting for directing air over the rear spoiler).  Regardless of that technique, I was given the rather unimpressive drag coefficient of .29—something my Toyota Echo matches, and a Lexus LS600h surpasses at .25cd.  To the Leaf’s credit, it’s actually a non-issue .28cd.  Still, the Leaf was a familiar and practical package, though the three-star frontal crash rating for the front passenger (at least according to the sticker) was brow-raising.

Like the Nissan Leaf, I’ve already examined the Chevrolet Volt at the Earth Day event, so I knew about the 1.4L engine sitting up front, and the rear seat that’d have my head near the headliner/rear hatch.  The Volt rep was actually a Volt owner (though the Rav4 guy would love to own the fleet vehicle he was showing).  Unlike the others, the Volt rep gave me a quick go-around of the vehicle, showing the different modes and screens of the car, and took me a few hundred feet to show the difference of “Drive” and “L”—mainly, “L” increases the braking properties when letting off the throttle, meaning more regeneration to the batteries.  He did all of this because he knows that people my age don’t tend to know (or care) about cars like they once did.  He brought up how at his last event, someone who actually helped develop GM’s old EV1 all-electric car came and chatted him up about the Volt.  Before he could start telling me about the EV1, I showed that I was already versed in such matters, noting the Volt using a the similar technique of a T-shaped battery pack that runs through the center of the car, and topping out in the rear.  Then I explained that not all us young guys have left cars to touch-screen tablets and $300 headphones, but that I’m still old-fashioned enough to want a more visceral machine than those at the event.  The Volt could prove entertaining with the right tweaks, though, especially mid-corner lift-off in “L” mode… that is if it wasn’t so inhibited by safety nannies.

Finally I hopped back into the Focus Electric, probably one of the less driven by those around me.  The same none-to-chatty Ford rep from the Fusion my host yet again, and he was wondering who I was published with.  Ah the feeling of explaining disappointing nature of Northern California publications when it comes to young automotive media people—there’s not a whole lot of market for us.  The conversation made the Focus drive somewhat forgettable aside from having possibly the laziest regen feeling of the bunch.  For the $35,000 price tag of the Focus Electric, I’d definitely shoot for the Fusion Energi instead.


Looking outside the test vehicles and instead at those displayed, the Tesla Model S is an amazing car to behold.  It’s a smooth and subtle machine that seems far more popular than the other models staged that day.  A visit to any well-populated area can make for a dozen sightings a day.  Where the Tesla Model S went right isn’t just the sales tactics, but the packaging of multiple power outputs.  Yes it costs more, but lets not forget how the Model S is a supreme balance of luxury, sport, safety, and practicality with its two trunks a la Porsche Cayman makes for a compelling buy.  The late crash-turned-fire as of late seems to be made to be worse than it should be.  After all, how many cars from marques like Ferrari, Lamborghini, and even celebrity Dick Van Dyke’s Jaguar XJ become blazed for far less reasonable conditions?  In my eyes, the Tesla Model S might be the Bugatti Veyron of electric cars for a while.

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