DEEEEE-TROIT! Part 1: Ford

It’s been far too long a layoff from writing here.  A big move from fantastic Las Vegas, NV to a slightly less fantastic spot in New Mexico is to blame.  Still, the automotive world never stopped turning during our relocation, and I’ve done my absolute best to keep up with it even though I haven’t had time to put fingers to keyboard.The North American International Auto Show went public in Detroit from January 13-22.  I noticed our move would take place right about that same time, so I was only too happy to ship the kids off to their grandparents’ in Michigan during actual packing and shipping so that, oh darn, we’d have to go pick them up while the show was live.  It would be my first trip-ever to Detroit and the NAIAS.

This is a video I shot of myself arriving.

Okay, that isn’t true.  But Chrysler is very cool, and I did grab this picture on the way in:


We’ll come back to Chrysler in a bit.

The entirety of the show fit into one gigantic hall, which was somewhat strange to me.  I had grown accustomed to shows like Philly and LA, where the show is split into four or five different halls.  The Cobo Center in Detroit brought every exhibitor together in one room, and I think the benefits were tangibly obvious–it seemed like a lot of industry people were wandering from their own displays and interacting with their peers and competitors.  The level of expertise I overheard in passerby conversation seemed noticeably higher than I had noted at any other auto show.

We strolled in through the first door we spotted and found Ford on our right, Honda on our left.  Honda’s hottest draw was the new CR-V.  Yawn.  We went right.  The blue-bathed Ford display was festooned right up front with at least four examples of the 2013 Fusion.  Autoweek had already named it “Best In Show.”  I’m not sure why.  The “Superman” grille treatment and derivative Mondeo side creases do not endear it to me–as far as I’m concerned, the midcycle refresh (years 2010-2012) of the original Fusion made for a much better/Ford-looking car than this new one.

One design change that Ford did well on, though, was the refresh of the Flex.  Taking the best of the original Titanium package’s exterior treatments (F L E X across the hood lip), adding a few new flourishes here and there, and bringing the MyFord Touch from the new Explorer into the Flex’s instrument panel were all excellent moves.  The Flex remains a fantastic, underappreciated, all-weather, high-speed, high-comfort people-mover for those who know that a conventional SUV is unnecessary about 99% of the time.

The awesome Flex doesn’t sell many copies, but gets rave reviews in the automotive press.
The new Explorer gets terrible reviews and sells like crazy.  Sigh.

In case you hadn’t heard, Ford has nixed the Mercury brand and is spending money hand over fist to revitalize Lincoln, following in the footsteps of many other automakers (Nissan/Infiniti, Toyota/Lexus) who produce two brands: one for the masses, and one for the elitists that will pay more for essentially the same thing.

Now, at present, Lincoln is fairly awful.  The cars are clearly rebadged Ford models, and what little unique styling they have is in general not very good.

This MKZ concept, however, was gorgeous.  It struck me as visually akin to a Jaguar XJ, which is similarly gorgeous.  If Ford can get this on the road for around the mid-$60k range (undercutting the European luxury makers) without straying too far from the concept’s styling, watch out.

The SVT Raptor that lifts up off of its frame was in attendance (you’ve seen it on this blog before), drawing a crowd as it always does.

America.  Eff yeah.

We moved on from Ford not too long thereafter.  Next time, on The Flat Six: ze Germanss!

Collision Avoidance Systems and Other Driving Nannies

Today I was awaiting a green light in traffic when my Valentine One started bleeping crazily, in the way it does when it detects a police laser.  Obviously I wasn’t moving, so I wasn’t concerned about incurring any laser-based citations, but I began looking around the intersection for a Metro cruiser.None of the city’s finest were visible.  But the V1 kept insisting there was a laser on us.  Odd, I thought–but I have 100% faith in that little black box, so my mind kept churning, wondering what it could be.  As the spotlight went green and I started underway toward my destination again, the warning stopped, and the proverbial light bulb appeared above my head.  A new Volvo S60 had been behind me at the light, and was now passing me on my left.  The Volvo’s infrared collision-avoidance system was what had antagonized my little electronic friend.

I became even more certain that the Volvo was indeed the culprit just a few hours later, when the exact same thing happened–new Volvo (this time an XC60) stops behind me at a light, V1 goes crazy.  Pull away from the light and put some distance between V1 and Volvo, and V1 settles down.

So how about that?  Not only does Volvo’s collision-avoidance system not work (see the video below), it also sets off laser warnings in detectors in front of it.

Let me get some more information about that for you…
Admittedly in my case the laser warning was triggered only when the Volvos were very close to my rear bumper, but this wasn’t exactly a scientific test.  What if, say, in heavy, fast-moving traffic, a Volvo sets off a V1 in a car in front of it, causing the already task-saturated driver to instinctively brake, and the Volvo’s system/driver fails in a manner similar to the way it did in the video above?  Now you have an accident caused by a system that is supposed to prevent one.
In the October 2011 issue of Car and Driver, Editor-at-Large John Phillips and former senior editor Phil Berg attempted to drive three different cars on interstates at interstate speeds while essentially blindfolded with their noble intent being to test the cars’ advertised ability to automatically maintain their lane.  You can read the article here, but it boils down to this: while the hardware does exist to make auto-lane-keeping possible, the software is not good enough to make the systems safe/effective.
In my opinion, there are simply too many variables for lane-keeping to be left to a computer–it’s just like trying to ask a computer to forecast the weather more than a day or two in advance.  For example, is there snow on the road, or just off of it?  What about gravel or sand or leaves?  Does the road have lines painted on it or not?  How does sudden bright sun glare or sudden deep shade affect the system?  What about rain/spray from vehicles in front?  What if the pavement is cracked or sealed or resurfaced or alternating between asphalt and concrete?  All of these things matter, and it would be next to impossible to engineer software to take every conceivable situation into account.
“The 1%,” I think, dream of the day that they can sell autonomous vehicles to the masses.  On that day, we poor hapless souls will suddenly have oodles more free time as we are whisked from place to place to rack up cell phone data overages while surfing Amazon to find more useless widgets to spend money on.  They’ll make so much money when this plan finally comes together that you know what, even if they have to settle a few autono-mobile wrongful death cases out of court, it’ll still be worth it, WELL worth it, to them.
So my advice to you, dear reader, is this: learn to drive, and learn well.  Do an autocross and/or get some track time so you know your vehicle’s limits and how it behaves when it goes beyond them.  Teach those dearest to you all that you possibly can.  Never drive while distracted, talking on a phone, texting, or watching anything other than the road.  And never buy a vehicle (or pay for an option) that tries to do the driving for you, because no one cares more about what’s in your car than you do.

Driving Vs Flying, and Magic, Every Day

The wife and I recently completed a three-day trip to New Mexico, where we found and (hopefully) settled on our next house.  It was a 729-mile trip each way, which Google Maps calculates to be 12 hours and 42 minutes.  On the way down, we accomplished it in about twelve hours.  On the way back, we turned it up…to eleven.  Eleven hours. That’s an average of 66.27–repeating, of course–miles per hour, including time stopped for gas, restrooms, and food.

Quick stats: the Porsche averaged over 26 miles per gallon on the trip with a highway cruising speed of over 80 mph.  Check out the numbers from the last tank of gas, which took us from Holbrook, NM all the way home to Las Vegas:

The average speed HAD been over 80, but an accident on I-95 in Henderson
crushed our numbers right at the end of the trip.

There was plenty of space for the two of us and our gear (the rear seats in the 911 are often derided or overlooked in the press, but owners will tell you they are incredibly useful), there was always an excess of power available for passing even at elevations as high as 7,797 feet, and as always the ease of outward visibility in the 911 made it easy to maintain awareness of nearby traffic.  Are there better long-distance cruising cars out there?  Certainly, but the Porsche would crush them on a track.  When it is said that the 911 is the world’s best, and perhaps only, go-every-day do-everything supercar, it is said with very good reason.

While all this is impressive–or at least I think it is–you might be saying, ugh, that’s a lot of driving.  And you’d be right.  But you can’t put a price on freedom, flexibility, and memorable experiences, and those are things that cars have always given their owners.

In this case, the plan was to make the trip from December 28 through December 31.  To fly commercial, we’d have had to shoehorn our schedules (and wallets, no doubt) into whatever allowed us to get into and out of El Paso around those dates.  Once in El Paso, we’d have had to rent a (crappy) car and drive two hours to our small-town destination.  As it turned out, we finished house-hunting early and were ready to leave on the 30th.  If we’d been bound by airline tickets, there’d have been no sense paying fees to change everything last-minute.  We’d have lost a whole day that we were instead able to spend at home (on New Year’s Eve, no less), plus spent extra money on an extra twenty-four hours of hotel and car rental.  Since we’d driven, it was simple: call the front desk the night before to notify them of our planned early check-out, hop in the car the next morning, and vanish toward the horizon.

Among the memorable experiences on our journey:

1) What looked to be a wolf sprinting across the road about a hundred yards in front of us

2) Our discovering that gasoline is wicked cheap in New Mexico at just $2.95 or so per gallon for regular, or about $3.19/gal for premium

3) Noting that the police in Springville, Arizona drive brand-new Ford Explorers which are no doubt paid for in part by the 10% effective tax rate on soft ice cream


4) Finding a surplus military deuce-and-a-half truck with a “For Sale” sign in the front window at that same McDonald’s

5) And lastly, our passing by the National Radio Astronomy Laboratory’s Very Large Array.

Those dishes may look small from the road, but each one is 82 feet in diameter.
Each one is rendered in 3D on Google Earth at coordinates 34.076266,-107.621469.

You don’t get any of that stuff when packed into an aluminum tube with a hundred strangers all gasping on shared recycled air.  Unless it’s just entirely too far and entirely unfeasible, I will always take a long drive in my Porsche over a date with TSA.

Oh, and the next day, I hand-washed the Porsche from top to bottom until it gleamed, then had it valet-parked at the MGM Signature for New Year’s Eve in downtown Las Vegas.  Engineered for magic every day indeed.

Farewell, Saab

Saab filed for bankruptcy this past Monday after nearly a year of desperately trying to keep its head above rising financial waters.  The automobile company Bob Lutz describes in his most recent book Car Guys Versus Bean Counters as a “lonely, undernourished wallflower” made just one real sports car in its lifetime (the 1966-1974 Type 97 Sonett) and was never a financial or performance powerhouse.  Still, it’s a terrible thing whenever any car company dies, and I shed especially sad tears for poor underdog Saab.  It was a brand with style and 21st-century potential.

The reason Lutz mentions Saab in his book is of course because the company was owned by GM from 1989 until 2010.  GM wanted a “premium European” brand in the late 80’s, and Saab was all that was available/affordable at the time.  Unfortunately, GM as an organization did not understand what attracted Saab loyalists to their cars–the word most commonly used for that attractive quality is “quirkiness”–and was also unable to enforce cost-saving engineering edicts upon the Swedes.  The brand became a self-replenishing red-ink well in GM’s accounting books.  Saab’s automobiles became little more than re-badged, restyled Chevrolets where the only unique and possibly “quirky” parts were expensive and invisible to the consumer.  Worse, as GM didn’t quite know how to make a Saab that appealed to the loyalists, the product portfolio was never refreshed and became stagnant.  The Saab 9-5 that came out and was competitive in 1997 was almost exactly the same when it was finally replaced after the 2009 model year.  Who would buy a “new” car with twelve-year-old engineering?

Finally, however, GM cut Saab loose via a slow separation process which began in late 2008.  The Swedes were so thrilled to be free of the General that they immediately started hinting about the long-overdue new 9-5.  It would share a fair number of components with GM products, but one thing was incredibly new and different: the new car’s design was inspired.  Striking.  It was clear that someone wanted Saab to be as good as it ever was.

The new 9-5 was a fine piece of engineering and design work and as a vehicle, certainly a viable alternative to the equivalent Mercedes/BMWs/Audis, especially if the buyer didn’t want to see a dozen clones of himself before leaving his subdivision in the morning.

The thing is, if you’d been paying attention, the new 9-5 was the pièce de résistance.  Despite languishing in many ways under inattentive GM, Saab had quietly placed its badge on a small but significant number of good cars in the mid-2000’s.  The 2005-2006 9-2X, while despised by Saab loyalists for not being a “real Saab,” was actually a better-looking, better-driving Subaru WRX wagon with the same performance chops and aftermarket tunability.  What’s not to love?

Saabaru vs. Subaru

The next Saab home run came in 2008 when the Swedes sent the United States 600 examples of a flawless black-on-black gem: the 9-3 Turbo X.  Pushing 11.6psi of boost through its turbocharger manifold, it made 280 horsepowers, 295 torques, and featured an electronic differential which could throw power to their rear axle, causing Car & Driver to remark that “playful oversteer is easily invoked with simple throttle modulation.”  Even better, the Turbo X was available in SportCombi (wagon) form with a six-speed manual.

The 9-3 Turbo X.  How cool are those wheels?!

The problem with all of these cars, especially the 9-5 and the 9-3 Turbo X, was not how they drove or looked, but how high their sticker prices were.  Crippled by high operating/production costs and a need to be equipped with premium-segment gizmos and interior materials, they were priced too high and advertised to little to be visible to the mass market, which was busy lusting after the Merc/BMW/Audi trifecta.  Saab, in truth, just wasn’t as good as the Germans, nor did it have the brand cachet, but the cars were priced as if it was and did.  It was a strategy and situation doomed to failure.

The upside of Saab’s bankruptcy is that all of those good, recent cars should suddenly be worth somewhat less on the open market.  There are those who fear being without a warranty and/or don’t know that their Saab can easily be serviced at most any GM (or Subaru, if you’ve got a 9-2X) dealership.  I would be surprised to see a GM shop turn down service on even a new, post-GM 9-5; again, the platform is Epsilon II–same as the Buick Regal/LaCrosse, among others–and many of the parts bolted to it come from the GM bin.  Still, dealers such as True Saab have already re-listed their new inventory for as much as $10k off MSRP.  This means that you can get a rare, modern, attractive car for far less than you’d pay for its equivalent, more ubiquitous competitors.

As for me personally, I know there aren’t may wagons out there with clutch pedals, let alone wagons with clutch pedals and all-wheel-drive, wrapped up in a package that burdens its underhood horses with less than fourteen pounds each.  The 9-3 Turbo X SportCombi XWD is on my family-car list.


I don’t know how far behind the times I am on this, but the English-language version of “Senna,” the documentary film depicting the life and F1 career of Aryton Senna, arguably the greatest racing driver who ever lived, is now available to watch instantly on Netflix.I just finished with it and it was utterly excellent.  The drama is compelling, the footage is painstakingly pieced together and always relevant, the interviews are poignant and emotional–it’s just a fantastic piece of cinematic work from beginning to end, whether cars and F1 racing interest you or not.

My recommendation: see it immediately.

Rennsport Reunion IV – Part 5: The Event

Mazda Raceway Leguna Seca is an amazing place.  If there were an Olympus for the car gods, Leguna Seca would be it.  You get there by leaving your hotel in Monterey and climbing near-vertically up an imposing slope, often through the low-hanging marine clouds.  When you emerge into the sunshine, there it is: eleven corners and 2.238 miles of raucous racing bliss.

Now, typically when I see a Porsche on the street, it brightens my day a bit.  It is therefore difficult to express the boundlessness of my joy when I see thirteen hundred Porsches in the parking corrals at Leguna Seca.  That’s one thousand, three hundred.  Every color, every level of customization and modification, every year, every type imaginable.  It was fantastic.

Yeah.  That’s just one of the corrals.  There were several.

The first thing we stumbled upon when we first arrived on Friday was part of the 911-specific display.  I say “part” because there were 38 cars in the display, so they weren’t all in the same place.  These weren’t museum Porsches either–these were PCA member cars, driven hard and impeccably maintained by loving owners.

I think this one was my favorite of this particular group.  A 1997 Turbo S Coupe, blue turquoise on black, with yellow calipers and matched yellow seat belts.  You laugh at the seat belt thing for about five seconds, and then you realize a) how awesome it is and b) that you want some caliper-color-matched belts too.  But wait, how could this be my favorite when right next to it is a bright yellow 964 RS America?  And when immediately to the right of this picture is a brand-new GT3RS 4.0?  Impossible to say.  Like Michael says in Office Space, “I guess I kinda like ’em all.”

I wasn’t going to tease you with “brand-new GT3RS 4.0” and then not deliver a picture.

Limited by the temperament of the children, we were not able to sit and carefully watch any of the weekend’s races.  Still, the glorious howl of the engines and the sight of some of the most timeless, most iconic cars in automobile and racing history hurtling purposefully along one of the greatest tracks in the world was a truly epic experience.

Saturday morning was a bit foggy, but that couldn’t dampen our spirits–all that did was lend some seasonally appropriate Halloween spookyness to my pictures.

Of course, the highlight of the visit for our boys was meeting Sally Carrera from the Disney/Pixar film “Cars.” She was on display in the “Porsche Park in the Paddock,” which also included a stage, a full-size movie screen, a fully stocked biergarten, the new 991s, and the 918 RSR.

The last three pictures there aren’t actually mine.  I have a very similar one of the 918 RSR with the boys sitting in front of it, but you’re here for the cars, not the kids.  I confess to not taking any pictures of the 991s, figuring Porsche would release plenty of higher-quality shots of their own.  They have, but I’m still kicking myself for not having some pictures I can call my own.

Lastly, the racecars.  Of course they were all studies in pure awesomeness, and I’m disappointed in myself for not bringing home more pictures.  Still, I got enough to drool over for awhile.

Gulf-liveried 917s.  If you haven’t seen Steve McQueen’s “Le Mans,” just get on it.
The GT1 during the parade.
The 2011 Flying Lizard Le Mans GT3 RSR.  The pit crew were  showing off demo pit stops on this car, changing all four tires in right around 9 seconds.
RS Spyder, now-retired king of the ALMS LMP2 class.

That about sums up the RR4 coverage.  We’ll put this trip to bed with the final installment, Part 6, which will cover the return home back through Yosemite with more time to gape at the surroundings.

Passat TDI versus 458 Italia

Am I the only one that’s noticed this?

Both the supercar Ferrari 458 Italia and the proletarian Volkswagen Passat have the vanes (or as Ferrari calls them, “aeroelastic winglets”…la-dee-FRICKIN DAH) in the lower front!  Obviously the 2012 Motor Trend Car of the Year needs the additional downforce this little touch provides just as much as the Ferrari does.  Right?
Actually, to beat the 458 in a cross-country or endurance test, I doubt if it would.  The Ferrari has a 22.7-gallon tank and gets an EPA-measured 12mpg city, 18mpg highway.  The Passat TDI has an 18.5-gallon tank and gets 31/43mpg.  So the Passat goes 795.5 miles between stops, whereas the Ferrari can only manage 408.6.  Assuming max range cruise speed and no traffic or potty breaks, the 458 would have to stop 8 times for gas on the way from the Montauk Point Lighthouse to the Santa Monica Pier.  The Passat only needs 4 stops.  The Passat’s passengers would be atop the Ferris wheel while the Ferrari’s crew would be back somewhere looking for an exit ramp.
Honestly, if I had to own a car with aeroelastic winglets (or their look-alikes), I’d rather have the Passat.  The Ferrari would be great to drive once or twice, but living with it day-to-day would be tiresome–no rear seats, no cargo space, silly steering wheel, expensive service, and, oh, right, I’d always have to worry about it spontaneously bursting into flame.

Back East

Recently my mom’s mom passed away, so I made the journey home to the East Coast for the funeral and some family time.  For good or ill, I can’t shut off the ‘car’ part of my brain even for such weighty occasions, so I came away from the trip as I always do a few automobile-related experiences and observations.

First, I bought a “duPont Registry” magazine at the airport Hudson News store to read on the airplane.  I usually manage to avoid doing this because as you know if you’ve ever bought one, it is not a actually a magazine but a 250-page collection of advertisements for cars and dealerships that sell cars no 99-percenter can afford.
I caved this time around because the December 2011 issue has some lovely renderings of TechArt-modded 997s on the cover.  On one hand, I hate TechArt for doing what they do to Porsches, with their ridiculous body kits and huge wheels, but on the other hand, the Fast and Furious part of me thinks they are pretty cool in that tuner-ish kind of way.  Still, I could never take my exquisite hunk of bulletproof German engineering to some random garage where they would hack it all up, cover it with cheap fiberglass, slap dub-deuces on it, and remap the ECU to make OVER 9000!!!! horsepower (for the three seconds before the whole engine comes apart).
Anyway, there was nothing interesting to a mere mortal like myself in the DR mag EXCEPT for two specific ads: one on page 75 and one on page 190.  On 75, a law office offers to help you register your vehicle in Montana to avoid sales tax and numerous other government charges.  On 190, there’s a similar ad for a service that does the same sort of thing, except in Alaska.
These piqued my interest because the massive downside to buying a car (new or used) from a dealership in the state of Nevada, where I currently reside, is that you pay the standard 8.3% state sales tax on the transaction.  According to, a sales tracking website, the average transaction for a new, typical passenger vehicle in the US is right around $30,000.  The add-on tax a buyer would have to pay to complete that transaction would be $2,500.  Ridiculous.  So even if these advertised services charge $500 or so,  you’d still save two grand!  I’m going to follow up on these at some point, and I’ll pass along my findings.
Item two from the trip East comes from a drive I had in my mom’s first-gen TSX.  Her car is unfortunately saddled with an automatic transmission, which is the same thing as buying the Baltimore Ravens and then immediately trading away Ray Rice.  It’s still a strong franchise, but you missed out on the most vital part.
I did both some back-road and some highway driving in both day and night for around ninety minutes total time behind the wheel.  Conclusions: the suspension tuning is indeed excellent.  The steering is as precise as it can be for a front-engine, front-drive car, but quickly gives way to understeer, as would be expected.  The engine note is definitely not in line with the lofty goals of a ‘premium’ brand, and the engine performance is certainly not overwhelming, though the throttle response is quick.  According to the mileage computer displayed on the dashboard, the car averages 24-25 mpg in mixed driving on the required premium fuel.  Interestingly, the 5-speed auto has a better EPA mileage rating than the 6-speed manual (19/22 versus 20/23).
On right now, first-gen TSXs with manual gearboxes and
less than 60k miles are floating around in the $17-20k list price range with the main differentiator being the presence of a nav system, which was the only noteworthy option available from the factory.  That seems a bit high given the recent glut of high-quality small cars that have come from a number of manufacturers, both foreign and domestic.  The price of a used TSX doesn’t seem to have adjusted for this fact, as my mom could probably sell hers fairly quickly for about what she paid for it a year ago.  Still, it’s a decent car with a phenomenal manual gearbox, and if you can find a clean one for under $17k (don’t forget about the tax!), it’s a solid buy.
Back to the airport for me.  Can’t wait to get home to my wife, kids, and my new car mags, which came in the mail while I was gone.

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.