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.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Ten Reasons Muscle Cars Are Here To Stay

And none of them start with “'Merica”

The cliché is everywhere: “enjoy it while you can.” It's as if being green, efficient, and environmentally responsible have fully overthrown loud, rude, and in-your-face as the proper image you're supposed to portray to the world. Even Miley Cyrus is struggling to get away with acting such ways, and it's no secret that muscle cars are the vehicular portrayal of many of these frowned-upon traits that our politically-correct society suggests are better pushed aside. In turn, this puts our beloved muscle machines in grave danger; many doubt their future entirely and from a logical standpoint things look grim. But automotive enthusiasm isn't logical. We've all heard it before, even straight from the mouth of James May (the “sensible one”) in the opening conversation of Top Gear's most recent season, when he put it bluntly: “the V8 could soon be a thing of the past.” But I call bullshit. The most famous and storied of enthusiast-focused vehicles are going away no quicker than the Prius is becoming the Official Vehicle of Good Drivers. Here's why...

(Note: For the purpose of this article, the Camaro, Mustang, and Challenger will all be categorized as “muscle cars.” While each is muscle-esque in its own way(s)-- and while each strays from muscle in many ways as well-- for the sake of simplicity, they will be categorized together.)

First, past fuel crises couldn't kill the V8. Today, up against the toughest standards yet, they're still alive and are stronger than ever. While automakers disguised past fuel-efficient replacements by shrinking the car versus doing so to the engine, a la Gremlin, modern technology has enabled today's muscle and sports cars to exceed the MPG numbers of some the old-time “econoboxes” that resulted from the fuel crisis eras. High-20's MPG figures are easily achievable with a timid right foot, and some are handily creeping into the low 30's-- territory once, and even very recently, reserved for cars with efficiency as a high priority. Now, though it may not be filed under “intended use,” you can eek out sufficient miles per gallon from your “play toy” for it to still be fairly economical.

Second: there's a future of muscle cars that burn rubber without burning gas. The first Tesla Model S was a land-going, battery-powered rocket ship, and now they've “launched” (ha) the P85D, featuring the infamous “Insane Mode,” a drive setting based on Elon Musk's desire for acceleration matching that of the McLaren F1. Acceleration as a priority? Straight muscle car mojo, be it roaring exhaust or whirring batteries. That kind of power in a smaller, lighter chassis with two less doors and rear-wheel-drive would be fan-freakin-tastic, and the potential for this to be built is proof that a muscle car can exist in a world where being green is hip. It's really just a matter of time before we start seeing Electric Muscle...paging Mr. Musk...

Third, while the typical automaker usually sells fewer halo cars than they do any other vehicle in their catalog, the vehicular icon that represents an entire brand is an entity wholly capable of drawing somebody into the showroom which in turn can generate a sale of either said halo car or, more importantly, of something beneath it. For example, if somebody walks into a Dodge dealership to oogle their Viper-filled fantasy and reality-laden sensibility kicks in, he can still likely justify a Charger as his family car while keeping peace of mind that his pride and joy shares blood with its Hellcat and snake-bitten Dodge brethren. Halo cars create sales of the cars that automakers actually make money on. In the form of muscle cars, they create prestige by giving the other cars the company builds the image of having the same heritage as the more “desirable” car. Brand recognition and image are both extremely important, more so now than ever, and it all starts with the company's most easily recognizable and distinguished car. And if people think they're getting a piece of the fun by purchasing a relative of a sports or muscle car, it's a win-win for the company.

The halo car effect also incorporates itself into the CAFE-standard ordeal; while the V8-bearers might not achieve an average efficiency worthy of meeting the government's mandates, the high-volume sellers are more likely to increase the company's overall average fuel economy, allowing the parent brand to meet said standards and live to see another day. We must not forget that vehicle manufacturing is a business and that automakers need to sell cars to survive, and it is impossible to do so without complying with the government's regulations.

Fourth: Speaking of selling cars, numbers speak volumes: Chevy has sold nearing 500,000 Camaros since the car's reincarnation, while Dodge has moved going on 300,000 Challengers during its newfound life. And, needless to say, Ford has been selling the Mustang nonstop since its introduction, with numbers just behind the Camaro since the Chevy's 5th generation was introduced. These high sales figures drive (so-to-speak) and correlate to the sales of the rest of the product line, and to that of the industry as well. And right now, the resulting numbers are quite good.

Fifth, the kids that will keep car culture going are the ones who embrace muscle cars with open arms and open hearts. They're the ones eagerly awaiting the all-new Mustang's release; they're the ones who geek out over the Z28's lap times; and they're the ones obsessing over the Hellcat's astronomical power figures. Car culture has changed quite a bit since the first coming of Muscle, but if it has any chance of survival it needs a core group of enthusiasts who still love the rumble of eight cylinders. Likewise, with muscle car ownership usually comes the territory of [willingly] doings modifications and maintenance oneself, and the comparative simplicity of V8's and the package wrapped around them makes these cars relatively easy to work on and also relatively affordable, thus positioning them as accessible enthusiast machines. The future lies in the hands of the up-and-coming generation, one that appears to already be accepting of the V8 and of muscle.

Sixth: muscle cars are no longer the one-trick-ponies of yore. When the original Mustang and Camaro debuted they were focused on acceleration, an affordable price tag, and high fun-quotient. But today, with competence tests such as autocross, time attacks, track days (bro), and the likes, modern muscle has to be able to turn too. As such, the automakers have obliged; enter the Camaro 1LE / Z28, Mustang “Track Pack” / Boss 302 / GT350[R], and even the SRT/Hellcat Challenger [and yes, Charger]. Any and all of these cars' dynamic abilities will punch the “American cars can't handle” guy square in the face. Even the Hellcat ran around Motor Trend's figure-eight in the same time as the Alfa 4C, a car dedicated to weight savings by making use of carbon fiber shell, quite contrary to the Hellkitten's close-to 4500-pound heft. Visit a local track day and you will undoubtedly see an assortment of each from the Ford/Chevy/Dodge trio fighting physics in a battle against the clock. In addition to handling prowess, these American bruisers employ some tech that would make the early days
of NASA seem unsophisticated. GM's Magnetic Ride Control uses magnetic particles that float in oil to control suspension damping 1,000 times per second. Meanwhile, even the Mustang has joined the 21st century with the addition of Independent Rear Suspension and all the accompanying toys to qualify it as a fully “modern car.” Then there's Dodge, which is selling a seemingly unlimited number of fully streetable 700+ HP monsters-- a concept which would have been ludicrously unthinkable as recent as a decade ago, before technology made a car with so much power “driveable.” And let's not forget the ever-increasing number of computers fitted to every vehicle. The bottom line is today, muscle is not only about ripping burnouts and slaying the quarter-mile, but it's about being able to conquer corners as well.

On top of this, muscle cars have become genuinely good on the street. They are truly easy to live with, and not just as in “oh yeah, it's fine for what it is,” but in that they're safe, comfortable, semi-practical, reliable vehicles. Compromises are, finally, minimal. I drive my Challenger every day, 105 miles round trip. It's perfectly comfortable, there's ample interior room for people to fit in the back if needed, and better yet, even with a 5.7L V8, averaging 22 MPG is easy. It's even seen figures as high as 29 MPG on a road trip, which was with the A/C on full blast and a week-long vacation's worth of baggage filling the trunk. The proof is there: more and more people are making V8, RWD cars their daily drivers. Traction control, ESP, and other acronym-bearing car brains also make these cars easier to drive year-round, inclimate weather included (with the appropriate tires, of course). Making the case for a muscle car as your only vehicle is no longer difficult; today, it's easy to justify how you can combine practicality and pleasure.

Se7en(th): Thinking outside the box, there's muscle cars from all over the world, not just from the good 'ol US of A. Mercedes represents itself with the C63 and SLS, both of which are notorious for being entirely overpowered versus their handling/chassis departments; Lexus is building a coupe with a 460+ HP V8 and far too little tire; and even Britain has pseudo-muscle in the F-Type R Coupe (the now-defunct RWD version, at least) and some of the Aston Martin cars as well. Broaden the spectrum to GT cars, the concept of which is largely similar (big engine; comfort; rear-wheel-drive; effortless low-RPM cruising; fun; etc), and there are even more options. On the flip side, the “hottest” thing to do today is to swap a fire-breathing V8 into a shell otherwise left to smaller means of propulsion, in turn broadening muscle's influence if only through the hands and minds of madness. What was once an American-only club has gone fully international, with more entries and creations on the horizon and each one making the competition more difficult, thus forcing improvement in every facet. More muscle in the wide world of cars means it's that much harder to get rid of.

Eighth: the sound. Nothing can replace the raw, brutal, grass-roots arrogance of a V8 engine piped through proper headers into a not-so-muffled exhaust. Be it a V12, V10, straight-six, or turbo-4, every engine type has a following, but none has a sound as iconic as that of eight cylinders. Small block or big, the V8's roar is ingrained in songs, movies, and, most importantly, minds, and it's part of why people love muscle cars in the first place.

Ninth: muscle cars are badass. They ooze character and personality. They make good movie cars. They make auto shows important. They get your attention, be it in a commercial or in a parking lot. They make heritage and nostalgia and brand names and rivalries relevant. And they make having a shit-ton of attitude feel like a vital part of life. Hollywood, form over function, and competition: staples of American society that will never, ever go away.

Tenth: smiles. Car enthusiasm is about automotive bliss, being happy around cars, losing oneself in the sights/sounds/feelings, making friends (and enemies), experimenting, trying (and failing), about the grin you get from all of the aforementioned...and, of course, the incomparable connection between you and your car and the road and the freedom that takes perfect form in driving. Muscle cars simply make all of this better. That's really all there is to it. Whatever obstacle there is people will find a way to keep muscle cars around for they enrich lives in a way that only muscle cars can. If this isn't reason enough as to why they're here to stay, I don't know what is.

Despite ever-tightening standards, times, for cars at least, are good. The horsepower wars are swinging harder than ever. Innovation is running wild, hand-in-hand with old-school mentality's greatest hits. Ford, Chevy, and Dodge are fighting harder than ever to make the best cars they can, and not just those with unnecessary amounts of horsepower and torque. But luckily they are focusing on those with unnecessary amounts of horsepower and torque, and we the car people are reaping the benefits. Times are good. No, times are great. Perhaps the best. This is the true golden era of muscle. Muscle cars are too iconic, too blue collar, too laugh-inducing, too enjoyable, and too damn fun to ever go away for good. The outlook is equally great: we're witnessing a new standard, with even better machinery on the horizon. Muscle cars are here to stay. They've adapted before and will have to again, but for now all we can do is enjoy them, because it's not a matter of doing so while they're still around-- it's a matter of enjoying them while we're still around.  Let's face the facts:
Muscle cars are here to stay.
And if you've made it this far, go do a burnout.

-Ross, 6/2/15

Image sources: Google / myself

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Separation Anxiety: How A Rental Car Rejuvenated My Automotive Enthusiasm

Separation Anxiety
How three days with a rental car rejuvenated my automotive enthusiasm and concurrently my love for the Challenger

There's really nothing wrong with the midsize-crossover that is the Dodge Journey; in fact, it does everything it's intended to quite well. It's safe, reliable, moderately comfortable, roomy, returns decent gas mileage, is made of materials that were unknown to many manufacturers as recent as ten years ago, and (probably) hauls five to seven people, two of those being very small children, just fine. Fundamentally speaking, it's a good car. But if you're reading this, it's pretty likely you consider yourself an automotive enthusiast, otherwise known as someone who takes particular interest in vehicles that are rather good at sacrificing their ability to be a car in favor of novelties such as lap times or crawling over inanimate objects. And, unfortunately, that doesn't make the Dodge Journey a good enthusiast's car. Yet despite this, it was remarkable how living with one of these “sensible vehicles” for just three days helped rejuvenate my love for cars, and especially for my own. It all started with a usually-run-of-the-mill, though unpleasant, telephone exchange:

“We'll likely have to keep it until Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.”

It was the end of March. The Winter Blues had officially assumed full command of my psyche, the snow-covered woods and leafless trees a visual reminder of weather suited best for those who enjoy places the likes of Vail, or whose favorite company is a hardcover epic beside the warmth of a fireplace. And, just as things are looking up – a couple days breaking the seemingly summer-like forty-degree mark – in comes the Dodge Journey, taking the place of my Challenger during its inpatient stay at the dealership for transmission surgery. Quoting a lead time of about a week, the service advisor helped me scoop up a rental in the meantime, though my initial emotions were very misleading. The excitement of potential seat time behind the wheel of a different vehicle wore off very quickly, evaporating entirely when the Caddy ATS and Chrysler 300 on the Enterprise “menu” faded out of view as the rep pulled a straight-jacket-white Journey SXT out to be my temporary wheels. Only a few minutes later, with less than two miles spent sitting in the driver's seat, the feeling was instantly recognizable: it was as if the steering wheel was connecting me to something that wasn't, well, me; I was no longer driving an extension of myself, but rather simply controlling a piece of machinery.

To use a worn-out cliché, the Journey, especially in rental-guise, is effectively an appliance. Its purpose is A-to-B transportation, nothing more, nothing less. It stirs about as much emotion as does running the washing machine, which is next to none, unless you're a dog...which you probably aren't, unless this is some strange post-script from The Art of Racing In The Rain. Coincidentally, the aforementioned is a book that fully encompasses how being a lover of all things car can seize your body, mind, and soul; driving is wholly capable of bringing about adrenalin, joy, fear, sorrow, and everything in-between. To those who love them, cars come alive. Unfortunately, the loaner did not, but it rejuvenate deep within me the passion that burns so strong, which was waning amidst the brutal Northeast winter.

Before I knew it the Journey was gone and my butt was planted in the driver seat of my Challenger once again, putting me on the receiving end of many more stares from middle-aged men and feeling much less like I was heading to pick my kids up en route to drop them off at whatever practice it is they might be going to. The Journey was hardly with me long enough to drive it, to get to know it, and to bond with it, let alone to take pictures of it or do things like calculate the gas mileage it may or may not have gotten (hey, you gotta wind out the gears at least a few times). No hurt feelings here, for the time spent in the blandmobile made driving the Hemi-powered R/T feel infinitely more responsive and (thankfully) faster than it usually does, and the involvement of the manual transmission a revelation. However (and this is still much to my surprise), I now have a deep, new-found appreciation and respect for the Dodge Journey. Not for the Journey as a model, but for the specific vehicle I had for three days while my car was at the doctor. Though driving said Journey failed to stir up any vehicular emotion in the bottom of my soul, it did revive that which beats for the real world of automotive enthusiasm; it allowed me to realize, recognize, and remember just how great the world of cars is, and why I call it my favorite pastime. It rejuvenated the desire for road trips, for track days, for car shows, and for the seemingly simple things like waving at another driver of your same model car as they drive by. A vehicle may not have a living, beating heart, but a soul it most definitely has.

These few days also bump-started my love for the Challenger that has become a willing and able partner to my road-borne adventures. While outspoken internet desk-jockeys argue that it's too heavy to be a good car for enthusiasts, I entirely disagree. Actually, I've always disagreed, but more so now than ever. It might not have the dynamics of a Miata, the drama of a 458, the acceleration of a GT-R, or the road-and-track-compatability of a 1LE, yet it's still a good enthusiast's car. Not necessarily driver's car, but a lot of that is what you make of it; rather, it's what you do with it that makes it your vice, your channel, your way of expressing and enjoying yourself. And though the heavyweight Challenger might not invigorate you to set the new lap record at Laguna Seca, what it does do is inspire you, just as any great car or driving partner should: it makes you want to drive, crave a reason to go places; it forces you to enjoy the adventure and not just the destination. And this, friends, is what being addicted to motor vehicles, to new experiences, to the culture, and most importantly, what driving, is all about.

It's easy to lose way of automotive culture when the weather is shitty, your car is broken, and your favorite motoring TV show has recently been canceled. At said point in the year, nothing seems further away than giving your car a bath, going for a drive, and reveling in the freedom that there is in making your own adventure. But then, just when you're at automotive rock bottom, something comes along and it hits you: nothing can replace the passion that is being a “car person,” because in it comes a one-to-one attachment that simultaneously helps you see, experience, and take joy in new things, and also helps you find yourself. If you need to get your enthusiasm back on track, if you're looking for a way to rejuvenate your passion for vehicles and for the art of driving, if you've got the Winter Car Blues, all you need to do is seek your closest rental location. You'll fall in love all over again before you know it. I recommend a Dodge Journey.

-Ross, 4/21/15