Friday, April 28, 2017

2016 Mazda 6 - That Rare Sedan

It's tough out there these days for vehicles that have less than five doors and more than two that don't have four wheel drive and are not utility based. Or don't have some elevated driving position. "I like to be up" is what they say. Well, if everyone is "up", is anyone really "up"? Today it's the rare sedan that is able to grab our attention by virtue of its styling too. That rare sedan is the 2016 Mazda 6.

Mazda introduced the current "6" back in 2012. With bulbous sheet metal and questionable curves, it had all the essence of an over designed Subaru, (current) Nissan Altima or a 1973 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. No matter how wonderful a car it may have been, she was hard to look at.

Mazda updated the 6' styling for 2016 and the subtle alterations did wonders for the over all appearance of the car. While the questionably bulbous front fenders remain, they don't appear to be as silly as before since the overall design of the car is far better balanced. I even like that jutting jaw front end even if the Mazda logo is a centimeter or ten too big.

What makes the 6 even more interesting is that it gets by with nothing more than a four cylinder, gas fired engine; albeit a fairly hefty one displacing some 2.5 liters. Making just 184 horsepower, an automatic transmission equipped 6 goes 0-60 in roughly 8 seconds. Not exactly an Accord or Camry V-6 at stop lights but, seriously, how much power do you need? It's cars like this that make me lol at beasts like the 365 horsepower, twin turbo, Ford Taurus SHO. I mean, c'mon. Seriously?

That lack of power, or just enough power, rewards drivers with an EPA highway mileage rating of nearly 40 miles per gallon. And no, "Skyactiv" ain't no stinkin' hyrbird thing either. It's Mazda's marketing of their engineering prowess that highlights engine efficiency and performance. Pssst, newsflash, kids, you don't need that hybrid crap. They don't get that much better mileage to offset the additional expense and when they break, it's going to break your bank account. Oh, you're a greenie? Do you have any idea how clean fossil fuel burning cars are today?

Many Japanese brands have become far to Americanized over the last twenty years and they've lost a lot of their specialness that sets them apart from American makes and models. While the Big Three have caught up remarkably to the point that all cars are as similar as a gallon of milk at different super markets, Japanese makes and models like the Accord, Camry (and Altima) might as well be Malibus or Fusions. That's meant as much as praise for GM and Ford, ok, Chrylser too, as well as it means that the Japanese have stopped being innovative and benchmark setting.

With the possible exception of adorable Subaru, all of the Japanese have fallen off, or have stopped innovating, except for little ole Mazda. Everything they do from the Miata to the 6 and yes, even their blasted cross overs, have a specialness about them that all Japanese makes and models had years ago before they all became Impalas. I first drove a Honda Accord in the mid 1980's and was enthralled at what a magnificent automobile it was. Of course I was comparing it to the 1975 Chrysler Cordoba I was driving at the time but still. These days, take a spin in an Accord and then drive a Ford Fusion; bet you really can't tell the difference.

Then take a Mazda 6 for a spin. Thank me later.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Buick Cascada - Frequent Flyer At the Doctor's Office

For as long as I can remember Buick has periodically attempted to downplay their old fart image with a series of ads touting that such and such Buick is, "not a Buick". And while Buick has done very well of late with a bevy of small to mid size cross overs that have hit a sweet spot with younger female buyers, our Buick Cascada here looks to be the perfect ride for those who are frequent flyers at the doctor's office. Can Buick be all things to all people young and old? Yes, it's possible but difficult and it's always best to market "younger" when you're attempting to reach as wide a demographic as possible. The age old adage being that you can get an old man to drive a young man's car but a young man won't drive an old man's car.

The Cascada, cascada is spanish for waterfall, sails in the very shallow waters of the "affordable convertible" market. A niche market clogged with a bevy of offerings of which most if not all are vastly superior to this underpowered, overweight, shimmying, under engineered rolling bathtub. For similar money to what you'd cough up each month for this thing you could be in an Audi A3 Cabriolet, Mini Cooper, Mazda Miata or Fiat 124 Spider, a Fiat 500 C or base models of the Chevrolet Camaro or Ford Mustang. Smart fortwo offers a convertible in the "affordable range", but that car has the dubious distinction of being even less hip than this Cascada. 

Far be it for me to wonder why anyone would choose a Cascada over any of those other makes and models (save for the Fiat 500) given my taste in automobiles but I have to wonder if Grand Dad and Grand Ma actually test drove their Cascada before trading in their Park Avenue on something "sporty". Powered by this top of the line 200 horsepower, 1.6 liter turbocharged in line 4, this little engine doesn't stand much of chance getting this two ton porker up to interstate speed so Gramps doesn't get rear ended by a some texting kid driver in a pickup. Yeah, the Cascada weighs almost 4,000 pounds. What did they make it out of, cast iron? Question, since the car is loosely based on the soon to be departed Buick Verano, why isn't the 250 horsepower, turbocharged 2.0 liter engine available on the Verano on the Cascada's options list?

Because, drum roll, the Cascada is as much a "Buick" as the Regal is; they're both rebadged Opels. GM's awesome turbo 2.0 is not available on the Opel Cascada and there's no way in damnation GM was going to spend the money to retrofit an engine into a car they're importing. And while their Opel counter parts might work along side each other "over there", Opel is one of those GM super brands across the pond, much like Buick is in China, that can do whatever they want, over here it just doesn't work.

Doesn't work inasmuch as this car is exactly the type of car Buick attempts to dispel when they roll cute as a button, feisty 'ol Granny who adorably croaks out, "that's not a Buick"!

Well, fear not Granny for Buick still builds cars that are "Buicks" like our Cascada here. And while I have your attention, do your family a favor - if you're going to spend your kid's inheritance before you leave God's green earth on something frivolous like a convertible, spend it on something that at least they'll remember you fondly for.

So, the next time Buick rolls out their stunningly obnoxious ad campaigns about what a Buick is or isn't keep the Cascada in mind as to what Buick really thinks a Buick is. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

2017 Honda Accord - Dire Straits


Just one look at a 2017 Honda Accord sedan and you can see why the "three box", four door sedan is dying a slow but steady death. I mean, with as many exciting looking cross overs on the market as there are today, this is what they come out with?  Does it not look as through it was styled by the same yahoos who penned the 2006 Chrysler Sebring sedan?
In fairness, the Honda Accord sedan has never been about jaw dropping, eye popping sheet metal but still, given how all around fantastic the car actually is, you'd think Honda stylists could have come up with something a bit more interesting than this. Gotta hand it to Mazda for attempting to at least keep things interesting in the garage with a bevy of progressive looking sedan designs that sorta-kinda combine a cross over design ethos with a sedan.  I didn't say I like them but I applaud their efforts.
Inside things are little better but even here things are as staid and generic as it gets these days. Swap the H logo on the steering wheel for a bowtie and no one wouldn't think this wasn't the new (and oh god so homely) Malibu or the next Impala.
I more than understand how difficult it is to keep reinventing the same thing every four to five years. In broadcasting, we have to reinvent ourselves every day; the challenge is in keeping it interesting within certain guidelines. And in broadcasting today we face the similar challenge of ever new, different and exciting choices for people to be entertained and informed by. Was the 2016 Accord, our subject is a 2017, really Honda's best attempt to keep things interesting looking within even their own self imposed conservative guidelines. 
The future of the three box, four door sedan is dire and it honestly has more to do with the rise in sales of cross overs than anything that manufacturers are doing wrong with sedans. CUV's are so different from sedans that there's nothing sedan designers and engineers could have done to offset their rise in popularity. Although, boring appliances like this Accord sedan certainly don't help matters. Can manufacturers come out with a sedan that combines everything that buyers want in a cross over? Honda tried that with the late great Crosstour that went over as well as selling ice cream to Eskimos. Again, the sedan as we have known it to be, is in dire straits.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Schwinn Krates - The Apple (Krate) of My Eye

Those of us born at the tail end of the baby boom generation missed out on literally all the good stuff they, they being the earlier boomers, had to experience. Instead of the unbridled ebullience they had, us "Tweeners" were raised on a steady diet of assassinations, Vietnam, Watergate, Presidential resignations, gas shortages, federally mandated safety bumpers, a double dip recession, disco, the AMC Pacer and who knows what else. For the record, we had as much to do with the landslide of bullshit occurring in this country in the 1970's as they had to do with the Wonder Years they had growing up in the 50's and 60's. So, for you "early boomers" who think you're all that since you're a boomer, stick it in your ear. You just got born lucky.

An example of us being born too late were Schwinn Krates. New for 1968 and only made through 1973 - just as I was becoming of "real bike" age, the Krates were the embodiment of everything that used to be great. Just like the muscle cars they were patterned after which were for all intents and purposes had dissolved by 1973 as well. Was it a coincidence that Watergate began to percolate and the first gas crunch hit us in the fall of '73 too? Can't blame 1973 for having an inferiority complex. Anyway, Schwinn Krates were the hands down most awesome bike in the world and if you had one you were automatically a member of the cool kids club. Newsflash - I never got one.

So, what was a Schwinn Krate? Legend has it that in the early 1960's Schwinn's head stylist took notice that kids in Southern California were customizing their bikes to look like motor cycles and muscle cars. Knowing a good idea when he saw one, he took a 20 inch bike frame and put a banana seat and "ape hanger" handle cars on it and dubbed it "Sting-Ray". The fact that Chevrolet came out with the Corvette Sting-Ray in 1963 too no doubt doing wonders for marketing. There was an update in 1965 that included a two speed shifter but 1968 was the year that Schwinn took the Sting-Ray theme to the extreme when they came out with the Krates.

Krates featured front and rear suspension via articulating forks in front and a spring loaded sissy bar for a "floating saddle" out back. Braking was equally sophisticated with a drum style front brake and a mechanical disc in the rear. Remember we're talking 1968 here; this was pretty heady stuff. You could make an argument that Schwinn Krates were more sophisticated than many cars.

Topping off the glorious mix of chrome, steel, rubber and flamboyant colors was a 5 speed shifter mounted oh so precariously on the top tube of the frame. I recall riding a friend's well worn Pea Picker on the up and down sidewalk slabs of Overlook Place staring down at that shifter that appeared poised to castrate me with little provocation. You'll notice on a rash of "new" Krates that came out in the '90's that this literal ball buster had been "shifted" elsewhere. 

My choice, of course, would have been to have an "Apple Krate" but, again, by the time I got a bike Krates were no longer available brand new so I got a disparate knock off like this. At least it was red but it was kind of like getting a six cylinder Barracuda when I really wanted a Camaro Z/28. Mattered little though since I had bigger problems to worry about when I was a kid than crying in my Corn Flakes that I didn't get the bike I really wanted.

When I was a kid the trappings of wealth fascinated me since "being rich" and everything that came along with it seemed as obtainable as my walking on the moon. Ultimately, though, it mattered little in the big picture since there was no guarantee that "rich kids" would become "rich adults". Or appear to be rich. Success as much as failure never being permanent, I often wonder what kind of person I'd be today had I, and I say this purely as a metaphor, gotten an Apple Krate and everything that would imply when I was kid. Just like I wonder what I'd be like had I been born sooner and gotten to partake in the post war "Happy Days" the earlier boomers got to experience. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

1993 Chevrolet Lumina - It's 1989 All Over Again

Must have been something in the water the other night when I was doing a cheap car search on because not only did that splendid '85 Olds 88 pop up for sale down in Akron, but this mint 1993 Chevrolet Lumina Euro Coupe popped up for sale down there as well. I had a black on red 1990. Suddenly it was December 1989 all over again and I was picking up my first brand new car. Old cars in the condition you remember them best are terrific time machines aren't they?

Personal car stories are boring so I won't bore you with the details of the first of only two brand new cars I've ever bought but I had fallen head over heels in love with the lines of the Lumina Euro coupe. I also never had a moment's trouble with it either in four years and nearly 100,000 miles.

She wasn't perfect, though. While arguably a step up in workmanship from, say, that '85 Olds, there was inherent GM cheapness throughout the cabin. It wasn't the best laid out dashboard either but it was functional.

Despite a full gauge package on the Euro, the covering for the dash wraps around the top and is glued down. And of course, the glue failed and the top of the dash sagged covering the gauges. Repeated attempts to glue it back up failed as well. This didn't happen on the car that replaced my Euro, my infamous 1994 Lumina Z34. I guess they got better glue by 1994. 

I honestly felt as though the lines on my Euro were so handsome that the car was going to be heralded as the second coming of the 1957 Chevrolet. Might have been pride of ownership talking but I really felt that way. I still find the lines striking. The Euro was able to pull a respectable number of g's in the slalom but the ride was quite harsh for a sedan. The Corvette inspired, fiberglass leaf spring suspension moaned and groaned just like a Corvette's too.

I was a fan of the Euro's fairly sparten, utilitarian-esque interior. It had nothing that wasn't absolutely necessary although I really would have appreciated a power driver's seat and some better seat bolstering. There was still a lot of Chevrolet Celebrity Euro in the cabin. 

Motivation was provided by the 3.1 liter version of GM's famed 60 degree V-6. Compact, lightweight, miserly on gas and a smooth runner, oomph was adequate if a tad sedate. I traded my Euro in for a Z34 because I thought the over all driving experience was going to be improved by the much larger and more powerful engine. Hardy. Har-har. The Z34 handled better and had a smoother ride but that big engine was not worth the monthly payments. 

The Chevrolet Lumina Euro coupe was replaced in 1995 by the new two door Lumina that was dubbed Monte Carlo. I always wondered why Chevrolet didn't call this car "Monte Carlo" but us mere mortals will never get answers to such questions. If the Monte Carlo nameplate was so vaunted, why would Chevrolet ever not use it? 

The 1990-94 Lumina was part of the infamous GM10 platform that's been torn to shreds over the years. Unfairly so, in my opinion, although I see the flaws that many pundits point out. A Camry or Accord it wasn't. Wasn't even a Taurus. But it was the first brand new car that I ever had and, again, never gave me any trouble. Looked great too. 

1985 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale Brougham - If I Had My Druthers

During one of my "cheap car searches" the other night on this popped up for sale down in Akron with an asking price of $4995. It's a 1985 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale Brougham Coupe with only 60,000 miles. Why, if I had my druthers.

Rust, demolition derbys and people just not keeping them up as something expensive goes on them is the reason why cars like this are becoming increasingly rare. Especially ones like this that speak to me enough that I would seriously consider purchasing it. If I didn't already have five cars that is.
I'm not sure why I like this car either since I really know better. Years ago test I test drive one that was for sale for not much more than the asking price of this one and I thought the car was a real dog. Too big, too slow, too soft, too plodding.

At least this car has a power adjustable driver's seat. That 88 I drove years ago didn't and with the dash on these cars being so high and the seating position without a power seat so low, I felt like a little kid trying to see over a store counter. Nothing like a too big car that that you can't see out of.
Seats cushions on a now thirty year two year old car are no doubt now even less spongy than they were when new. The fabric that GM used on these cars also never lent itself to comfort. Looks very nice in a "grandma's couch" kind of way, though.

The Oldsmobile 307 that made all of 150 horsepower in the 88 and was technically the last of the Rocket V-8's. This engine also had the dubious distinction of being the last engine built by the Big Three that used a carburetor. If the price of the car was a grand or so less the first thing I would do would swap this out for a crate engine. 2.45:1 axle would have to go into the dumpster too. This is getting expensive.
Acres upon acres of not only plastic, but fake plastic "wood" trim. This is how GM did things back then. Also note that this car has a power seat but crank windows and that crank is all the way down there. Wouldn't be surprised if this car also had power locks. 1980's ala carter ordering at its finest.
Still, like leafing through your high school year book, she makes me fawn all over again although even back then, this was an old man's car. Which makes me wonder, yet again, if I really want the car or I want to somehow relive that time period in my life when this car was even shinier and new.
1985 was the last year for the GM B body coupe.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Toyota Prius - Kick Me

My take away after a brief and expensive cab ride in January in one of these was that the Toyota Prius has a surprisingly cavernous albeit austere interior. Road noise was also abundant although the car itself was church mouse quite save for the whir-whir-whir of what I believe was a worn out right rear wheel bearing. Aside from the generously sized cabin, the only upside I can deduce about the thing was that the cab company owning it was saving a considerable amount of money on gas since Prius', on average, are rated at about 50 miles per gallon. That's pretty darn good. So good, in fact that outside of a plug-in hybrid, you can't do better than that these days with either a gas or diesel powered automobile.

But, oh, what you give up for the sake of great gas mileage. Getting great gas mileage with a car this ugly is lost on me since for my money, I can get excellent gas mileage with a far less expensive and better looking "PZEV" [practically zero emissions vehicle]. What's more, there's no goofy compromises in handling, braking and all around performance in a "PZEV" that you have to put up with with these things. Does a PZEV get as good gas mileage as a Prius? No, but at nearly 40 miles per gallon it's close enough to what the Prius gets to negate what a Prius has to offer.

Now, don't get me wrong, I respect the technology and engineering but the over all design of Prius' I find to be insufferably dorky. I mean, c'mon, man, look at this thing. It's the perfect ride for science fiction fans and the president of the computer club after he managed to get himself out of the gym locker someone stuffed him into. The best vanity plate for one of these would be, "KICK ME".

So, what exactly is a Prius. Well, there is some confusion as to what it is and also what hybrids are in general. At it's most elemental and at the risk of over simplification, there are two types of hybrids, "mild hybrids" and "parallel" or "full hybrids". Mild hybrids are gasoline or diesel powered cars that have an electric motor to assist the engine. In many cases, mild hybrids don't get much better mileage than their "non-hybrid" brethren but their electric motors can increase a vehicle's performance exponentially.  Full or parallel hybrids like our Prius are battery powered cars that have a gasoline engine to assist the electric motor. Big difference between a gas engine assisting an electric motor and vice versa. Mileage differences are significant as well.

Toyota offers their "Hybrid Snyergy Drive" across nearly their entire range of models and many Lexus models too. While they don't get the gas mileage that our Prius here gets, owners of those "Hybrids" don't have the compromises that Prius owners have to endure either. That's to say nothing of its wonky, strange and distinctive styling for the sake of being strange and distinctive. Ironically, the Lexus version of the Prius, something they call the "ct200h", is such a handsome automobile that it transcends the fact that it's a "hybrid". If Toyota made the Prius look more like its Lexus cousin I wouldn't be getting on my hate on for it like I am.

There's no doubt that the future of motorized transportation is going to be electrified and their development over the last twenty years has been nothing short of remarkable. The growing pains that many hybrids and now plug ins have is all part of the development process. Good thing there are people out there patient enough and with deep enough pockets to put up with the nonsense. I'm not one of them. Let me know when the future is here and without compromise.

"Prius" is latin for "to go before".