Test Drive: 2017 Ford F150 Crew Cab XLT FX4 4X4

So many letters in what is ostensibly just an F150.

As noted in the Honda Ridgeline review, we’re testing a few things, and it’s been suggested to us that for a similar price to a midsize truck, or SUV, you can pretty much have a fullsize.

That’s sort of true, and sort of not.

The model we drove had an MSRP of $55,000 +/-. This is well out of our ballpark, but it was what they had on the lot – it’s a standard dealer thing, you always get to test drive the best, as people will often miraculously find features they didn’t know they couldn’t live without. And trucks are notoriously profitable on a per unit basis. That said, the sales guy was fantastic, very knowledgeable from the back seat, and extremely confident in the product he was selling (he found us an “off road” segment to play on, which was cute, even though it would have been manageable in a 2003 Ford Crown Victoria).

So, exterior first.

It’s fucking big. It just really, really is. We decided the best way not to waste the sales guys time was to go straight home, and make sure it fit in the driveway, lengthwise. It did, but only with a foot or two to spare.

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As equipped, I don’t know what the total length was[1] but “long” would be the fair statement. Four doors and a standard bed will do that. It’s actually a pretty good looking truck, too – I’m a big fan of the drop in the front window/sill. It breaks up what is a staggering amount of sheet metal, and gives it some character. Otherwise, yeah, it’s a big truck. The grill is massive, as is the tailgate, and the 20″ wheels look positively diminutive, with 65 series off-road M/S tires on them. It rides tall, it rides high, and you sit up on it. That said, it drives smaller than the visual clues imply.

Nice Segue, eh?

So, in traffic, it’s not bad. It’s big. There’s no getting around that. I got honked at taking the inside turn on a two-lane at a light, simply because the other driver assumed I was going to run wide. And I got awful close to doing so, but I got away with it, and didn’t clip the median. But it took work to do so. Did I mention it’s big? And that size is bound up in length, when you’re maneuvering it. It fills most of a lane, and when I say “fills” I mean it. You pay attention, or you wander out of the lane, there’s not a ton of margin for error in a standard lane.

Big.

It’s also tall – and I can see the attraction. There was pretty literally nothing that I couldn’t see over in traffic, it dwarfs most vehicles. Again, it’s not bad, but you gotta pay attention, especially with the extra ride-height for the FX4/4×4 package, and big wheels/tires. With all that said, it doesn’t wallow through corners the way I’d have expected. It’s not exactly car like, but it does a reasonable approximation of a car going around a corner, or an on-ramp at speed. In other words, you never feel like it’s going to fall over. And those on ramps? Super easy. The 2.7L twin-turbo V6 is a pretty killer little engine. A lot of guys will only buy the V8s in a truck this size, but unless you’re seriously working hard with your truck (and if you are, you’re probably moving up to the F250 or F350 anyway) you really don’t need it. The 2.7TT has gobs of torque down low, and plenty of power in the mid-range. I didn’t wring it out in the high end, but…. that’s not the kind of vehicle this is. Realistically though, this is a better engine for this truck than a V8 would have been ten years ago. The transmission, same thing – it’s a well-tested 6spd automatic, rather than one of the newer 8,9, or 10 speeds that are becoming available, and it felt.. fine. You could feel shifts if you were into the throttle, but it wasn’t harsh. And it was butter smooth in traffic at low throttle too. The brakes seem adequate, but I’m willing to bet they’re a wear item you replace regularly, given the weight of this behemoth.

Back inside, and the driving position is good – like I said, you sit up on it, not in it. Sight lines are remarkably good, and that’s in part because of that dip in the front doors – you can see DOWN into traffic much more easily. IN terms of looking around you, the mirrors are huge, and so are the back door windows. It’s a full size, the headroom means a lot of glass, and that glass all round makes you feel confident in seeing everything you need to. The backup camera picks up the slack just fine, as well.
Sidenote: This, I think, is more why people are gravitating from cars to trucks & SUV’s. All that glass is like the cars we used to have, that you could actually see out of. Trucks haven’t (yet) been struck by the super-high belt lines, and high-arse of the typical sedan of any size now, that you just… can’t see out of awfully well. I mean, you can, but it does take effort. A modern compact sedan has similar sight lines and blind spots to my 2-door coupe, which is ridiculous.
As with most of what we looked at, there’s blind spot warnings as well, and they’re mostly unobtrusive.
Due to those sight lines, the BSWS is probably unnecessary, too, but it’s becoming expected. But so not necessary when you can see so damn much out of the truck, in all directions.
The Sync3 system for the stereo is great, I had my phone paired in seconds. No Android Auto at the time we drove it, but it was apparently coming. The interior seemed well put together (better than the Colorado you’ll read about next), and the storage is, unsurprisingly, ridiculous. You can hide a laptop in the center console. There’s outlets for everything. For our purposes, the back seat is actually kind of amazing: it’s so big back there that we could, I think, put the seats up against the back wall of the truck, and have the dog in his crate, for safety. It’s huge back there. The only thing I can think of that has more back seat passenger space is a modern minivan.

All in all, I liked it. We even got reasonable fuel economy, given it was brand new, with less than 70km on the clock, and a lot of that idling. We left with the gauge showing 19.7L/100km, and a romp up the highway and half an hour in city (Saturday) traffic had me down to 14.5L/100km. that says to me I was probably getting somewhere closer to 10L/100km in real time numbers. If you drive it sedately, it seems it’ll look after you at the pumps. Abuse it, and you’ll have some fun, but you will definitely pay for it. Or tow, for that matter. I can see anything approaching the ( lbs) tow limit seriously destroying your fuel economy. But it is a full size truck, so, no surprise there.

I can only imagine what it’s like with the 3.5L twin turbo/ecoboost under the hood. I really don’t see the point of the V8, these days. Unless that’s turbo’d too (it’s not).

SO, back to where we started – what can you get it for? Is it cheaper to buy a fullsize than it is to buy a mid-size?

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Not on paper, at least. There MIGHT be money on the hood, but again, Canada’s a bit different than the USA when it comes to pricing and discounts. If we waited for a sale, and took what was on the lot, yeah, we could probably get it down to equal, but I think it’s doubtful we could get this particular set-up for less than $40,000. So, best case scenario would be “same price as the Ridgeline”.

It’s not for us though. It’s just TOO BIG and TOO MUCH. It is 100% ‘murica. Bigger is better, and biggest is best, and that’s really not what we’re looking for. If we were though, I’d rather have this than the Chevy Silverado, or Dodge Ram. It’s… more adult feeling than those two (especially the RAM). Ford has really hit the “mobile office” nail on the head. And, yes, we could get into it in a spec we like, for about $10k less on the MSRP, and then whatever Ford has on the hood, plus financing. It would be workable, and yes, it would be about the same price, for about twenty-five percent more truck. I like it an awful lot more than I expected to, though. I can see how people end up commuting in them.

But at the end of the day, it’s a quarter truck we don’t need, want, or have anywhere to park.

Onto the next one!

[1]I’ll find out

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Test Drive: 2017 VW Golf SportWagen 4motion

Ohhh, forgot about the test drives. Still to come, the Subaru Forester (2017) and Chevrolet Colorado (2016 w/”TrailBlazer” package) (oh, and the Ford F150 I wrote and once again forgot to post). However, we also looked at the 2017 VW Golf SportWagen TSI 4motion. And most of what I would have said is here, in The Truth About Cars review of the 2017 VW Golf SportWagen TSI 4motion: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2017/01/2017-volkswagen-golf-sportwagen-4motion-review/ at least in terms of the mechanical. Canada (TTAC’s writer is in Ohio for this review) gets the full spread of options on the 4motion SportWagen.

I also forgot to take pictures. I’m not good at this.

What I’ll add is this:

Given the price I was quoted, I would have bought this car. The deal was spectacular, considering the feature list (Trendline, if you want to look it up on the VW.ca webpage). Better than a base Forester, and nearly $13,000 less than the currently-leading-the-pack Honda Ridgeline Sport. I may yet buy this car, a year or two down the road, as my own daily driver, as the Genesis becomes less and less a day-to-day car. I really really like it.

However, Janine doesn’t. She felt the roofline was somewhat encroaching on her. That’s due, I think, in large part, that she’s used to the 2005 Forester’s soaring roofline and nearly vertical windshield – even in the Genesis Coupe, it’s not as pronounced because you sit down into the ‘coupe, rather than onto the Golf and Forester. I think she’d get used to it, and would be fine if it was “once in a while” (ie. My daily driver, and her having something else) but the vehicle we buy now is going to be primarily hers, so she’s gotta love it. And she doesn’t.

She also noted the sideview mirrors were pretty small. Again, I didn’t notice this, but I adapt pretty quickly.

What I loved? It’s a CAR, not an SUV. But it’s got all the space. Holy god, does it ever. And, the TSI 1.8L Turbo is no slouch, especially attached to the 6spd dualclutch transmission. It’s a fantastic combination as a driver. Seating position, comfort of the seats, etc, all typically German – excellent, and driver-centric. Visibility is great, too – it’s a wagon.

Indifferent? The entertainment system does what’s on the box. It’s perfectly adequate, as is the stereo. As with all things German, it’s a sea of grey and black inside. I’d rather a manual (which the US is getting as an option, so maybe we will too?) option.

What I didn’t love? VW’s 4motion is still a haldex “slip’n’grip” unlike Subaru’s AWD. I didn’t get to test it out in slippery conditions, though, and I know people who are thoroughly happy with previous generations of the 4motion system. It’s just not the BEST option.

If you’re looking, this is a great car. It’s got tons of space (pretty equivelent to a compact SUV (think Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Honda CRV, Hyundai Tucson) and is notably bigger than the hatchbacks it’ll get lumped in with (Subaru Impreza, Hyundai Elantra GT, Chevrolet Cruze hatchback, Honda Civic Hatchback, etc), AWD, and car-handling. Skip the “Alltrack” version. At a base of $36,000cdn, all you’re really buying is some plastic bodycladding and taller springs. It starts at the top-trim level of the standard sportwagen, which is why the price is high. My advice would be to skip the alltrack, get the 4motion wagon, and maybe the midlevel trim (I can never remember if that’s comfortline or trendline). For the “arounD $33k out the door” price I saw, that’s a pretty spectacular deal on a family hauler these days, if you don’t have to show the neighbours how big your….. SUV…. Is.

It would approach perfection with a manual transmission (and the accompanying $1400 price drop) and some deep bronze flake paint, and some sticky summer tires (with alternate aggressive winter tires).

Yeah, I’d buy this. I really would. And eventually, may even. If the manual option does appear, it becomes the unicorn of the car world – a manual, brown, all-wheel drive, turbo, wagon. Gives me the shivers, does that. Ooooh, Nelly.

Thoughts on The Grand Tour, Top Gear, and the state of Automotive Television

This started out as a pretty simple facebook thing, but then it got… long. Raise your hand if you’re surprised.

No one? Fuck. Well, I am who I am.

Ok, so first off, here’s a bit of automotive history – Clarkson on the History of Japanese Cars:

Opening with the bombing of Hiroshima may be a tad insensitive, but it is historically accurate. So, I’ll allow it.

BUT.

This is pretty much the definition of what’s wrong with The Grand Tour. I’ve kept my mouth shut to this point – the car guys (and girls) love it so far but I’m having the same misgivings as I had with the last few seasons of TopGear under Clarkson, May, and Hammond.

And, because I am who I am, I’m going to tell you why. At length. Buckle up, buttercup.

So, did you watch that bit on youtube? Yeah, the image quality isn’t great, but he’s telling a story. Unlike the last ten years, where history has been the domain of James May – That’s fine, May’s a serious historian, and tinkerer, but Clarkson also has a huge (or had, at least) interest in histry. And that’s basically been gone for five years now. He just shouts. He’s the Trump of the automotive world. SHOUT THINGS! REACT TO PEOPLE! SHOUT MORE THINGS! LISTEN TO THE CHEERS!

And that’s the problem.

The Grand Tour isn’t thoughtful in the way TopGear has always been. They used to interview people, now, they “kill” them. They used to test cars, now they slide them. They used to have adventures. Now, they go to other countries and irritate people.

Now, they were already doing that on BBC TopGear. But the BBC was obviously keeping Clarkson in line.

But Clarkson is running the asylum now. And it’s worse for it.

The other side of things, is that the Grand Tour is fully aimed at the US market. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a different market, and it’s one that doesn’t necessarily appreciate what TopGear used to do really well – Be British.

It’s a shame. The British stoicism brought something to the show that you wouldn’t get elsewhere. Yes, Clarkson is an ass (and he really is) but he’s turned it up to eleven now, and it’s very obviously Spiderman 3 syndrome: “If one villian makes a good story, then four villians will kill them!” Except it doesn’t does it? It just irritates, and suddenly, there’s not enough time for the depth, and thoughtfulness that had TopGear appealing to a lot more than car people (My mom used to watch TopGear, because it was, actually, entertaining, beyond the cars).

At the same time, TopGear (the new one) has gotten a bad rap. Matt LeBlanc, especially, is a fantastic presenter. He’s got exactly the right tone and presence on screen for it. Chris Evans, especially, got pummelled for his style in teh first two episodes, but after that, he quieted down a lot and started to deveop his own voice, rather that shouty Clarkson imitation. I feel bad for Evans, I really do. He was set up to fail on this one, because they were going to need a scapegoat for lower ratings when TopGear came back. But the show itself, beyond the fanboi “THERE’S NO TOP GEAR WITHOUT CLARKSON” shit, has actually been pretty good. In fact, if you watch it back to back with The Grand Tour you start to see…

That Clarkson and crew really haven’t done anything different with The Grand Tour, except try to be… more irritating. Again, I think Clarkson got a lot of help, and was really kept from doing the truly stupid stuff, by the BBC. And at the same time, Clarkson (and May, and Hammond) did bring something very special to TopGear.

And the thing is, fanbois, that’s never coming back.

Ever.

In fact, it hasn’t been there for the last two or three years at TopGear, anyway.

The Grand Tour is what Clarkson wants to make. And it’s inferior. Top Gear is what BBC needs to make, because the franchise makes money for them, and, it’s currently inferior. But they’ve got a good cast and they’re playing with how they do things – they’re evolving.

Clarkson’s Grand Tour, however, is a dinosaur. I wouldn’t expect it to last long, unfortunately.

Just from what I’ve seen on social media, there was massive buzz about Episode 1, huge interest in Episode 2, and no one has said a word about Episodes 3, 4, and 5. There’s good reason for that. The show is lackluster at best. It’s a shadow of its former (Say, Top Gear Season 15 or so) glory. Now, that said, the latest episode (ep 5) has been pretty good, all in all. They got back to what they’re good at, a bit. Still fell back onto “how funny is it that we’re British and we don’t understand foreign cultures?” (ie. irritate the locals) but still, they were actually back on form.

This whole “kill the famous guests” thing has to fucking go though. It’s so old and played out, already. Just. Stop.

But all the fanboi’s care about is that things never change. And that’s a problem inherent in the automotive community, not just in terms of Top Gear: “If it’s not my way, it’s shit”.

Literally none of the fanboi’s could see that we won, overall.

Yeah, Clarkson, May, and Hammond? THey left (a stagnant) Top Gear.

But Top Gear continues.

They started Grand Tour.

At the same time, in the interim, we got a revival of Fifth Gear online, and we saw a huge growth in really solid youtubers doing good things with cars – Matt Farah and the Smoking Tire, Chris Harris, Might Car Mods, Roadkill, Petrolicious, /Drive, Regular Car Reviews, and the list goes on.

And these guys, they all have something going on? Why? Because they’re doing something different, something new, and it’s interesting.

As an aggregate? We totally won. I mean, we REALLY won. We went from one real car/lifestyle show, to dozens, in any style you might like. And that’s awesome.

But no.

The Fanboi’s only want TopGear, circa season 21. Forever. And Ever. Because change is scary and they are scared, scared little menboys.

Which means we’re more likely to just get more of the same, than what the boys are really good at, which is telling interesting stories around cars, not just around tire smoke. And that’s a shame. But it does keep the dollars coming in, and the cameras rolling. So, I’m torn. But I don’t look forward to The Grand Tour. I watch it because it’s there. I used to really look forward to Top Gear (and I am looking forward to seeing where the next season of new Top Gear goes, as well, with LeBlanc at the helm).

Embrace the new. It’s pretty awesome. And you still have your thing.

Slouching Onwards to Automotive… Somthing or other.

It’s been that kind of summer. Between finally getting to the track and some general meandering around the province, I’ve put about 9000km on the ‘coupe this summer. That’s actually a big deal for me, as I commute to work by bike, so during the week, it’s not unusual for me to not even start the car for four or five days. Basically, all that mileage is cottage runs, and cruises.

The track wasn’t high mileage (obviously) but 90 minutes at basically wide-open throttle (I kid you not, I could WATCH the gas gauge drop) is hard mileage. So, I’ve ended up with a few more oil changes than usual during the summer too.

There’s just time for two more, as well – Right now, I need an oil change and then I’ll need one again next month.

Next month, you say? That’s crazy talk, three months for oil changes is the norm.

Except.

September27th, I leave for Tail of the Dragon.

It is 1686km one way. Tail of the Dragon (Deal’s Gap) is in Tennessee. I’ve no idea how much mileage I’ll do there, but then it’s 1686km home, as well. I figure that the bare minimum I’ll do in those five or six days is 4000km.

Now, THAT’S a driving vacation.

And right now, a bunch of you are muttering to yourselves that I’m nuts. And I’m not sure you’re wrong. But, with the help of someone who’s done it before, I’ve got a route that, while slightly longer, runs through some very scenic country that isn’t downtown Detroit.

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That should be some pretty glorious driving, even if it is fifteen hours worth. Each way.

Before that, though, I’ve gotta I had to deal with the car. (Had to – Ummm, I was gonna post this Friday afternoon, and it’s now Monday morning. Whattayagonnado?)

Like I said, oil change. that’s actually scheduled for 2pm Friday – Finally, I’ve hit my last “included” oil-change (20 of them at time of purchase, 7.5 years ago). Once that’s done, it sounds like Friday tonight was going to be burgers’n’shakes (and it was), our weekly car crew get-together. Saturday morning, I was up at 7am, and in the garage.

What’s on the agenda?

First, brakes. You’ve all read by now the Post-trackday work I had with the brakes. And through the awesomeness of friends, that got me back to “driveable”. I want better than that for the Dragon, though. So, I ordered up some EBC YellowStuff pads:

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I’ve also got OEM rotors for the back brakes, that are fresh(er than my R1 Concepts ones), and that combination should be prettty good.

once that’s done, I definitely have to change the brake fluid. It would have been nice to do steel lines, but that’s going to be part of the winter upgrade – I don’t have the cash or time right now.

I hate bleeding brakes. Passionately. So, I’m kinda hoping I’ll have some help for it. We’ll see how that goes. I’m pretty sure I can manage, I won’t be trying to get bubbles out of the system, just trying to clear the old and refill with new, so I don’t REALLY anticipate any problems.

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It’s not rocket surgery, after all. Also, found a “one man bleeder kit” at Canadian Tire, and that was $8 well spent, as far as I’m concerned. No bubbles from what I could see, and all the fluid was coming out clear, and clean…. after a few good pumps. #notaeuphemism.

After that, the car is basically good to go. If I have time, I’ll probably pull the AEM DryFilter, and wash it, along with the hydroshield. I have to remove the front bumper for that. While the bumper’s off, I want to tighten up the lip as well – since I realigned it, it seems to move around some. I’m not really worried about it falling off, but I’d like it not to scratch what’s left of my paint. So, if I get time for that, that’s on the agenda too.

Tire pressures will be set. To factory. Because that’s what you do.

After all that, interior cleaning and set-up. I’m going to have a ton of electronics charging in the car – multiple (GPS, four… maybe? Five? go-pros, a pair of Uniden walkie-talkies, my phone, oh, and my regular-issue dashcam.

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How to run all that?

Mount a 12V splitter – I have a stack of 12v dual-2.1a-USB sockets, which are perfect for charging pretty much anything, I just need enough 12v sockets to plug everything in. the only trick will be “where to mount the splitter”. So, I guess THAT’S on the agenda, too.

Actually, ended up being fairly easy:

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At the same time, I ran my longest USB cable under the console, and out the back, into the back seat. I want to do a video of the entire drive down, then speed it up, and set it to music – 1700km in 6 minutes or so. We’ll see how that works out. But I’m mounting it way in the back, rather than just in the windshield, so that, hopefully, it’s a little more interesting and personal. I think Andyman is going to do an exterior camera for this, so it’ll be interesting to see the differences.

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Roadtrips. They’re just the same and very different from what they used to be. All I used to take was a couple of big, spiral-ring map-books. And most people thought that was too much, too. Apparently, wifi/connectivity is hard to come by once we actually GET to TotD, but I’ll be posting as I go/when we stop. If you’ve any interest in the along-the-way antics and any updates I can do from Fontanta Village itself, feel free to follow me on @boozysmurf on Twitter, and/or @b00zysmurf on Instagram.

And the Saga of the Brakes Continues

Seriously, eight months without a post, and now three in four days?

So, looks like my thoughts on my first excursion on the track provoked some interest: viewership kinda exploded. I’m sure it’ll settle back to the usual 3-6 da day (mostly on the Mysterious Package posts) but in the interim: Hey, new folks!

And, as I noted, I killed my brakes. And I was Looking into options.

It turns out, on the bottom of the Frixa pads box, it says, very clearly “NOT FOR TRACK USE”. But who the hell looks at the bottom of the box??? That would have been helpful on the TOP of the box.

C’est la vie.

The deal is, though, by the time you read this, I should have the car back on the road. New brakes are acquired, at least for short-term.

Lets go back in time a little bit.

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When I bought the Genesis Coupe in 2009, it was one of three in the city. They were rare. like any new model (it’s still just a Hyundai). There was a community beginning in the ‘states, but not much in Canada yet. I got involved in GenCoupe.com, and that was OK. Upside was, I met some good people locally, who I’m still very, very good friends with. I, and those guys and girls, never actually called ourselves anything. Fast forward to 2010, 2011, and there’s a group popped up in Oshawa/Whitby area: The Durham Basterds. We met a bunch of these guys and girls, and, well, got along famously. Some are just car friends, others have become friends: it was a year before I met most of them. It was also several of these guys who pushed me towards the much more structured community of Chapter 11. And I got to know some more of the guys, even better.

My Bombshelter crew: the guys and girls from University have become the bar to which I hold myself, and anyone I meet.

The core of the Basterds?

They’re worthy of the Bombshelter.

They do the things I would do, and have done.

For instance.

While I don’t want to embarass anyone, someone built probably the most epic street genesis coupe (there are some more epic Gensesisisiesies. Genesii? I don’t know, but they’re pretty inherently show cars, not drivers) that I’ve seen.

Well, this morning, they were on the road at 4am, and delivered me a full set of OEM brakes.

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And I do mean “complete”. Rotors, pads, calipers, brackets, hardware, lines, and dust shields.

I cannot put into words how much this kind of thing from my friends/chosen family means to me. This is what it’s all about: it’s what I try to do, and I know it’s the kind of selflessness that my friends seem to have, from 8 hour roundtrips for a favour, midnight cottage closings, hospital runs, parking lot repairs, charity events and so much more. The things I’ve seen the people I’ve surrounded myself with, that they get NOTHING out of, do, for the benefit of others? It’s just awesome. And it gives me hope.

So… enough with the mushy stuff?

Finally…

It’s 40oC today. I got home from work, went through the brakes that’d been left for me, and re-installed what I needed: I’m lousy at bleeding brakes, and I want the car on the road this weekend for the cottage run, so I just did pads and rotors, re-lubed everything and took it for a test drive. All is awesome.

The pedal is a little squishy. I do need to change the fluid, but it’ll be fine for a few days at least. It seems to hold true though, once that fluid has boiled, it’s never the same again. So, what I’ll probably do is swap the fluid, and at the same time, swap on the newer calipers, too.

And then I figure out what the plan is going forward, for the track. And I guess I need some higher performance pads for Tail of the Dragon this fall too. Still, all things in their time.

Gonna have to pay this whole thing forward sometime though.

The Continuing Saga of a RaceTrack Wannabe

That’s right. I don’t post anything for months, and now you get a couple in a couple of days.

So, brakes.

I mentioned briefly in my thoughts from Novice Day that my brakes went away by the end of the day. Well, it was actually worse than that. I lost brakes entirely on my 3rd last lap, going into Turn 6 at 170km/h: Pedal went to the floor. I’d already lifted, so was bleeding speed anyway, pumped the pedal a couple of times and got some pressure into the system, downshifted to let the engine do some of the work, and cranked the wheel over to let the tires scrub some speed, and all was well: My instructor admonished me for diving too deep into the corner and running wide and off line, I told him that it was a brakes issue. I ran the next few laps slower, just working on my line and smoothness, and pointing people by as I needed to (including the 370z I’d eaten up about three laps earlier, dammit!).

I got a look at the rotors after the session ended, and this is what I saw:

FLICKR – wheel – rotor

Not good. Tough to tell without closer inspection, but the pads were looking a little light, too.

Get on the road home, and I popped an (unrelated) engine code: P0133. Pretty sure that was just the engine reacting to the high flow catalytic converter and suddenly not running wide open, as I had been on the track for the best part of two hours. I cleared that, and no issues the rest of the way home (70km).

When I got into town, however, and off the highway, I ran into some issues.

At about Bank / Walkley, the car felt really sluggish. I had to give it more gas to make it go anywhere, and acceleration was seriously lackluster. If I took my foot off the gas, it came to a halt almost immediately.

Of course, this is when a good officer of the law arrived on my bumper, in traffic.

Because OF COURSE.

So, I’m gunning the hell out of the engine to make the car go anywhere (I’ve already got an idea where the issue is) and figure, well, I might as well set up my defense. Put my four-ways on, and hope for the best. I’m less than 2km from home at this point, so I’m going to try to limp it there, unless I’m told not to. Turn onto the primary run into my neighbourhood… and the officer follows me in. Again, I figure I might as well get ahead of the curve, and pull to the side of the road in front of the Dodge dealership. At which point, the cop pulls right past me!

Seriously?

I’m now not worried about getting a ticket, but mildly irritated that, despite my four ways, the cop didn’t stop to check on me. Sorry guys. Sometimes you just can’t win.

Nothing is visibly stuck, so after a few minutes, I get back on my way. Still really sluggish though. I get home, and the same thing: the car is stopping very quickly when it’s not under power, of its own accord. I back it into the garage, and leave it there for the night.

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Sunday afternoon rolls around, and it’s time to check things out. The good news: all the bolts on the brakes came loose with some pressure: nothing seized.

The bad news. This list is longer.

First, the front rotors are, as I thought, screwed. With them off, they’re both splotchy/white, with some flaking of the edges that isn’t rust, and they’re so deeply grooved that you could climb them. Or at least play “Darkside of the Moon” if you’ve got a record player kicking around. They are ROUGH. See for yourself:

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Second, the front pads. Also totally fucked. Outboard was down to a sliver of material left. The pad itself has been baked to the point at which it’s also flaking apart. The inboard pad isn’t as badly worn, but it’s really unevenly worn. Looks like it stuck in the bracket and stopped retracting/loosening off when I got off the brakes. Basically, about 1/4″ more wear on one end of the pad than the other.

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Third, the front caliper sliders were completely stuck: all the lubricant had burnt off. That’s an easy fix, but contributed to the above issues, I’m sure. All the lubricant around the areas the pads touch the brackets? Yeah, that’s gone too. Again, easy fix, but the pads are dead.

Fourth, I don’t know if the front calipers are still ok. I’ve pushed the pistons back in, so they do move. Only way to find out will be to get fresh rotors and pads in there and see what happens.

So, what’s the plan from here?

Given how my brake knowledge has grown in the last 72 hours, there’s a couple of things. First, the rear brakes (same brand rotors – R1 Concepts, and same brand pads – Frixa) that I installed new on Friday night are FINE. No scoring, no over-wearing, no sticking. It might be worth disassembling them and re-lubicating to make sure everything is moving post-track-heat, but otherwise, they’re fine. What I hit the track with on the front of the car, though, had 60,000km over four years, on them, and two winters of driving in Ottawa’s snow and salt. There is (I’m told) a finite shelf-life for brakes, even if there’s material left: I didn’t know that. So, old, well-used components, stressed to the maximum on the track? It should surprise no one that they fought the good fight, and finally, lost. Everything I’ve read, and been told, says that no, the expectation is not that you will be going through a set of pads and rotors per track day. I hit a perfect storm of abuse and existing wear. On top of that, as I mentioned, I have the base OEM brake set up. It’s good, but it’s not, I don’t think, race track good. Especially not with 60,000km of wear already on the components. But, it’s taught me an awful lot about things to look for, and things to keep up with in terms of preventative maintenance. And I think, whatever brake set up I end up with in the future, I’ll make sure I’ve got spare pads and rotors on hand in case I do need them.

Well, I’m doing Tail of the Dragon with GenSport United in late September. So, I’ve gotta have decent brakes on for that. In the short term, i MIGHT have access to a set of OEM’s that someone isn’t using. If I get really lucky, they’ll get up here from Oshawa before Thursday, and I can drive the ‘coupe to the cottage this weekend. If not, then I’ll be ordering new, OEM-base replacemnts (probably EBC rotors and pads) to get me through the end of summer and fall.

After that, I’m seriously considering a BBK. It sounds like there may be a semi-local option for me. I may also have a line on an affordable OEM Brembo swap with Stoptech rotors and pads. Failing all that, the R1Concepts forged series BBK looks like it has potential as well.

As I said in the original post, I learned a lot this last weekend, not just about being on a track, but about myself, my car, and all the things that go into being SAFE on the road, and on the track.

Good times.

Track Day, Bro.

So, I’ve been quiet here. Ummmm. Sorry? All three of you?

Basically, shit’s been busy, and I keep starting writing things and then not finishing them. I’m hoping this will not be the case tonight.

So, I’ve talked about the car before. Today was a bit different.

I signed up for 1morelap.com‘s novice day at Calabogie Motorsports Park. I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into. So, about a month ago, I went to an HPDE day. Why? I wasn’t going to drive just yet. But they do a great thing there: once you’re signed off to drive solo, you can take passengers. Better, you’re kinda expected to take a passenger if they ask. It’s the “first taste is free” kinda deal. And that was the full track. I’ll get to more of that later. I’ll give you verbatim what I posted to facebook that night:

Huh. It was more than a couple weeks ago. June 11th, in fact!


So, yesterday, a few of us (finally) took Borge Gamble up on a run out to Calabogie Motorsports Park for a lapping event, with 1morelap.

I did not DRIVE.

I had two very, very different experiences as a passenger (and everyone was wickedly friendly). First, with Ken in an (if you can believe it) automatic Scion FRS. Second, with Norman, in a fourteen year old BMW M3. Ken is somewhat of a novice, Norman, been doing this a good while.

The FRS is amazing. I’ll be perfectly honest here. Anyone who says the base spec of 201hp/151lb.ft isn’t enough for a real car? Has never been in one driven hard, on a track. Hard on the brakes into Turn 5 was touching 155km/h. If anything, the paddle-shifted automatic made it faster. it was balanced, and basically only being passed by other cars on the straights: in the corners, with good tires, it is beyond capable.

The M3 though (E43, the last truly good one in my opinion) is pretty much everything the M-fanbois make it out to be. It has more than enough power, and stunning brakes. Better tires make the handling… knife edged. The same entry into turn 5 as the FRS was a terrifying 200-220km/h, dropping to 90ish through the corner itself. And I now know what the phrase “throwing the anchor out” REALLY means. 220kmh to 85km/h in (my guess) under 200ft. It is violent. It was passed by exactly two cars. One, a monstrous Corvette street car, and the other a dedicated CASCAR (I think) chassis.

I spent a lot of time watching entry speeds, exit speeds, and control: it’s not just about the experience (although the first three or four laps in the FRS were a bit of a blur, and my grin in the M3 was enough to split the helmet). I love racecraft, and you can learn a lot here. It’s a controlled environment, but it’s not THAT controlled. There’s excellent support from the support staff and marshals, and they WILL black flag (end your night) you if you’re being a dick and unsafe. I saw nothing but courtesy from other drivers: always pointing to pass (you do not pass unless the driver in front has told you explicitly to pass, and which side, with hand signals). Ken and Norman had dramatically different lines into several corners (most dramatically, Turn 8, 12, and 17).

I drove home with the cruise locked in at maybe 5km/h over. There just didn’t seem to be much point.

Sometime this summer, I’m gonna make it out there myself. Most likely August 6th / novice day, but possibly an evening or HPDE day, with an instructor: It costs a little more, but I think is going to be absolutely worth it.

I’m also going to head out there on a couple of the days and volunteer as a photographer: it apparently gets me some different access, and that will also be a ton of fun.

Excellent afternoon, doing the kind of thing I love. Good, good time. I can see the potential for addiction here, though.

So, fastfoward to yesterday. We got there early, about two hours early for our first session (10am) and lined up, parked, and went to get a handle on things.

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There were two events ongoing yesterday, so the track was “split”. Known coloquially as “east” and “west” tracks. The west track is where the novice day was held: it’s not as fast as the east side, but it’s got some extremely interesting and complex turns on it. Rewind a bit. A requirement of the Novice day is a half-hour in-class training. It’s very simple, basic stuff: this is a novice event after-all. Still, I learned some things: Seating position – I was very close to where I needed to be, but still needed some adjustment. Vision – again, I was close, but I needed to learn to look all the way round the corner, not just into it: I know the rule. You go where you look. Beyond that, it was basic material about focus, apexes, speed, braking and shifting points, and the racing line. All excellent information.

So, then, to the track.

Take a look back at the track. As I said, the track was split, and we were running corners 2 through 1. That sounds odd, I know, but, follow it round. We entered the track at Turn 2 / Jacques: following the blend line. Uphill wide onto the concrete curb on the outside, then cresting right before turn 3 / Gilles, which is effectively blind. When I did it right, I ran full-throttle in third gear through turn three. The short straight to turn 4 / Easy lets you settle the car: in my case, I found that I could run third up against the red line, but that was forcing me to back off, or grab fourth gear in the middle of easy, on the curb on the inside, at about 110km/h. So, what I learned to do was grab fourth gear on the transitional straight between 3 and 4, and run wide open: by the time I cleared 4, and wound out the steering onto the straight on the outside edge of the track, I was running about 130km/h. From there, a straight run down Rocky Road. Rocky Road ends up with a crest and kink into Sir John A and Mulligans (Turn 5). By the end of the first session, I was diving straight through, blind, into Mulligans, braking hard, stabilizing the car, downshifting to third gear, and preparing to turn. By the end of the second session, I was standing on the brakes at the top of fourth gear, just barely touching 170km/h and 6800rpm. By the time I come off the brakes, about 200ft later, I’m at 75km/h or so, turning in and touching the cement on the inside, then letting the car drift out to the cement on the outside, between 5 and 6 (Big Rock), shedding speed naturally, rather than under braking: begin the turn into turn 6. Turn 6 dips slightly, and the car settles down: as it does, roll onto the gas pedal. The car takes a set, and if I did it right, the traction control does not flutter. Exiting the turn, there’s a very short transisiton between 6 and 7 (Candy Mountain) and you’re now aiming at the tall, single tree beyond the track. Aiming here and letting the car drift to the center of the track as you unwind the steering sets you up for turn 7, running at the top of third gear. Straightening out after turn 7 is grabbing fourth gear and onto the short straight down to turn 8 (Temptation). Hard on the brakes at the end of the straight, but leave it in third and let it run out (no gas) bleeding speed, then a dab of brakes again, and turn hard across the inside, drifting out to the cones at turn 1, and onto the paddock straight. Run out third gear as tight to the wall as possible then brakes and hard across the concrete at turn 2 and do it all over again.

When I write it down like that, it sounds like I know something, right?

Yeah, not so much.

I couldn’t have driven like I did without the instructors in my ear, in the passenger seat. Mike, John, Deiter: if you read this, holy shit guys, thank you. I learned so damn much yesterday. I put so damn much that I though I knew, into practice. I would not have had as much fun, learned as much, and had my frustration level lowered without those instructors.

Let me put it this way.

I cannot recommend the Novice Day enough. I just can’t. If you have any interest in cars, you need to do one of these. The instructors from 1MoreLap are absolutely fantastic, and patient, and knowledgeable, and patient, and encouraging, and did I mention patient?

I never timed a lap.

I didn’t count laps.

I know I did enough laps in 90 minutes to learn something.

I know I did enough laps in 90 minutes to destroy my brakes. Like. Completely.

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*edit* *2016-08-08* Just to clarify. My brakes were OLD. Brakes (I discovered from someone more knowledgeable than me) have a shelf-life, as well. The car is 7.5 years old, I did the front brakes four years ago with reasonable quality Frixa pads and R1Concepts rotors. They had about 60,000km on them when I got to the track. You should NOT expect to have to replace your brakes every half hour! 🙂 It seems I may be implying that by omission. I’ve added a post about the brakes, too, because if you’re into racecraft, discussion of wear of hardware should interest you, and I’m talking about it from the perspective of a total noob. *end edit*

I know I did enough laps in 90 minutes to verify something I already knew, intellectually. I discovered that the drivermod is most important. I discovered my untuned, effectively stock(1) sub-200hp Genesis Coupe can stay with and go better than on-paper better cars, because of that DriverMod.

I know I did enough laps in 90 minutes to qualify my interest in watching racing, running sim-racers, and studying driving mechanics because I enjoy it, gives me a lot of knowledge the moment I sit down.

I know I did enough laps in 90 minutes to qualify that that last point means an awful lot less than I though it would: knowing a line intellectually is entirely different to actually driving it, at the limit of adhesion, as fast as you can, while listening to an instructor in your ear reminding you of the things you’re forgetting, or ignoring, because you’re only able to concentrate on a dozen things at once, not the two dozen you actually need to remember to be both fast and smooth.

I know I did enough laps to prove to myself that while smooth may be fast, sometimes you’ve got to slow down to get smooth again, and then rebuild your speed.

Most of all, I know I did enough laps to prove to myself that I know almost nothing, and that I want to go back and learn more.

I could say an awful lot more, but I don’t think anyone would read it. I know I’m gushing somewhat, but that’s a bucket list experience. And when I do get the brakes fixed up, I’m looking to do it again. And again. It won’t be every/every other weekend. But it’ll probably be a couple of times a summer. Because I want to get better, and better, and better.

(1) I have, at this time, wider, stickier than stock tires, lighter wheels, short shifter and bushings, intake, exhaust, high-flow catalytic converter, a stage 2 clutch, and lowering springs.