Friday, July 15, 2016

Now on Hooniverse...

It's been a bit quiet around here lately.  No posts since December, what gives?  Good news time: I'm writing for Hooniverse!  You can now read my reviews, thoughts, and ramblings at along with that of many other great writers (and people, I might add).  The page you're on now will be quiet henceforth but will remain here permanently (hopefully).  Thank you to everyone who has read anything I've written, and make sure to check out Hooniverse for my pieces and other great automotive content.  Cheers!  -Ross

Monday, December 7, 2015

Rental Review: 2014 Chrysler 300

Rental Review: 2014 Chrysler 300

Oft forgotten yet totally adequate, the second generation Chrysler 300 is a fine cruiser that feels not dissimilar to what one would expect two-thirds of a late model Lexus LS to be. Though the styling is not nearly distinctive as it was in its first iteration, the 300 still stands out in its price range as one of the few remaining rear-wheel-drive, American-minded land yachts that focuses on reasonably priced luxury and comfort and not much else.

Follow the jump to continue reading...

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Car Culture in Colorado

Car Culture in Colorado
A brief glimpse at the cars, trucks, roads, and society in the Denver/Boulder region

[Note: my business-and-play vacation to Colorado spanned four days, enough to get a taste and enough to leave me wanting more. Though the following observations are limited to Denver, Boulder, Golden and the surrounding mountains, it was pretty easy to get a sense of the area's car culture from these few places. Things may be different elsewhere (and if they are someone should tell me otherwise) but the following is what I gathered from my far-too-short stay.]

4Runners. 4Runners everywhere. I must have laid eyes on more of these Toyota SUVs in ninety-six hours than the rest of my life combined. Colorado is teeming with them, and the best part is that about half are lightly modified and sit on fairly aggressive tires, the kind best suited to the mountains and less so to basic civilian chores. A fairly clear representation of the vehicular populous in itself, the dirt-covered, not-washed-in-a-while 4Runner handily describes the function over form mentality maintained by most drivers. People out in the Denver/Boulder region thoroughly enjoy outdoors activities and vehicles are the means to their madness. And while I expected so much, it was something that struck an entirely different chord in person rather than in my feeble little imagination. I'm being too narrow-scoped though: this doesn't start and end with the 4Runner, it's just the tip of the iceberg and what I'm using as a symbol for car culture as a whole.

Continue reading after the jump...

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Can 1[M] be greater than [M]2?

Can 1[M] be more than [M]2?
The 1 Series M Coupe was great. Will the all-new M2 be greater?

BMW has done much wrong upon enthusiasts over the last few years. Bigger and frequently blander cars, over-inflated pricing, and endlessly creating and filling seemingly infinite, pointless niches; these represent the bad. But we can't ignore the good BMW has done recently, from a electric-hybrid sports car to the ever-amazing, almost-too-fast-for-its-own-good M5. And then there's the pinnacle of everything “right” to come out of Bavaria recently, a car bearing the name 1 Series M Coupe, the one vehicle to look and act like sporting BMWs of yore and the sole example of a recent production car built by the German automaker to gain near-unanimous praise. Its demise was sad yet inevitable, but now BMW has graced us with a supposed spiritual successor to the 1 Series M Coupe: the M2. Can it live up to the reputation of the car for which it can credit its existence?

In the rare application of a classic formula in which a small, light, nimble car is given a big boost in power, suspension/braking equipment from the company's best, and a manual gearbox as its only transmission, the 1M's brawny good looks were surpassed only by its driving dynamics and ability to induce a smile upon its operator. This old-school recipe came as a bit of a shock amid a very revenue-driven, forward-thinking era at BMW, with the likes of the i3, widespread turbo-tech, a carbon/composite 7 Series, the aforementioned slew of niche-carvers, and so on. The 1M was unexpected, out-of-nowhere; an outlier and a standout. Its price point was unnaturally low, its credentials make it an absolute riot, and the reviews imprinted upon the bytes of the internet will all help us remember that the 1M was extremely special.

The M2 is effectively slotting in where the M3 (or M4, I suppose) used to live in BMW's lineup, a locale filled most recently by the 1M. What used to be a luxury sports-coupe, today's M3/M4 duo is now the size of a proper GT car-- but back when it was smaller the 3 Series-based M cars provided a raw, albeit luxurious, driving experience. Its inputs were direct and it made you do some of the work rather than it doing the work for you; it was an analog-feeling car with a digital complexity.
This translated to the 1M, but since the M2 has “gone to finishing school” the latter may prove to be less of an enthusiast-minded driving experience. More attention to detail, more technology, more overseeing your every move, more press, more attention, and more draw for more customers. It's BMW taking advantage of a situation in which they know they have a captive audience in interest and finances.

Speaking of finances, we have to address the elephant Monroney in the corner, one that is a potential problem for the M2: price. Praised for its performance-to-dollar and enjoyment-to-dollar quotients, the 1M carried an MSRP starting around $47k. What else was available in this price range around the time it was available? TT-RS, Boss 302, ZL1, base Cayman...and that's about where its competition ends in the realm of similar pricing. Finding further equal matchups requires digging into the used market, maybe with an AMG SLK, E90 M3, Cayman S, or Corvette (preferably a C6 Grand Sport or Z06). The new M2's competition is much more dangerous if we assume the MSRP of $51-53,000 that rumors put it at. The predators looming on the horizon bear names like Mustang GT and GT350(R), Scat Pack and Hellcat, ATS-V, Corvette, Camaro SS and upcoming ZL1, Cayman, and even so far as the CLA/GLA45 AMG twins and the rumored RS3. All of the aforementioned are genuinely enjoyable, fast, dynamically sorted performance machines. None of these may be “direct competitors,” but will the M2 even have a “direct” competitor, something with rear-wheel-drive, a turbo inline-six, and its small-for-today size? I'm not saying that any potential M2 customers will cross-shop it with a Hellcat, but the M2 can't be a half-assed effort if it's going to fill the shoes of the dearly-departed 1M when it comes to smiles-per-dollar quotient relative to the other new options out there. And isn't smiles-to-dollar what it's all about if you're not dead-set on shaving off those last few tenths of a lap?

Similarly, we must also address used car prices as a sort of an indicator [you can insert your own joke here about BMW owners not using their turn signals]. That of the 1M is increasing, but I doubt it the M2's will do the same seeing as they will build and sell as many as they can and the car as a whole will be recognized more widely and now just by BMW and automotive enthusiasts. It's going to be a less exclusive car and one with a much broader appeal, a combination which while usually lends itself negatively to a specialty car's personality.

This and the thought of what its lineup is composed of in mind, it's so very easy to claim BMW has “lost its way,” with a 7 Series that's always trying (and usually failing) to out-S-Class the S-Class, a slew of cars like the 5 Series GT and 2 Series Active Tourer, a front-wheel-drive platform (which they claimed would never happen), and a 3/4-Series that's taken up gluttony. And then there's the M2, a car that, in light of anything BMW is doing with the rest of its more mainstream offerings, promises to be great. But how great?

And herein lies the M2's biggest foreseeable problem: we expect it to be great. Every bit of speculation and every bit of anticipation circulating the car has come along with a qualifier addressing how fantastic it promises to be. Everybody wished for greatness with the 1M, but we knew little and based most of our guesses on hope; it was a “this could be fun, let's see if it works!” project whereas the M2 is an improvement upon the previous car's mantra in every quantitative way. But its qualitative characteristics are what will matter most, and while I'll hedge my bets that it's going to be a outstanding driver's just can't and won't be the 1M. The M2 may be more well-rounded, and it will be of no surprise whatsoever if when the veil on the embargo lifts it reveals only glowing, bow-down-to-your-master praise, but it won't be on par with what came before it. I can only hope it is though, and that I'm wrong about it versus its predecessor.

The 1M was great. It was a legend of the internet era, if you will. But while the M2 is certainly more car than the 1M, this is not a case of wanting more. What made the 1M great was less: less size, less weight, less of the bloated, cash-driven mentality that's plaguing BMW. Coincidentally, it's what may ruin the M2. What it really needs to be is more of less, but regrettably it seems to promise to be so in only bad ways: less surprising, less extreme, less raw, less simplicity, less insane relative to everything else at its price point. The M2 will undoubtedly be a great car, but the 1M was the greatest BMW in recent memory. And for all the reasons above, the M2 will not be better than the legendary 1M. In the age of coupes that are sedans and sedans that are coupes, BMW has managed to pull off a mathematic miracle: proving that 1[M] is in fact greater than [M]2.

[I reserve the right to pass final judgment if BMW were so nice as to lend me the keys to each for a week. Or even a day. An afternoon, maybe? I promise to return them with most of their respective rear tires and a nice write-up to go along with my smiles, and I'll even clean my drool off the steering wheel. Please? Pretty please?]

-Ross, 10/28/15

Pictures courtesy of: Hooniverse, Autoblog, Jalopnik, BimmerFile, etc.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Dodge Caliber Was an Ahead-Of-Its-Time Shitbox-Prophecy

The Dodge Caliber Was an Ahead-Of-Its-Time Shitbox-Prophecy
In which I simultaneously praise and rip to shreds a car that unknowingly helped create a segment

When was the last time you thought about the Dodge Caliber? When was the last time you saw a Dodge Caliber? The answer to either is probably a long time, but somehow the Neon's successor was actually ahead of its time in spite of being largely forgotten. With SUV-inspired styling laid over a front-wheel-drive platform and available all-wheel-drive, widespread platform sharing, a high-performance turbo version, and even European availability, the Caliber was a crossover, a mini-CUV, before such was even “a thing.” And yet it came about when America was still too caught up in wanna-be-retro design, shoddy if not outright crappy build quality, and trying to shake off the miserable PT Cruiser-induced hangover for the car's engineers to create something that ever had a chance at setting the sales figures world on fire. And still, the Caliber managed to overcome it all, and in doing so would foreshadow many cars to come...even if it was somewhat of a shitbox.

Let me explain...
(Follow the jump to read on)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Automotive Industry's Double-Edged Sword

(Image courtesy of Motor Trend)

The Automotive Industry's Double-Edged Sword
The good and the bad of higher limits, continuous advancements, and the nonstop power war

Exactly nobody was surprised when photos of the first wrecked Challenger Hellcat went viral, and it surprised even fewer that it was damn-near minutes after deliveries began. Out from all corners of the internet came cries of “it's too much power for the street and the average driver!” and along with it the car with the best name in recent history has forced us to wonder: how much is too much, where does it end, and is this the right path for cars to continue? This isn't just about the ultra-high horsepower monsters but rather the industry as a whole as it develops and advances at the sprinting pace it's maintaining. Making extreme power widely available and on the cheap, the Hellcat is just one example of this; it's a vehicle that single-handedly raises concern as to the general automotive trend and the subsequent good and bad that can and will come from the nonstop push for more power, speed, and flair. 
 And yet this is about more than just the Hellcat; seemingly every manufacturer is taking a turn in the headlines with an audience-capturing “wow factor,” be it any of the statistics or lap times or price figures that were once unthinkable; it's a time when every aspect of the car world is tapping into depths we have yet to prove positive or negative in the long run. But where will we find ourselves as the crossroads of “it's enough already” and “there's no such thing as too much” finally come together? Read on and let's explore this automotive conundrum. Oh, and to contrast the above-mentioned crash pictures almost poetically, a video of Ralph Gilles' first-through-third burnout from the same car's press event caused much drool and a widespread checking of bank accounts. Not that I'm guilty of either.

Jump with me and let's explore...

Sunday, September 20, 2015

That time Sir Stirling Moss signed two fans' cars "just because" [& I was there] - Historics @ Lime Rock Park 2015

Nestled deep in the hills of Connecticut lies a fantastic track, one worthy of much more attention and praise than it regularly garners. With a car-guy father and family friends who own/operate a race team that calls Lime Rock their “home track,” I’ve been going to the Road Racing Center of the East my entire life, but it was just this year that I became a volunteer at the place that holds many of my oldest car-related memories.
The Historics Festival is the park’s biggest weekend of the year, with events ranging from a Concours-style car show to full-on vintage racing. It’s a spectacle to say the least, and one that I’d call “mandatory” to witness at least once if you live in the region.
Continue after the jump for pictures and stories from a great weekend.