The Porsche GT2RS, and Prius = Tebow

I love spending time in California, because time spent there guarantees spotting both amazing and, shall we say, thought-provoking cars.  While on the road for the trip detailed in the last post, we saw:- Two (2) Volts, one owned by an auto glass business.
– One (1) Nissan Leaf.  What is the plural of “Leaf?”  What if I’d seen two?
– One (1) Prius V.
– Two (2) new Kia Rios.  I wasn’t even aware these existed until I saw them and a billboard advertisement for them.
– One (1) Ford Aspire, which I laughed at, causing my wife to look at me quizzically.  “What’s that?” she asked.  “Pretty much the worst car Ford ever made,” was my reply.  “Even the name implies you should be trying harder.”  That amused her.
– One (1) Aston Martin V8 Vantage, which is pretty cool I guess.
– One (1) Porsche GT2RS, which is exponentially cooler.

The GT2RS was black with red graphics and passed me on the right as it headed for an exit ramp.  The sound was a reserved snorty rumble, hinting at the barely contained force of 620 twin-variable-geometry-turbocharged horses under the rear decklid.  My reaction was at first irritation (I hate being passed on the right), then stunned amazement, then disbelief, then a sort of embarrassed, apologetic, quiet respect for the motoring deity that I had just briefly shared time and space with.  With your $245,000 racecar for the street, you can pass me on whichever side you want, sir.

In California, though, you get both edges of the car sword–the awesome and the inexplicable.  On Thanksgiving Day, we attended a party at a gorgeous house at a small vineyard.  I didn’t know about ninety-five percent of the people there, nor did I especially want to after overhearing one conversation in the kitchen.  About five people were gathered around, talking about the speed they would typically set the cruise control to in their Prii when commuting.

My brain ground to a halt.  I was unable to form coherent thoughts.  I had no way of inserting some sanity into the conversation because it was so utterly removed from my reality.  You all own Prii?  You are proud enough of this fact that you volunteer the information at parties?  All five of you think a discussion about what speed you set the cruise to is interesting?  WHY?  Judging by the look of this place, you all have money and a modicum of taste, so you’re certainly not trying to trim your budget by minimizing what you spend on gasoline, and you don’t think the car is good-looking.  So why own one?

Not knowing any of these people, there was no way I could ask these questions without making a scene, so being the well-bred guy that I am, I just settled myself down and walked away.  But that’s the thing about the Prius.  It’s the Tim Tebow of the automotive world.  One sect of people adore it for their reasons, and another sect hate it for theirs.  It makes its fans feel better about themselves for little or no quantifiable reason. It’s not a great performer by the usual metrics, but it’s a stunning sales success.

But the GT2RS, that’s Aaron Rodgers.  World Champion and MVP.

LA Auto Show AND a newsbyte you won’t find anywhere else

“I love it when a plan comes together,” quoth the great Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith.  I said the same when I saw the LA Auto Show, Thanksgiving, and some time off from work all coalesce on my calendar.  Needing to pick up some Craigslist purchases in LA, and also planning to top the whole thing off by visiting some old friends in San Diego, we packed up our 2004 Nissan Murano, rented a U-Haul trailer, and headed west.The drive from Vegas to LA sucks.  Don’t let anyone tell you differently.  Primm, Barstow, and Baker are  Shakespearean tragedies of towns, there’s absolutely nothing else of interest on the way, and there will always inevitably be heavy traffic somewhere on the route.  The drive always takes longer than you think it will, and always FEELS like it takes even longer than that.  We finally arrived, exhausted, at our friends’ place outside San Diego at around 8pm.  We were thrilled to be there but were unable to celebrate for long–everyone was passed out by 11.

Wednesday morning, we grabbed breakfast and headed north for the LA Auto Show and our Craigslist items.  We dropped off our trailer at my wife’s sister’s place, then headed over to the Convention Center.
Porsche was the first display we visited, and it was great to see them showing off the Black Swan GT3 RSR that took the ALMS GTC championship this year.  Of course, the GTC class is made up entirely of GT3 RSRs, so any champion would certainly have been welcome.  Porsche’s big premiere at the LA show was the Panamera GTS.  I understand why this was the case, as I saw more than a fair share of Panameras in the SoCal area on this trip.  Porsche is only too happy to oblige their rich LA customers with more model diversity.  Gotta keep it exclusive.  Additionally, it was also the first time the unwashed masses got to see the new 991…but we saw it earlier at Rennsport Reunion IV, so if you want more on that, keep reading those posts.

As has been the case the last few years in LA, the Ford display was amazing.  It took up a huge chunk of the main hall and featured an SVT Raptor where the body would lift off of the frame to show off the incredible suspension, closed-circuit TV mini-gameshows for giveaways, the new Escape, a Mustang on a dyno…one could spend hours in the Ford display alone.

The Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep display was well-executed, even if they don’t have the cash to be blowing big money on their square footage like Ford does.  Instead, they featured an SRT display: just the four SRT models together with animated functioning cutaways of their engines chugging away next to them.  One Toby-Keith part of me really wants a 300 SRT8 or Charger SRT8–simple, big, loud, fast, All-American.  Oh, and Chrysler also did a nice job playing up one of their best current, more sophisticated features: the 8.1-inch display that’s going into the 300/Charger.  It was the centerpiece of a cockpit mockup, and kept the boys occupied pressing its touchscreen for a good ten-plus minutes.

I have no interest in any Kias, but it was nice of Kia to throw down a huge lit dance floor with a digitally enhanced “mirror” above it, so my sons could dance with digital hamsters.  In fact, when we got to the Las Vegas auto show a few days later, the first thing #1 said was, “Let’s go to the dancing!”

Audi was just too overcrowded.  I love the cars and wish the company the best, but Audi is so “in” right now that I cannot fathom purchasing one for myself.  The R8 GT is beautiful, the TT RS is a mini R8 with a five-cylinder snort, the A7/S7 is stunning, and the A6 is is profoundly competent, but the members of the  crowd around the Audis were more interested in buying status symbols than cars.  Fortunately for most of them, Audi sells a more expensive VW Golf called the A3, and the front-drive CVT A4.  Ugh.

Mitsubishi embarrassed themselves by centering their display on the i-MIEV, or whatever they call their abomination of an EV.  It looks so golf-cart flimsy that I refuse to believe that the thing meets any collision standards whatsoever.  The worst part about the display, however, was that the featured car had fake wood-panel doors.  This begs for a SNL Weekend Update “REALLY?” segment.  Honestly, the only thing that “car,” if you can call it that, has going for it is that the electric motor is in the back, and it’s rear-drive.  So basically the i-MIEV, as noted on Top Gear, is a Porsche 911.  Right?

Chevy brought along three (3) Volts.  And charging hardware, too.  Neat.  Shame they all seem to be at auto shows instead of dealers.  And where is the Volt advertised, anyway?  How come the only pub I see for it seems to be coming from the clueless televised news, which constantly reports (with a lawsuit-worthy level of inaccuracy) that Volts spontaneously combust in crash tests?

The Cadillac Ciel was present at the show in all its glory.  I have trouble picturing how it could possibly still look good with the top up, but as a spectacle at an auto show, it is drop-dead gorgeous.  My picture did not turn out well, so here’s one from the Monterey Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

The Ciel looks so much like a long, slab-sided American luxury battleship that they should limit production to fifty and instead of numbering them, name them after the states.

Son #2 was not doing so well at this point, so the wife took him back to the car, and #1 and I breezed through Mazda and Subaru.  The CX-5 looks like a strong choice for a recently married (or perhaps long-term committed) enthusiast type with a less-than-large dog, if you must have a crossover instead of a wagon.

And of course the Subaru BRZ concept was in place, drawing a crowd.  Subie PR folks refused to give out performance or price numbers, only saying the official unveil of the production model would take place very soon at the Tokyo Motor Show.  Always a good thing to have inexpensive, front-engine, rear-drive, 4-seat cars in the world.  Thank you, Subaru.

That wrapped up my experience at the LA Auto Show.  I took #1 back to the car after he said, “Let’s go see Mommy.  No more cars, Daddy.”  I was a bit disappointed, but knew that it would be impossible for me to get the six more hours I’d need to cover the entire show in depth, so we called it a day.

Now, about that bit you won’t read anywhere else: I have been on the cusp of calling Ford to ask this question since it hasn’t been reported anywhere, but was able to get my answer on the show floor.  In their massive display area, Ford had a few tricked-out Flex models sitting about, and I asked one of the PR guys standing nearby if they planned to keep building the Flex, given the somewhat disappointing sales numbers.  His answer was an emphatic YES, because even though they don’t sell as many as they would like, the feedback from the folks that have bought them is so overwhelmingly positive that Ford feels that continued production is worthwhile for the purpose of retaining those happy customers.  Additionally, they find that for many buyers, the Flex is their first Ford, so it’s an excellent product for stealing customers from other manufacturers.  When the wife’s parents were looking for a new vehicle a year or so ago, one of my suggestions was a Flex SEL Ecoboost, and they wound up custom-ordering one from Dearborn.  I’ve put in a fair bit of time behind the wheel and it is exceptional.  It’s a small, luxurious bus with a rocket attached to it in the form of the Ecoboost V6, which is a superb engine choice for the vehicle.  You can easily take six people along with you and still crush the average sedan in a 0-60 fight for a merge onto an on-ramp.

There you have it, the 2011 LA Auto Show.  Read more about our latest west coast trip in the days to come.

 

Rennsport Reunion IV – Part 4 – The Journey, Concluded

The Whoa Nellie Deli (whoanelliedeli.com) is situated inside what is locally called “The Mobil” in Lee Vining, CA.  Nothing they sell at the place, gas or food, is inexpensive, but there’s a lovely outdoor eating area, a view of Mono Lake, and to be fair and honest, the gas is actually cheaper than at the other nearby station in downtown Lee Vining.We took our food to go, gassed up, and pressed on–not directly into Yosemite, but instead just a few minutes north to the US Forest Service Mono Lake Visitor’s Center.  We ate our lunch out on the deck there, taking in the fresh mountain lake breeze and the sunlight.  The young ones were a little hard to control, but they deserved a little run-around time.  The Visitor’s Center seems fairly new and was only lightly trafficked while we were there.  The view from our lunch spot is fantastic–check the panoramic shot on Google Earth at N 37 58′ 01.37″, W 119 07′ 11.51.”  And then, uh, imagine that in color.  Who posts a 360-degree shot like that in black and white, anyway?

Refreshed, we climbed back into our speedy little Stuttgart cocoon and struck out for Yosemite.  We hadn’t even gone through the gate yet when we passed Ellery Lake, elevation 9,472′.  The scenery doesn’t need the altitude’s help to be utterly breathtaking.

The colors, the air, the water–everything about the place is mind-piercingly crisp.  I desperately wanted to just sit there and stare at it for hours, but we had to keep moving.

At the gate to Yosemite National Park, we handed over the $20 entrance fee, which would suffice for both the “to” and “from” legs of our trip, as the receipt is valid for a week.  The Park Service employee was the first to comment on the carrying capacity of the 911, remarking, “Wow, I guess you guys decided to forget the minivan!”  “Bah, who needs it,” was my grinning reply.  She smiled, but that was probably because she was loopy from long hours of working at 9,945′ elevation.

The drive through the park was filled with astounding views, but we stopped only rarely.  After all, we were only just past the halfway point of the trip and we needed to make it to the Lone Oak Lodge in Monterey before too late that night.  One astounding view that we couldn’t help pausing to capture, though, was this one, at Cascade Creek:

Just a magical shot, with smooth, even lighting, taken by my lovely wife.

We exited the park on CA-140 as the sunlight began waning.  The road wound on endlessly through the darkening wilderness.  Just as the natural light relinquished its last foothold on the landscape at around 7pm, we popped out into Mariposa, a surprisingly vibrant little town on the west side of Yosemite.  My cursory overview of it on Google Maps and Earth had not prepared me for just how jumpin’ the place would be on a Thursday evening in October.  Lights were on, shops were open, restaurants were bustling with hungry patrons.  The wife and I both remarked on the state of the place and how nice it would be to stay there sometime, when we had more time to explore the great national park we’d just rushed through.  And we kept on going into the night.  The goal was to arrive at our hotel before 11pm, when the hotel’s front desk would close.

A stop in was in order to get #1 and #2 ready for the night portion of the drive.  We stopped at a CVS in Merced, CA to stretch our legs, dispose of trash, and get the kids some milk, which would hopefully put them to sleep.  We were all getting a little tired but could taste our destination now, just over two hours away.

Through Los Banos, past Hollister, around the hills and through the fields, we hurtled through the noticeably more-humid-than-desert California night.  There was only light traffic and the roads were flat and straight, making for easy driving on this last leg.  We cruised into Monterey just after 9pm and were checked into our hotel by 9:30.  I took the 911 back out on a quick solo trip for a fast food dinner and drugstore supplies, then shut her down for the night just outside the door to our room.  It had been a long, but exciting and eventful day.  We were tired, but eagerly anticipated the morrow.

The Downfall of Honda/Acura

I suppose the title should conclude with “in the US passenger car market.” Who knows how many industries Honda is really into, anyway? To find out, you could start with Honda.com, which lists cars (Honda and Acura are separate), power sports, racing, power equipment, marine, engines, and the HondaJet. I suppose this sort of diversification is why they can afford not to care about appealing to the niche US car enthusiast market. I just hate that their cars used to be great and now are just bloated, underpowered, understyled attempts to please the worst division of the car-buying public: the people who just don’t care about driving.

Honda updated its Civic in 1996 to a body style immortalized by the “The Fast and the Furious” and still seen on the road today. It was inexpensive, it was practical, you never tired of looking at it, the gearbox was a joy, and while there wasn’t much power in stock form, it was absolutely a joy to drive and additional power could be had for cheap in the aftermarket.

In 1997, Honda released a new Prelude that made 195hp and 190 lb-ft of torque from a 2.2L four-cylinder and featured an available Active Torque Transfer System (ATTS) in the high-end SH trim, which was only available with a 5-speed manual. If that’s not catering to the enthusiast, I don’t know what is.

In 1998, Honda restyled the Accord, making it larger than the previous model but managing to keep the fun-to-drive feel. The V6 got the VTEC valve timing and lift technology, upping its output by 30hp over the previous V6 to 200, with 195 lb-ft of torque available at 4700rpm. Mileage was a respectable 21/28mpg with a FOUR-speed torque converter automatic transmission (imagine if it could be retuned for a modern dual-clutch with more gears). Reviews were universally positive, the Accord re-established itself on the Car & Driver 10 Best list, and Honda sold zillions of them to proud, happy customers.

A few years later, armed with momentum and profits from these rapid-fire successes, Honda started kicking out absolutely monumental Acuras. In 2001, the MDX sport-ute made its first appearance,and its trophy case filled rapidly with The North American Truck of the Year Award, the Car & Driver “Best Luxury SUV” award, and the Motor Trend “Sport Utility of the Year” award. In 2002, the RSX arrived, dominated comparison tests, succeeded on the racetrack, and to this day still must be considered a prime choice if you want a fast front-drive two-door coupe/hatchback. The TSX appeared in 2004, and crushed its contemporaries the Volvo S40, Audi A4 1.8T, and Subaru Legacy 2.5GT in a Car & Driver comparison test. Patrick Bedard said of the TSX, “If this were a puppy, it would be wagging its tail from the shoulders on back, so happy, so eager to play. This one topped our fun-to-drive rating and the gotta-have-it factor. No doubts, no reservations. This is a keeper.” It also had, in my opinion, one of the best manual gearboxes ever crafted by mankind–even better than the one in the RSX. Lastly, the halo car for the brand, the NSX (may it and Aryton Senna rest in peace), received a freshening for 2002 wherein it lost its so-80′s pop-up headlights, but kept its first-ever-in-a-production-car super-lightweight all-aluminum monocoque construction and its screaming mid-mounted V6. It was a beautiful time to be a Honda/Acura lover.


   

Then, right there around where the stock price stopped its steady rise in early 2007, the love stopped too. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Honda killed the NSX and RSX, then restyled the TSX to make it unattractive and removed all the puppylike fun. They said the boy-racer 2006 Civic Si would satisfy the disenfranchised RSX customers–it didn’t, since it wasn’t a hatchback, looked futuristic in a stupid way, and the interior was no longer “special and unique” but “completely mundane.” They said they would focus their sports car efforts on a model year 2010 replacement for the NSX, then cancelled the project. They built the hideously ugly Ridgeline, which only escaped ridicule because “it’s a Honda” (the same could be said for the Pilot, especially the second-gen Pilot; yo Honda, practical does not equal desirable–see “Pontiac Aztek”). They killed the S2000. They haven’t made any significant changes to the RL in nearly a decade, the second-gen TL was too edgily designed to be a sales success, the CR-Z is just too slow and heavy to capitalize on the well of goodwill left over from the CRX, and the ZDX…ugh, don’t even get me started on the ZDX.

Honda, get back to doing what you did in the late 90′s and early 2000′s. Make eye-pleasing, simple, light, inexpensive cars that will run their high-revving engines forever. Make cars with great suspension tuning and heavenly manual gearboxes. Make cars that are interesting and inspire the imagination. Make cars that people will want to drive, no just live with. And seriously, give us back our NSX.

 




Jetta Sportwagen TDI – First Prod

This afternoon, after #1 woke up from his nap, his Mommy started asking him what he’d like to do.  I was downstairs or something, so I missed out on exactly how he came up with “go to the Volkswagen store.”  Not that I’m going to complain or anything.We headed down that way, passing a bunch of other dealerships en route.  He showed little interest in those, but when we crested the hill and the “VW” logo became visible on the downslope, he yelled, “THERE’S the Volkswagen store!”  I guess he wasn’t kidding about wanting to go.

We took one lap around the lot, then parked the ol’ family-hauler and got the boys out.  #1 wanted to go straight into the showroom.  As we walked toward it, he noticed an ’02-’04 996 C4S under the service overhang.  “Just like Daddy’s!  But Daddy’s isn’t red,” was his comment.  That’s my boy.  It WAS quite red, to the point of having black wheels with red rims and Porsche-badged center caps.  I bet those were expensive.  The plate was a custom job: GOTMINE.  Yeah, I do too, Boss, but I’m not shouting about it.  Have a little class.  Oh, and I didn’t see you in Monterey for Rennsport Reunion IV–sure you didn’t buy it for the badge?  At least it wasn’t a Tiptronic.

Anyway, we got into the showroom and breezed right past most of the VW fare, though #1 did like the idea of a Routan (primarily, I think, because it was all opened up and looked inviting to climb around in).  I told him we could just get the same thing for less money at the Chrysler store.  He also said the sky-blue-on-ivory Eos was “pretty,” and I chuckled, because the girls that pay the obscene amount they charge for it must really think so too.

The last car we got to in the showroom, due to our counterclockwise circuit, was the red-on-black Sportwagen TDI.  And I gotta say, there’s a lot to love about this car.  The panoramic sunroof with electric shade is very cool and gives the illusion of a lot more interior space.  There really IS a ton of interior space when you fold the rear seats down (almost flat but not quite) and open up all 66.9 cubic feet.  The multi-link rear suspension is certainly an improvement over the standard torsion bar in a Jetta sedan.  And how many wagons can you get with a) a six-speed stick getting 30/42 EPA MPG or b) a six-speed dual-clutch auto getting 30/42 EPA MPG?  Can’t make a bad transmission choice here.  One more thing: 236 lb-ft of torque.  That is all.

Downsides: not many.  I’m not sure if our 70-lb Labrador could sit up straight in the rear cargo area.  She might be stuck lying down for our travels, which is a shame because she loves staring out the rear glass, “watching puppy TV,” we like to say.  The exterior design is definitely understated, with lots of front/rear overhang and not enough of a crease down the length of the thing to keep it from looking blimpy.  The signature diesel clatter is definitely noticeable from outside the car, but why are people supposedly afraid of this?  I don’t think anyone age 30 or below has any memory of a smoky diesel passenger car.  Thus, there is no stigma to battle.  Heck, all I think when I see the letters “T-D-I” is “wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”

You gotta love the price.  Fully tricked out with TDI, dual-clutch auto, nav, sunroof, and all the electronic gizmos, you still squeak in under $30k after the destination charge.  Get the six-speed stick and you stay well away from $30k.  In either case, you’re significantly below the average price for a bloated, unnecessary, high-CG, expensive-tire, subpar-gas-mileage crossover, and way more fun to drive.  On paper, this thing is a winner.  Now I just gotta drive one…

(this picture courtesy the R&T “Impressions” at http://www.roadandtrack.com/tests/impressions/2010-volkswagen-jetta-sportwagen-tdi)

 

Rennsport Reunion IV – Part 3 – The Journey, Continued

Now, the town of Benton is where one finds the eastern end of CA-120, the magical mountain road that twists, rocks, and rolls from there through Yosemite National Park, and nearly to Oakland if you stick with it.  It was this view of CA-120 from Google Maps that was irresistible to me.

No boring million-lane mindless highway was taking us to Monterey, no sir.

We found that to be especially true just after getting on CA-120.  Outside of town, clawing our way up into the mountains, we passed a sign that said DIPS – NEXT 5 MILES, and I thought (…can’t…stop…myself…), “How hard can it be?”

By “dips” they must have meant 20-foot swells that brought back memories of the time I went halibut fishing in Alaska.  You would disappear into the trough of one of these “dips” and lose sight of the sun.  Then you’d crest the next rise and try to breathe before you plummeted down again.  You could see where vehicles driven too fast had nastily bottomed out, their crushed bumpers and undercarriages scarring the pavement.  It was absolute agony for my poor wife, who can get motion sickness pretty easily.  To make matters worse, the road surface itself was in awful shape, with teeth-rattling seams almost uniformly laid across its width.  It was an indescribable relief to get those five miles behind us.  Look at CA-120 just west of Benton on Google Earth (N 37 54′ 00″, W 118 39′ 45″ or thereabouts), and you’ll see that the dips are actually caused by the road cutting too near the foot of the troughs of the mountain range that lies off to the west.

The road had improved vastly now that it was no longer tangling with the forces of geology, and the scenery around us at elevation 6500′-plus turned otherworldly.  There were trees so blindingly orange that groves of them clustered around a peak made a mountain appear as if a stunning sunset was taking place at midday.  Perhaps the best part about the view was that the only ones to share it with me were my wife and little ones–absolutely no other cars on the road.  Sure beats sitting in traffic in Primm waiting for the outlet shoppers.  Then you crest a pine-studded hill and wow, there’s Mono Lake.  The remainder of the first leg of the trip–Las Vegas to Lee Vining–goes by in a flash.  We’re halfway to our hotel, the sun is shining, it’s lunch and gas time…all is right with the world.  And we haven’t even gotten into Yosemite yet.

I Gotta Have More 928

A quick break from the Rennsport Reunion story.

The Porsche slice of my life seems all aflutter with 928s recently.  To start, having acquired a Porsche flat six, I’ve now got a hankering for a Porsche V8.  This is probably due to the aching, empty spot in my heart where the rumble of my lost Audi RS6 used to reside, but that’s another story.  Anyway, the 928 is the obvious choice for someone such as myself that lacks limitless means, or so it seems by the starting bids on eBay.  Plus I dig the long, low profile and the unmistakable 80’s air about the thing.

Before we left for Rennsport, I dropped off my car for a pre-emptive oil change at http://www.carlsplace.org/ and coincidentally, the lead customer service guy, Brandt (insert Big Lebowski joke here), had just finished completely fixing up an ancient 1981 928.  Well, the mechanical bits were fixed up, anyway.  The interior is worn and rattles like crazy and the exterior looks every bit of its thirty years.  But I tell you, he tossed me the keys and told me to drive it around a bit, and the car pulls you along with such smooth, effortless authority that you’d swear you were in something of much more recent manufacture.  “It’s not a zero to sixty car,” Brandt remarked.  “It’s a sixty to a hundred and twenty car.”  Absolutely true.  The 928 isn’t a machine that rewards you for being hectic, but it delights in the more refined, superior subtlety of silently mowing down the freeway miles at a fantastic pace.  There’s almost no tire or powertrain noise in the cabin, the driving position is relaxed yet commanding, and the view down the endless hood beckons you toward the horizon.  I had just a sip of 928 that day, but it was intoxicating.

Then, in the latest issue of Panorama (the Porsche Club of America magazine), EVO magazine’s Chris Harris, a man famed for his excellent car journalism, his preference for Porsches, and for his recently stomaching the financial blow necessary to obtain a new GT3RS 4.0, lets on that he’s finding himself fascinated with 928s as well.  He locates a local one for sale, snaps some pictures for the magazine, gives it a test drive, and calls it a day…then calls the seller back some time later with an offer to buy, only to suffer a pang of regret at his delay when he’s informed it’s already been sold.  Unfortunate.  But think–if Chris Harris has trouble resisting the 928, shouldn’t we all?

Of course, 928s are cheap these days for a reason–they’re extremely expensive to keep running, and a bad one is certainly capable of doubling, if not worse, its purchase price by way of time-intensive repairs.  Gas mileage is in line with what you’d expect from an old V8; Road & Track got 16.5mpg combined in their February 1989 test of the 928S4.  And some (my wife included…blast it) don’t like the look.

But if you want a Porsche V8, and want something a bit more special than the Cayenne or Panamera, then the 928 is your answer.  I can’t promise it will be inexpensive, but it will be unforgettable.

Rennsport Reunion IV – Part 2 – The Journey

We topped off the gas tank just north of Vegas at http://www.lvpaiutesmokeshop.com/.  I’d done some rather precise fuel/distance calculations and was planning on stretching the 911 to nearly the limit of its one-tank endurance on the first leg of the trip.  Side note: filling the gas tank on my car is a little weird–the auto-shutoff on the pump always gets triggered long before the tank reaches capacity.  I wind up manually holding the pump trigger halfway down until I get a little spill from the filler port.  Anyway, the tank’s stated capacity is over 16 gallons, and if you take the Car & Driver observed MPG of 20, that’s a 320-plus-mile range.  I usually expect to get 22 or 23 mpg, so I figure 320 is a conservative range estimate–always want to err on the conservative side when it comes to fuel, for obvious reasons.  From the Smoke Shop to the next refuel point at the http://whoanelliedeli.com/ in Lee Vining, CA is, per Google Maps, 311 miles.There was some road resurfacing going on on 95 North–an extensive enough operation that the highway became one-lane, one direction at a time, with follow-me trucks pulling the traffic through.  Fortunately the weather was beautiful, so I just dropped the windows, pulled the e-brake, and shut the engine off while we waited our turn.  This happened in two different places!  No big deal…these two delays turned out to be the only hiccups on the otherwise smooth trip.

One key to the smoothness was my eagle-eyed wife spotting the turn onto Route 266 at Lida Junction.  I would have completely missed it.  The trip began in earnest here–we were off the beaten track now.  Cresting Lida Summit, we saw the Yosemite mountains scraping the sky, tantalizingly off in the distance.  I admit to taking these pictures on the way back, which explains why the sun is setting:

We then descended into the farming community of Fish Lake/Dyer, nestled in the shadow of the Sierra Nevadas.  The chief export seemed to be HUGE bales of hay.  Dancing along the border of California and Nevada here, we finally found Route 6, which committed us to Cali and the Agricultural Inspection Station in the town of Benton.  I note this only because stopped there at the station as we passed was a bee truck.  That’s right, an 18-wheel semi full of nothing but bees.

Next – Part 3 – More Journey.

Rennsport Reunion IV – Part 1

I love Monterey and Mazda Raceway Leguna Seca.  Obviously, I love Porsche.  So when I heard that near-as-makes-no-difference all the Porsches in the world were going to be at Leguna Seca in mid-October 2011, I had to be there as well.My darling wife, bless her, was receptive to the idea–and then we heard that Sally Carrera of Pixar’s “Cars” fame was going to be there, too.  The kids would adore that.  Sold.  Now, the only convincing I had left to do was the hardest bit–babe, I don’t want to take the Murano to a huge Porsche event, and I don’t want to take the Barstow/Bakersfield route–I want to take the 911, and I want to see Yosemite National Park.

My position on the matter was now raising eyebrows.  She doesn’t trust herself to drive stick, so all the driving would be my responsibility.  The boys are small, but their car seats are not.  How would we all fit?  Where would our luggage go?  How would we (she, really, since I was driving) entertain them for the entirety of the long drive?

Valid concerns, certainly.  But I thought I could win her over.  It’d just take some effort, planning, and forethought on my part.  First off, we definitely weren’t going to make it with two full-size car seats in back.  Some time on the Rennlist forums revealed the first breakthrough I would need: the Combi Kobuk Air-Thru child booster seat.  I swear some car seat engineer took it upon him- (her?)self to design that thing specifically so it would meet all the safety requirements and standards–AND fit perfectly in the rear seat of a modern Porsche 911.  Whomever you are, I am in your debt.

There’s a picture from our trial run with the new seat, with child #1 (on picture left) as test pilot.  The cable on the left side of the foreground sippy cup (which fits in the 911’s ingenious, space-saving cupholder) is the phone cord which powers the Valentine One radar detector mounted to the windshield.  For the trip, we did make a significant change from the template here–we actually ran with #1 behind me, as I needed a little more room to work the pedals than the full-scale car seat would permit.  The space problem with car seats is more a longitudinal one than a side-to-side one, as I think most parents would agree.

Now, it’s all well and good that the four of us physically fit in the car.  But this was to be a 5-day, 4-night excursion, and we’d need to pack some clothes somewhere.  I had some experience in this matter, having packed and taken the car on a 3-month TDY before.  Porsche lists the under-the-bonnet cargo room as 4.8 cubic feet.  I swear it’s the most generous and useful 4.8 cubic feet I’ve ever encountered.  I found we owned a rolling duffel bag that fit in there perfectly, maximizing the space but still leaving room on top for one or two small items if needed.  The other key spot for packing a 911 is the parcel shelf underneath the rear glass.  I eyed the space, then grabbed the original box for my 23″ flatscreen monitor, pulled all the styrofoam molding out, and voila!  Perfect parcel-shelf luggage.  Other key space would be in the rear-seat footwells (since neither boy’s feet would touch the floor), glovebox, and the map pockets in both doors.

Lastly, we’d need to keep the boys happy on the trip, and that would require some route planning.  I spent around two or three hours going back and forth between Google Maps and Google Earth, scouring the route for parks and places for the kids to run around.  My goal was to try and find an entertaining stop after each two-hour leg of the journey.  This wasn’t entirely possible, as large parts of our expedition were (admittedly by design) completely unpopulated and undeveloped.  Still, it was good to know where we’d have to push through and where we could expect a break.

I presented my better half with the results of my planning, and after some cajoling (caaammmmmm annnnnnn), she relented.  In fact, she seemed excited about breaking the kids-require-an-SUV-or-minivan mold.  I certainly married the right girl!  On Thursday, October 13, at 9:00AM local time, we set off.

Part II – The Journey…coming soon!

The Prius V

Maybe a week or so ago, we pull up to a long line of traffic at a red light. I always notice the sheen of new-car paint, and my eyes caught a glint, so I turned to my right and there it was–the new Prius V.

Personally, I’m generally anti-Prius, in that I hate how they look, the ‘image’ they are only too happy to project, and the fact that the public seem to embrace the Prius shape as the only shape a truly ‘green’ car can be. Additionally, I’m not sold on gas-electric hybrids (except for the Volt). Lugging around a huge battery pack just doesn’t make sense if the goal is efficiency (except where you design the car to operate primarily in electric-only mode, with gas power as a range-extending backup).

However, the Prius V gives me pause. It’s actually large enough for people with real dogs–ours is a 70-lb Labrador–and while it’s still running the old Hybrid Synergy Drive, manages to rate 44mpg city/40 highway. Thus, it compares nicely with the VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI (30 city/42 hwy, similar interior volume) which I was seriously considering as a replacement for our current family vehicle. The buying decision comes down to four questions: 1) Japanese or German, 2) highway or city commute, 3) do you want a clutch pedal (because the TDI offers one and the V does not), 4) do you live near a filling station that sells diesel at a competitive price?

As for me, check the blog name–I bow before all the mighty Volkswagen Auto Group has seen fit to bestow upon us. And I like clutch pedals, especially when the only other choice is a CVT. So the other two questions are probably moot, in my case.

But still, the V has been getting positive press. Motor Trend said “the V’s driving experience was better than that of any previous Prius” and discusses the trick system that makes it all possible–Pitch and Bounce Control, which uses the torque of the electric motor to alter load transfer during cornering. I’d love to know how they did that, but even if I don’t, that’s a great idea. Kudos to Toyota there.

So, America, climb down from your stupid high-CG, high-drag SUVs and get into one of these babies. Or, you know what, don’t. Just get a CTS-V wagon to tote the kids and dog. Those are so awesome that that’ll have to be a whole another post.