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.


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.


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?


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

Wherein I Rant About a Lack of Real Wagons

I would happily drive any of these WAGONS. Sadly, we won’t see any of them in Canada (maaaaaybe the Focus Wagon, and Mazda6 Wagon, but no confirmation on either of those from their respective manufacturers). Ok, so we do get a couple of these (the BMW, and Mercedes are technically for sale here, but in very specific (read: boring) trim packages). But really, what I want?

Hyundai i40 wagon, Mazda6 Wagon, Honda Civic WAGON (this is seriously sexy as hell, I’d consider a Civic, if I could have this). Primarily, the Mazda6 Wagon. I really liked them back in ’02 to 06 (in fact, I almost bought one, but the dealership refused to find me one with a manual, even going so far as to lie to me and tell me they weren’t available with a stick). I loved the RSX I bought back then, but had that Mazda6 Wagon been available to me with a manual, I’d never have gotten as far as the RSX.


The closest we get to wagons now, are the venerable (and slightly wonderful) VW Golf/Jetta SportWagen. The smart choice is actually the 2.0 Turbo-diesel, with the tiptronic DCT transmission; the Subaru Outback. Still not quite a wagon, as it’s too tall, but the Legacy, uhhh… legacy is there. And really, nothing a set of lowering springs and Bilstein shocks couldn’t fix; And the discontinued Acura TSX Wagon, which is really nice, but… yeah. Discontinued. Everything else that can be readily identified as a “wagon” has a base price of $45,000+.

I continue to lament the loss of the (affordable) wagon. There are some (and it pains me to admit it) excellent CUV’s out there now: the Tucson/Sportage, Santa Fe/Sorento, Subaru Forester, Mazda CX-5, Toyota Venza (also a candidate for lowering to “camry wagon” profile), but I still want that car-ride-height, handling and fuel-eoconomy that goes with it: and I want it wider than it is tall: I want a WAGON.

Rumours continue to abound about Hyundai i40/sonata diesel wagons, Mazda6 Wagon (also, potentially diesel), and Focus ST wagon (om, nom, nom: fast wagon). Sadly though, no one is going to proffer one to me. Maybe they’ll get around to it in a couple of years, when I really start looking again. A manual, turbo-diesel Sonata wagon would be… that’d be just great. And it’s not like it’s not out there already.

I may be biased.

I used to drive this:

In that color, even.

Ask Me About My Zombie Plan

I do actually get asked this occasionally. I get asked this, because the question above is emblazoned across my favorite hoodie:

No one ever really has the time to listen, so my rote answer is “be faster than you”. Which is true. You don’t have to be the fastest gazelle on the plain, just not the slowest. But that’s not REALLY my plan.

I love the Walking Dead. Loved the comics years ago, love the TV series now. I also love Hyundai. I love MY Hyundai. My truly beloved 2.0T Genesis Coupe. But.

But, but, but.

My disbelief is not suspended when the survivors of the apocalyse drive around in a pastel-green soft-roader, cute-ute Hyundai Tucson. There is NO WAY anyone in their right mind would keep that little SUV around for any length of time after the zombie apocalyse hits. Know why? Because it’s useless for anything except an inch or two of snow, and the occasional gravel driveway. That’s not to belittle the Tucson. It’s a super effective compact crossover: gets decent mileage for commuting, and you can stuff all the kids sports gear in it. My little brother and his wife have one.

But it will not get you through the zombie apocalypse.

It’s just product placement. And I can live with product placement, but this is just glaringly terrible product placement. No one wo was planning on surviving would drive this, except to make a get-away to their real vehicle.

And that’s MY plan. I’ve meant to talk about this for a while, because, hey, it’s fun, and I dream about it. No, really. I do. I dream zombie survival. Doesn’t everyone?

So, the zombie apocalypse hits, where do you go?

Well, if you can, you get one of these:

That, boys and girls, is a Marauder. That is how you survive the apocalypse if you don’t have access to tanks. You can buy it in civillian garb, like Top Gear tested it:

Ok, so maybe that’s not realistic. So, what do you do? Well, if you’re me, and you know the guys and girls I do, you improvise. You do NOT head for the Hyundai dealership. You head for the Ford or Chevy dealer. Probably Chevy. Why? Well, you might get lucky and find a used Hummer H1 on the lot, if it’s an ex-Hummer dealer (probably Chevrolet/Cadillac these days). They’re tough, ride high, have a ton of weight behind them, and brutal torque. You can probably plow through zombies all day, if you need to. Chances are, you’re not finding one of those, either, though. So, what do you look for?

If you’re smart, you look for 2-mode, full-size, body-on-frame hybrid SUV’s. Specifically, Tahoes and Suburbans. They’re about the toughest thing Chevy has ever mass-produced. They get better mileage than regular ones (25% better in the real world, which, when you don’t know when you’re getting gas next, is a big fucking deal) thanks to that cool 2-mode hybrid system. They’re still Chevy trucks underneath everything, so parts? EVERYWHERE. Suspension, drivetrain (except for the hybrid, sure) body panels, the works. All easy to get to fix up your fleet. And you take a fleet. you get torque multiplication thanks to that cool-ass hybrid transmission, AND you get torque from 0 RPM, which is important, if you’re trying to bull your way through a horde of zombies.

So, me and my hand-picked group of survivors? We’re hitting the Chevy dealership first.

After that, we’re holing up in a Canadian Tire. Now, keep in mind, we’re in Canada. If you’re in the states, Walmart makes sense: there’s guns and ammo there, and that’s useful, no doubt. But any big-box store with a ton of supplies, and car repair bays is what you want. Well, it’s what I want. You can go hang, really.

So, Canadian tire. Not much in the way of store-front glass, so you can seal it up good and proper. Lots of automotive bays so you can get inside, with the vehicles, really quickly. It also means you can load/unload your vehicles without watching for brain chewers. This takes a whole lot of stress off. And stress is a killer.

Well equipped too: generators, welding gear, parts, specific and potential weapons. You’re gonna want to weld skid plates, brush bars, and armour to the windows/door frames/where-ever of those ‘burbans. Not to mention that the windows and at least the lower sections of the garage roller doors will need plating.

You see where I’m going here, right? You’ve got a base of operations, that comes pretty well stocked (I say well stocked, but Canadian Tire never has that ONE THING you want, in stock, does it?) can be made defensible against the undead, and gives you the tools to build and maintain expedition vehicles.

Now, all of this assumes a world where the undead are the real problem, not the living. But either way, I ain’t rolling no all-season-shod, stock-as-shit, soft-roader Hyundai.

Because my disbelief is not suspended.

On Electric Cars, Enthusiasts, and the War Between Performance and Environmentalism

You’ve obviously figured out by now that I’m an automotive enthusiast. So, I want to do something wierd. I want to talk about electric vehicles. More importantly, I want to talk about car culture, environmentalism, and electric vehicles. Because, much to the surprise of everyone involved, you can’t talk about one without talking about the others.

First, the fallacies.

1] Car guys hate electric cars.
2] Car guys are climate-change denying throwbacks and reprobates.
3] car culture cannot tolerate electric vehicles.
4] Electric vehicles will save the environment.

Those are all FALSE statements. ALL OF THEM.

Despite The Clarkson’s of the world (the dude is entertaining, but I find some of his politics reprehensible), despite the enviromental lobby’s love of electric, and despite the auto-industry’s latching onto hybrid & electric as “the way of the future”, those are all false statements.

Lets get the basics out of the way.

If you want to talk about car culture (and by extension, car guys & girls) then you need to understand something about modern car culture. We love cars. In fact, we actually love all things with wheels. We love digging our hands in and making them ours. Yes, we love going fast in ’em, and we love making them better. This is what has lead to fallacies #1 and #2, and #3.

The problem is, with very few exceptions, no one is making electric cars that are actually fun to drive, or can be made fun to drive. THere are exceptions, I’ll get to them. But for the most part, hybrid’s and electrics are the definition of what an enthusiast hates in a vehicle. They are, in fact, vehicles in name only. What they are is APPLIANCES. They’re a device to get you from A to B, under the pretense of efficience and environmental friendliness.

This is not how to get ‘enthusiasts’ to embrace electrics.

Car culture is, in fact, ready to embrace electric vehicles. Electric has significant performance advantages: the primary of which is 100% torque @ 0rpm. Because of the way electrics can be packaged (ie. small motors at each wheel, with nothing but wires connecting them to the rest of the structure, and batteries that, eventually, can be spread through the body for excellent weight balance and distribution) they’re actually a better option for performance enthusiasts. Rather than a 700lb steel lump sitting over the front wheels, you can have a 35lb lump at each corner, and spread the batteries and charging system to the most efficient locations within the frame and body, achieving that hallowed performance number: the 50/50 weight distribution. You get All-wheel drive. If you want it, the computer can be reprogrammed to give you Rear-wheel-drive in a “sport” mode. “eco” mode could, conceivably, dramatically increase distance for regular driving. Because you don’t have that traditional lump of engine, transmission, and exhaust routing up front, along with a need (especially now) for better and better water cooling, you can start doing really, really interesting things with the shape and design of the vehicle.

No one does any of this yet.

Even Tesla (and, had I a ninety grand to spend, I’d buy a 85kwh Tesla performance model: that’s enough juice to get me to my folks place for the weekend, 300km away). doesn’t actually do “efficiency” well. But they get performance. Boy, do they ever. I saw a Tesla Roadster at autocross a couple years back:

066 - Tesla Roadster #76 - exit the loop

And watching that thing go around a track was brilliant. Disconcerting, because it was SILENT except for the tire squeal (and too much of that, due to the eco-tires). But, a brilliant car.

There’s a couple of good kicks at the can. The Honda CR-Z is kinda cool, and modifies well. Ford is getting it with their hybrid line-up: they drive like CARS, not appliances. GM is getting it with the wickedly cool looking Volt (although consumers aren’t buying into it), and of course, the Tesla‘s, although cost is prohibitive on Tesla’s, which will keep them as niche/status cars for at least a while.

But a lot of things have to happen before enthusiasts are truly willing to embrace electric. And there are envrionmentalist auto enthusiasts: the ideas aren’t mutually exclusive.

Here’s an example.

An enthusiast hears a slight tone change in the exhaust. They wait for the weekend, get under the car, find a hole in the exhaust manifold, buy a header to replace it (because if you’re replacing it, you might as well get more efficiency and power, right?), and go on their merry way. They accomplish a few things here.

1] They continue to establish their DIY, enthusiast cred. THIS IS IMPORTANT!
2] They solve the problem, and ensure the emissions system is working properly, thus reducing emissions from their vehicle
3] They get more power and torque (fun to drive quotient) and likely a better sound (fun to drive quotient) by reducing back pressure, and probably free up some fuel-efficiency, too.

The average non-enthusiast (if they even notice the difference at all), however, in the same situation thinks about what it’s going to cost them, and turns up the stereo: if you can’t hear it, then it’s not a problem until the check engine light comes on thus:

1] Preventing the emissions system (catalytic converter, downstream of the exhaust manifold) from working correctly
2] ensuring a more expensive repair later
3] reducing efficiency
4] potentially creating a lethal situation with carbon monoxide being captured under the vehicle, and entering the passenger compartment
5] waiting for a real problem to stop the vehicle, they then spew bile about how badly made it is, how bad the manufacturer is, and how angry they are about it

Enthusiasts tend to look after their vehicles, to their own detriment (and the consternation of their loved ones, to be sure).

We’re not against all these new technologies: we just need them to be proven as actually worthwhile before we invest in them: we do our RESEARCH, we don’t just believe the advertising. This is what happens when you have not only knowledge of a thing, but also enthusiasm for it.

In otherwords, if you’re a nerd.

I’m a car nerd.

So, beyond the lack-of-enthusiast appeal, what’s the issue with hybrid and electric? I mean, it can’t just be about that, or enthusiasts are actually just dickheads stuck in the past: luddites hanging onto expiring technology, right?

Well, there’s the actual reason that people generally buy an electric or hybrid vehicle (I’ll give you a hint, it’s not because they’re fun to drive). It’s for fuel-economy (fallacy, in fact) and to “save the environment” (may also be a fallacy).

That an electric or hybrid is a fuel saver is… Ok, maybe not a complete fallacy. It depends on a few things though.

First, it depends on the type of driving you’re doing. Keeping a 2500lb-3000lb vehicle going at 100km/h (highway speed) takes a lot of effort. A non-hybrid diesel is actually more efficient over long distance than an electric or gasoline hybrid. Why? Because the electric engine if it’s working at all, is working damn hard, and burning the hell out of it’s battery. A diesel, or even an efficient gas engine, can get down in the 4L-5L/100km range. A hybrid gets… about 4.7L-5.5L/100km on the highway. Go look at the manufacturers and EPA numbers if you don’t believe me. An electric burns it’s power faster at speed. What a hybrid, especially, is good at, is reducing emisssions in stop’n’go traffic. in other words, city commuting. Sitting in traffic in the parking lot highway commute? Hybrid’s excel at this. Because they just… stop. No consumption. electrics too, to be fair. WHere as this is where a gas/diesel engine is at its least efficient: they’re sitting, unloaded, idling. this is bad for fuel economy (effectively 0km per litre at idle) and worse for emissions: you’re burning hydrocarbons just to sit there waiting to go. SO, if you’re a commuter, and don’t take the highway, or take the highway in peak traffic periods? Yeah. A hybrid/electric can make a lot of sense at the pumps. If you do distance, off peak? Stick with gasoline or diesel.

But that’s only half the story, maybe even a third of it.

Because, for hybrid’s especially, HOW you drive is the single biggest vector of the efficiency of a vehicle. If you use the gas pedal (like a multitude of people do) as an on/off switch, and race light to light? Yeah, you can actually get worse fuel economy than a gas-only vehicle: because that tiny little gas engine that helps charge your hybrid, actually does most of the work under heavy load. Ie. WOT (Wide Open Throttle). Driving a hybrid, especially, to achieve fuel-economy and emissions benefits means driving incredibly conservatively. That’s actually not a bad thing, but it is something that most people seem incapable of.

There’s one other factor in the actually driving and ownership of an electric, or hybrid. If you can achieve all the things above, that’s great. But, you’re NOT driving in a microcosm. What I’m saying is, it’s not just you on the road. And if you take twenty seconds to come up to the 50km/h speed limit, while achieving 2L/100km? that’s awesome. But the fifteen gasoline powered cars behind you get stuck at the redlight they would have made it through if you had driven “normally” or “with the flow of traffic” rather than for your individual fuel economy benefit? Yeah, they’re all sitting their idling for another three minutes while that light changes. If all you want is fuel economy for yourself? you win, for sure. If you bought a hybrid or electric for it’s actual purpose (emissions reduction) well, you’re actually making the problem worse.

What I’m saying is that this is not an X or Y sum. There are a ton of factors involved.

Lets take it up a step, shall we?

Those batteries in your effient, economical, environment-saving car? They have to come from somewhere. And, they have to be charged somewhere too.

The article I’m about to link to has a lot of information in it, and is worth a read. But this stood out:

Our central scenario for vehicle manufacturing was 70 g CO2e/km for an electric vehicle and 40 g CO2e/km for a petrol car.

The materials (rare metals, etc) have to be mined. They have to be refined. They have to be assembled first into a battery, and then into a vehicle. Each of these steps involves shipping, which is inevitably ships, trains, and trucks. All huge emissions sources and carbon fuel pigs. And the various steps can be all over the world. The materials may be mined in Africa, made into a battery in Germany, installed in a car in Japan, and sold in America. That’s a LOT of (incredibly inefficient) travel. And, that’s the kind of thing that creates a carbon footprint forty-percent larger than a gasoline vehicle in the manufacturing process.

Finally, as that article (and others) note, where your power comes from makes a huge difference. In other words, are you doing lip-service to environmentalism by driving a hybrid, or electric, or are you actually doing it right?

Now, that’s an awful lot of negative, I know. It’s not all bad though.

If you’re willing to keep, and drive, your car for the long term (something enthusiasts tend to do, btw) you can equalize in a big way. A few years ago, it was estimated that to break-even on cost of ownership (ie. the on-the-wallet benefit) of a hybrid would take approximately 400,000km (250,000 miles) of driving to “break even” in terms of fuel savings vs initial cost difference of the vehicle. But, that’s only part of the equation. OVer that period, the emissions benefits become extremely large, assuming proper driving habits, maintenance, and fuel/power sources.

Keeping a car for a long time isn’t something most people do anymore. They get bored, or the next cool thing they have to have comes along, and the road is, in fact, paved with easy financing. Which means the additional cost, in dollars, and in environmental concerns, doesn’t pay off.

fuel-efficient technology is so expensive that these types of cars take years to pay off at today’s gas prices—and that remains true even if gas were to hit $5 per gallon. In some cases, the average driver would take more than a decade to see savings over comparable conventional vehicles, which is a problem since the average person owns a car just six years. Most fuel-efficient cars will be more expensive to purchase and to drive for five years, at minimum.

If gas cost $5 a gallon, the TrueCar data estimates that the payback period for a hybrid Ford Fusion over the conventional Fusion would be six and a half years, compared with eight and a half years at $4. At $6 a gallon, the hybrid Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima are likely to generate savings within four years.

That sounds pretty bleak, I know. In fact, you’d think I’m making a case against hybrids and electrics. I’m actually not. What I’m suggesting is that people stop and think, rather than jumping on the next “save the world silver bullet”. For the most part (hey, look, I’m getting back to my original point!) enthusiasts are doing this. We’re doing it in a lot of ways, and we’re open to a lot of ideas. In fact, we’re open to more ideas than the general public, I think. Because we take the time to understand the technology, and what works in what circumstance.

Delivery drivers could make hybrids and electrics pay off, ESPECIALLY within city enirons. Taxi’s could, IF the weather cooperates: I don’t mean to extend their driving, but to keep them warm or cool: A cabbie is actually an outdoors worker. there’s a reason you see cabs idling for long periods: keeps the car warm or cool, depending on the season (they need, and the customer demands). Our structure for getting a cab (ie. cab-stands) would have to change though, and I don’t know how likely that is.

This actually DEFINES the problem right now. The only people who would/will buy hybrids and electrics right now? They’re (pardon the phrasing) eco-weinies. There’s a small number of people who actually understand the technology, and make it work properly, and will have it pay off. A large number of hybrid adopters have, unfortunately, just bought the hype (save gas now!) or, worse, want to be able to brag about how they’re doing their part to save the world, when really, they’re not doing anything. Enthusiasts won’t buy hybrids. Why? Because they’re the electric equivalent of a Toyota Corolla: Oh, they’re decent to get around in, sure, but they’re not FUN. You don’t wake up in the morning look out the window at your car and go “DAMN. Look at that. Lets go for a drive.” they’re appliances, that’s it.

What’s stopping enthusiasts from buying into green technologies, is that they’re not something you can get enthusiastic about as a driver. They’re not appealing. Yet. They can be. Like I said, torque is a wonderful thing, and electric does it well.

The BMW i8 has serious potential at an “enthusiast” hybid/electric. But it suffers the same problem that the Fisker Karma does, and that the Tesla cars do: they’re FUCKING EXPENSIVE.

BMW i8

Very few enthusiasts will be able to afford one, never mind it be their only car. We’re back to that constant bugaboo in the industry: range anxiety.

I still love the idea of hydrogen/electric: it gives you the torque, a clean fuel source, zero emissions. It doesn’t deal with the environmental issues surrounding making batteries, but it gets us one step closer, and it gets the average consumer off the grid. Unfortunately, Honda got the closest but even they appear to have abandoned the idea, in favour of now-traditional gasoline/electric hybrids, and plug-in electrics.

In fact, you, and we, can effect positive change. As people adopt electric and hybrid, the process becomes more efficient: efficiency of scale will, I think, become a huge deal. And, honestly, the technology will get better, because that’s what it does. We’re also starting to get smarter about where our ‘grid’ power comes from. The numbers in those articles? They’re thrown out a lot by developing worlds and new markets still using low tech and dirty fuels for powering their grids. Those numbers will get worse before they get better, but developed worlds are improving (despite the coal/oil industries attempts to stagnate development of green technologies). Solar on the household level, geothermal, and wind are going to continue to make the long-term ownership of electric and hybrid vehicles more and more viable, EVEN with the environmental costs associated witht he materials and construction process. Everyone needs to take a page from the enthusiast driver: they need to LEARN TO DRIVE. That’s something you always have to give to an enthusiast (BMW & Audi drivers excepted, those guys are just DICKS): they look at the road, they plan their trips, then work on efficiencies (because, again, efficiency = power and power = fun). Enthusiasts need to save money on gas, so we can go faster, longer. Most enthusiasts are working with traffic, when they’re in it: they understand braking distances, and when it’s worth accelerating, or just pulling along. We understand our vehicles, and we make them run as well as is possible. We DRIVE: we don’t just go point-to-point. Paying attention to traffic, where you want to be, how to get there (before you get there) and simple courtesy? these things all save fuel and time.

Look, true enthusiasts? We like ALL wheeled things. Me, I’m a cyclist, a car lover, a tuner, an muscle car guy, an open-wheel fan: I love a good 4×4, I love rallying, I even like NASCA… no, I can’t say it. I just DON’T GET NASCAR. I like vintage, I like new.

That’s what I hate most about this whole thing with Tesla vs the media. The reality is, Tesla is, in fact, beta-testing. Anyone who’s bought one so far? They’re early-adopters, and they’re part of the test cycle. There are going to be problems. Going ballistic and making yourself look like an asshole isn’t going to help. I think it’s fantastic that the CNN Guys managed a successful run when Broder couldn’t. But even they said there were severe differences in conditions (0-10oF vs 50oF ambient temps make a huge difference on batteries) and that’s out of their control.

I love what Tesla is doing. If I won the lottery, I’d have a Tesla, and be damned with it. But, I’d have a hard time with it being my only car, hundred-grand be damned. That said, if I can afford a Tesla, I can afford something more …

See, I was about to say “reliable”. But that’s the wrong word. The cars are, for the most part, reliable. Especially with the support, and ‘instant update’ from their support divisions.

But the reality is, the tech is in its infancy. It’s pretty simple in the math. If A drive from Washington to Boston takes eight hours in a gas car, assuming normal stops, and it takes thirteen hours, with no problems with the vehicle, in an electric car, with the fastest available charging systems, it’s simply NOT ready for prime-time. It’s a mother of a first step, there’s no doubt about that, but it IS a first step. Stoping for three to five hours to charge (under optimium circumstances) is far too much Sunday drive: there’s no room to enjoy that cars potential, and the range anxiety? It’s still there, even though you have the technical range. The technolgy turns a long but manageable drive into an obnoxious, exhausting drive.

But like I said: enthusiasts. I can’t wait to see where this goes. I’d love to see Telsa get into the Hydrogen/electric business. Most of all, I want to see them drop the defensive “you’re all out to get us” bullshit, and keep making awesome, all-electric alternatives to what we’ve got now. It’s gotta happen, and, for all the issues, these guys are at the head of the pack. Right now, the Tesla, for all the faults it has, is waaaay better at what it does than any other electric (or hybrid) on the market. Bar none.

As an enthusiast, I can’t wait to see where this goes. I just wish I could afford one, and be part of the process.

[Cars] How I Feel About The Manufacturers

I’ve now been asked the same question three times, so I guess it’s time for an answer.

“What are your top five manufacturers, and what are your bottom five?”

And I figured that’d be an easy answer. But, it’s actually not. Partly because, there’s not an awful lot more than ten “every day” manufacturers. You obviously have to drop the ultra-luxury and exotic brands, because, well, obviously, right? If they don’t make a car under $100,000, they’re not really in the ballpark of the people who’re asking me. These are guys like Aston Martin, Lambourghini, Ferrari, Bentley, and the like. “Not for mere mortals”.

But then, I kept thinking, well, obviously, BMW makes great cars, so they’ll be in the top five. But will they? I mean, yeah, they make some fantastic, desirable, useful vehicles (Give me a 335ix wagon? I’m HAPPY), but the vast majority of people in North America still can’t afford ’em. I took a 335ix Coupe for a test drive a few years back, and the price tag on it was $58,750. I looked at an X3 as the “top end” of the compact SUV market, and the price starts at $44,000. That means, for me, when someone asks me who my “top” and “bottom” five manufacturers are, I can’t include these guys (Or Audi, or Mercedes, or Jaguar, or even Caddilac, for that matter), because no one who’s asking the question can realistically afford them. The premium cost offsets the brilliance of the design and quality.

So, I tend to answer the question in terms of “what are your top (and bottom) five MAINSTREAM manufacturers?” That’s a little bit of a more significant question. So, who exists in that group?

Chevrolet, Toyota, Scion, Buick, Ford, Kia, Hyundai, Dodge, Mazda, Nissan, Honda, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Acura. Those are the main ones. And, yes, I know some of those are sub-brands of others. But that’s actually ok. If a sub-brand is selling better, more realistic products, with a better community and service staff surrounding it, they shouldn’t get lumped in with the parent organization. there’s also the issue, really confusing things, that some companies do a particular style of vehicle really well, but fall down elsewhere. Should they as a brand be penalized for that? Well, if you’re in the market for the thing they don’t do well? totally. But not as much as others, maybe.

To the list!

The Bottom Five:

These are, in my mind, the bottom of the barrel. The guys who’ve paid little to no attention to what the customer bases want, that haven’t paid attention to the manner in which the industry is moving, and often, are too expensive for what you get. There’s a couple of tough calls here, for me, because I like SOME of their products, but as a whole, they’re just not competing with the top five.

1] Dodge/Chrysler. I’m sorry. I just … I can’t. Dodge has a couple of good products (fewer since “RAM Truck” became a brand) like the Dodge Caravan (still a class leader) and the full-size, RWD platforms (Charger and 300). But as a whole, they’re just making… crap. Uninspired styling, historically some of the worst transmissions in the industry, crappy fuel economy, and “trim levels” that ensure you have to spend an extra ten to fifteen thousand dollars to get a single feature that you want. It’s absolutely ridiculous. And I could let a lot of that go, if their prices were dramatically lower than they are, but their MSRP’s are squarely inline with their competitors. Their products, however, are not. They’re the worst, final example of platform marketing: rebadging the same products for ‘upscale’ brands and charging more money. I’d include Fiat and the ludicrously priced Fiat 500 in here too. Nothing appears to be changing at Dodge, except I think you might see more “FIAT” marquees over the dealerships in the next five years, than Dodge ones.

2] Mitsubishi. Despite a potentially great line-up, and the best warranty in Canada (10 years), they’re lackluster products with a near-premium MSRP. I test drove a 2010 Lancer and it was the noisiest, most clattering new engine I’ve ever been introduced to. The fit and finish was lackluster at best, the materials cheap. And if the price was competitive, I could have lived with it, but $25k for a compact runabout? Crazy. Beyond that, that 10-year warranty may not be worth a lot if they go out of business. Mitsubishi sold something like 1100 Galants last year (the mid-size sedan that is the life-blood of any car company). that’s less than Chevy sold Corvettes, I believe. I’m not sure that Mitsubishi will remain in North America much longer.

3] Toyota. I know. They’re well built, have a great reputation, and fantastic resale. The reality is though, they’re not built better than anything else on the market from the guys who’re paying attention, the resale is based on that belief that there’s something special about them, and, honestly, they’re expensive. What you can buy from Toyota for twenty-seven grand, you can buy from most of the competitors for twenty to twenty-two. on top of that, I find Toyota to build some of the least inspiring vehicles on the market. Nothing makes you excited for Toyota. They are the definition of beige engineering. There’s nothing wrong with them, but nothing makes you look out your window and go “yeah. lets go for a drive today” when you see your car.

4] Nissan. All CVT, all the time. Click the link if you don’t know what a Constantly Variable Transmission is. I just can’t stand that that’s the only option: I hate the way they feel, shift, and sound. Nissan has also started following Toyota down the road to beige. While they do have the GT-R ($110,000) and 370z ($50,000), they’re their only ‘fun’ vehicles. Once upon a time, there were real, affordable, performance variants of their sedans (Sentra SE-R, Altima SE-R, the Maxima, and others). Now, the -R models are basically a trim package where they exist at all. The only real performance being sold by Nissan come under the Infiniti banner, and are well out of the reach of most of us. And I know, performance isn’t what everyone is buying, but for the money you spend on a Nissan, you can get the equivelent elsewhere (especially in terms of full-size and mid-size sendans, SUV’s, and minivans) for thousands less. I used to be a huge fan of Nissan: I almost bought a 2002 Altima SE-R MT. These days, not so much. That said, I’ll buy a Nissan before I buy a Toyota, Dodge, Buick, or Mitsubishi.

5] Buick. For all that Buick is trying to shed it’s geriatric consumer base, they still make big, floating couches for old folks. And, they make ’em expensive, too. For all that expense, most of the lineup are rebadged Chevy’s or Opel’s.

The Top Five:

1] Kia. Given that they’re the little sister of Hyundai, and I love my own Hyundai (and my moms, and @mightdogking’s, and my brothers and… you get the idea), that Kia is on the list is not surprising. They share chassis and engine technology with Hyundai, and both of those have made dramatic strides in the last ten years. Kia, however, has a couple of advantages over Hyundai. They still sell a minivan, and they have their own microvan. In other words, where Hyundai has the “Genesis” lineup, Kia opts for more new-family oriented fare. As a whole, I like Kia’s styling a whole lot as well. The vehicles all come loaded as base models,

2] Hyundai. The company that gave us the Excel and Pony has come a long way. They’re industry-competative, and actively beat Honda in quality and fit’n’finish. When the 2012 Civic was release, the constant refrain from reviewers was “why buy this when you can buy an Elantra for less, with a better warranty?”. Hyundai has championed the hatchback in North America (Elantra Touring, Elantra GT) and has a vehicle that is competitive or class-leading in almost every class of vehicles now. Their warranty is excellent, and the only complaints about dealer and service seem to be at the dealership level, not corporate. THey’re no longer the bargain basement prices people think, but at the same time, they have the fit, finish, design, fuel economy, and yes, even desirability to make them serious contenders. My entire family now drives Hyundai. That’s pretty impressive, given the number of *ahem* enthusiasts in the family.

3] Ford. Ford has come a long, long way. Like Hyundai, GM, and Kia, Ford was one of the industry whipping boys, putting out lacklustre vehicles, and leaving their “good stuff” in Europe. That’s all changed in the last few years. The Fiesta (sub-compact), Focus (compact), Fusion (mid-size), Taurus (full-size), Escape (compact SUV), and Flex (SU-Van) are all brilliant, distinctive vehicles with excellent drivetrains. MySync has become an industry leading infotainment interface, and now that they’re looking at licensing it out, may become an industry standard. Ford’s hybrid systems are, while not as good as the numbers imply, still one of, if not the, best on the market. And, they’re leading the domestic charge to turbo/small displacement engines to improve fuel economy in ‘normal’ cars. On top of that, the Mustang is the single best bang-for-the-buck performance car on the market (yes, including my Genesis Coupe). They’re aggressively competitive in terms of warranty, and financing. I used to despise Ford (you would too, if you’d spent any time in an ’88 Tempo), but now, they’re definitely one of my go-to manufacturers.

4] Subaru. The only Japanese manufacturer on my top-five list. And, it’s because they still make interesting cars. I’ve lambasted them recently for dropping the Legacy wagon, and Legacy Outback, in favour of the purely-SUV 2012 Outback, but they’re still a fairly special, niche company. They’re the only manufacturer that’s almost exclusively AWD (and their own particular variant of AWD, which is definitely better than anything else out there), to their design of chassis and engine for the media-darling BRZ coupe (FR-S from Scion in another skin), to their wanton and ridiculous use of 260-300hp turbo four-cylinder engines in compact AWD chassis (the WRX, and WRX-STI) as well as the phenomenal workhorse of the Forester, they’re definitely injecting some actual LIFE into driving a car, unlike Toyota, or Honda. The only reason they don’t rate higher on the list is that they’re, as a result of that AWD hardware, a couple of grand more expensive than their competition.

5] Chevrolet. I never thought I’d put Chevy on a “top” list again. Back in the small-block-with-rear-wheel-drive in everything days I loved chevy. More recently, less so. But the last few years, since they came out of the aid package from various governments, they’ve gotten their shit together. The Cruze is a fantastic compact car, and thoroughly affordable. The Orlando hits compact SUV/microvan market hard, and looks like a solid contender. The Malibu and Impala are fantastic, well-polished examples of mid- and full-size sedans, respectively, and reasonably priced. They’re not all the way there yet: the Equinox compact SUV is excellent, but way too expensive compared to its competition. The Volt is a well designed, stylish, compact electric/range-extended hybrid. And the corvette, of course, is a truly world class supercar (for those who happen to have a hundred grand to throw around). I’ve not spent any time with the new sub-compact and electric, but if they stay true to what I have seen? Chevrolet may yet have a future.

Keep in mind, in all of this, i’m not an expert. I’m an automotive fanboy who loves all things cars, and thinks that cars should be made for people, not pocketbooks or beancounters. I still believe you can have a practical, reliable, fun to drive car, that you can afford. And I think a bunch of these guys are making exactly that.

What I’m saying is, your mileage may vary with this list.

[CARS] “And There’s One More Girl You Won’t Be Getting”

Yup, Tone-Loc knew it in the 80’s and we know it now. North American auto-manufacturers continue to refuse to give us the wagons we want.

Case in point, here’s the 2014 Mazda6 Wagon/Estate. Which, I may have mentioned, we WON’T BE GETTING.

There’s all kinds of coverage of it. It’s beautiful. It’s probably going to have a great line-up of engines (including the 2.2L twin-turbo diesel, which they won’t offer in anything in North America).

Can I reitirerate? They won’t sell us this. Like Hyundai appears to be unlikely to sell us the thoroughly desirable Sonata Wagon aka i40, or the Chevy Cruze wagon, the Toyota Fielder that I’ve railed about before, and given that it’s a kissing cousin of the Ford Mondeo, sold here as the Ford Fusion, it’s probably unlikely we won’t see the Ford Fusion wagon, either.

As of this year, Volvo, VOLVO doesn’t sell a wagon in North America.

But I’m not bitter, at ALL.

[cars] I Loved An Import (and I Didn’t Know it)

Once upon a time, somewhere around 1989, when I knew a lot less about cars, I made fun of a friend, for his “Imported Escort” that I thought he paid too much for, and got too little. I did this because my dream car at the time was a GM G-Body: a GrandPrix, Monte Carlo, Cutlass Supreme. You know, V8 in the front, drive the wheels out back, and push a lot of Iron around in a 2-door, t-top chassis.

So, Omar, if you ever read this, I’m sorry. I was wrong. Oh, in hindsight, he did his mods wrong (a big subwoofer under the passenger seat “for the ladies”), but he got the car right.

Because today, I would buy that “Ford Escort” in a second.

Because that Escort wasn’t an Escort at all. It was something a little… better. It was, at least in North America, a Merkur XR4Ti. It was, undressed for the North American Market, a Ford Sierra Cosworth at its heart.

And, today, it hits all my buttons. It actually has done for about ten years.

Rear wheel drive. relatively high-pressure (14-17psi) turbo. Relatively light. And … distinctive… in appearance.

I would buy one today. I took a quick look on Ontario Kijijji, and you can get a well-maintained manual transmission 1988 model for around $4500. And yeah, that seems like a lot. But there weren’t many of these to begin with, and they’re becoming more and more scarce. A notable percentage of the ads I saw stated “Comes with parts car”. That’s good and bad. Good, lots of extra stuff to work with. Bad, another one of these that will never see the road again.

They’re a cool car, for a lot of reasons. In the land of affordable speed in the late eighties, there wasn’t a lot. My little brother had a ’91 Mazda MX6 GT Turbo which was fantastic, and again with the Mazda, the 323 GTX. FWD and torque steer of the gods in the MX6, and the GTX was … unusual, but both awesome.

But, at the end of the day, if you like performance, then RWD > FWD pretty much every time.

I’d love to have an old Merkur, gigantic wing and all (didn’t I mention the wing? That distinctive appearance? Here’s a picture) as a project car.

Because they give you a base to work from. There’s a ton of aftermarket, and great potential. Tons of information out there too. And, they hail from a simpler automotive time. You, as an enthusiast, get to explain that it’s not an Escort, it’s not even a European Escort, it’s a SIERRA; TOTALLY DIFFERENT CAR!

And, it’s got quirky stories. fr’instance, Car and Driver gave it a “10 best of 1985” award. Then, in 2009, took that award away when they made their 10 most embarassing award winners list. Personally, I think they were looking for a tenth car for the list. Every other vehicle with its award rescinded had actual issues: the Merkur had a wierd name, and “wasn’t a terrible car, but it sure was odd looking.” and “in sum, perculiar”.

There’s even a webcomic loosely based around one: Misfile

What can I say? Something about them screams “this needs to be fixed up”. So, again, I’m sorry Omar. You bought the right car back then. And sometime in the last twenty years, I bet you junked it, too.