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Tuesday, 25 February 2014


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Thanks for this. It's good to see a picture of the new Mustang that isn't taken by a photographer specializing in cars, and one not shot in a studio dedicated to car photography.

Nice to hear about the Mazda. Are they not offering their super efficient low compression diesel technology in the USA? That would easily beat 40 mpg and be nice to drive due to great torque.

[They will be soon, rumor has it. --Mike]

i like "sized for regular guys". i've a ford focus with recaro chairs. it's a nice secure fit for me. went to a special lunch with my peers and i was the driver. the guy who took the passenger seat isn't obese by any stretch but he's wider than me. he complained the chair was too tight.

a data point on ford chairs ....

Auto journalists have considerable perks because most auto journalism is barely concealed payola, and I say that as someone who has all the major car blogs in his RSS feed.

Since this is off-topic week, I feel like this question is fair game: why do you prefer naturally aspirated engines over turbo-charged engines? I am not a car guy at all, so please bear that in mind when you respond. I seem to recall that turbocharged engines compress the fuel with more air so that they get more bang for the same amount of gasoline, but I have doubts as to whether even that is right...

Best regards,

[Because, historically at least, turbos have turbo lag, which is the name for the delay between putting your foot down and the car responding. This has been getting incrementally better as the years go by but I still prefer relatively instant throttle response.

I don't like electric steering, either, which is now infecting even Porsches. --Mike]

> Europeans are very practical (inexplicably, Murcuns don't like hatchbacks)

What Europeans really like are estates ("station wagons"). Just taking the search results on Germany's biggest used car web site http://www.autoscout24.de/ as an example, some huge proportion of Audi A6, BMW 5 series, Mercedes E-class, VW Passat and Ford Mondeo (Contour or Fusion in North America?), and also of smaller cars like Audi A4, BMW 3-series, Ford Focus, VW Golf and Skoda Octavia are sold as estates. Not only are they popular with new buyers, but second hand they retain their value better than the saloon ("sedan") equivalent.

Were there any electric cars at the show?

[I didn't notice any, but there were lots of hybrids. --Mike]

Just got a "Gen 7" Audi A3 which solves the quality vs cost issue by being overly expensive - at least in Europe - but outstandingly built. Sadly mine is a 1.6 diesel whereas the S3 is the one you want. The interior is minimally wonderful (You get a screen that you can hide so the central dash is left with only AC controls and two air vents) and it drives like a big car.

I to enjoy going to car shows but find lately, I am more drawn to older cars that to me seem more unique and with more character. Out of all the new cars you saw (excluding high priced super cars) could you pick one that you would say would become a classic, one that you would love even if it had some problems or rattles. A car that stands out among the rest not because of any feature but because it has personality. A car with soul.

"Golf best selling car in Europe"?
I must admit that took me by surprise and had to Google it to confirm
The reason it's so surprising is that Golfs are so dependably boring they've become practically invisible - I'm the sort of bloke who notices all the vehicles I see on the road but Golfs are just one big yawn and I've developed a blind spot for them.

Do your American States have regional differences in car popularity like the different European countries have?
Britain seems to be full of Vauxhalls (GM), Fords & BMWs whereas here in rural France I rarely see anything that isn't Citroen, Peugeot or Renault.

You mention the Mazda 6. Recently I saw this mentioned in terms of an excellent Diesel engine that it had or was proposing to introduce into N. America. We in Europe like our diesel cars; nowadays they are silent, economical, have real low down power and cruise around effortlessly as the good old American cars did back in the seventies. The big benefit of the Mazda diesel is that besides being at least as good as a European diesel is that it meets US emission regulations. Meanwhile I understand that this is a problem for some European diesels. Please excuse typos as the iPad is frustratingly difficult in this area.

Back in 2004 Mazda did indeed offer the V6 with a manual on the 6. As a matter of fact they even did it with the really nice 6 wagon. It was such a nice combination that my wife and I bought one. It was a really great car right up until the Ford derived engine decided to start burning oil at a scary rate so we got rid of the car before it became a nightmare.

And you are absolutely right about the Dino 246. It is still one of my favorite cars of all time. I very nearly bought one back in the mid 80's when they were still unloved and very cheap.

Sadly I agree with you about Mazda. I put my money where my mouth is and bought a 2010 Mazda3 Sport with the 2.5 liter motor and stickshift. I love the car but it saddens me to see that you can't get a new 3 or 6 with a stick in all of the available trim levels like you could in the past.

Still, the new 6 is a great looking car.

Get your paws off my Dino!

I have found a great car for you: 2006 Mercedes AMG C55. You can't have mine; find your own if you can. $18-24000 used.

This is one of the few non-turbo engines (5.5L 360HP) so it has great reliability. The body is a small C-class, with very few luxury features or gimmicks. Engine, tires, a good sound system - all you need to drive. I was laughing all the way home from the dealer... it's a go-cart with a truck engine, but totally controllable.

HOWEVER, it don't work on ice at all (fat slick tires). That may be more of a problem for you. Oh, and the seat heaters die... that's about it. Maybe for a summer car?

What's electronic frippery? Decent sound? A nav system? I have a couple of cars full of electronic frippery, and I want it all. The stuff that's unnecessary is usually software that uses the hardware that would be there anyway. One piece of electronic hardware frippery that I originally thought was useless, and that I now wouldn't want to do without, are the red trianglular-shaped warning lights that pop up in the wing mirrors if I have a car in the next lane, right on my fender, where it's hard to see. I love my backup camera, because I live in a place where I have to back out of a driveway into an alley, and make a sharp back-up turn...and the neighborhood dog wanders around back there. Are heated seats (in Minnesota or Wisconsin) frippery? I suspect that one man's frippery is another man's requirement...

[I think both back up cameras and blind spot warnings are useful safety features. I'm not against everything that's new since 1960, but lots of cars go overboard with the electronics, computers, and "luxury" embellishments. For example, can't you buy massaging seats in one of the big Mercedes? --Mike]

You prefer cars that are..."simple and straightforward in design, but that have higher-than-necessary build and materials quality." What cameras do you feel fall within that description?
C Ravsten

My day isn't complete without reading you blog. Keep up the good work.

First you diss my newspaper (WSJ), then you diss my car (BMW). Why do I read your blog? Back to photography, ASAP, please.

[Please just come back on Monday morning--that way you'll miss all of Off-Topic Week. --Mike]

I used to work at the World Financial Center in New York. The Winter Garden is a large atrium linking two of the towers that make up the complex (featured in the fun documentary Mad Hot Ballroom). Every fall it is the stage for its own auto show, but it only features luxury cars (nothing cheaper than a Caddy and they look like Ladas compared to the rest of the field). The whole thing is put on by the local luxury car dealers for the benefit of the area bankers and traders. In 2008 the show was the week after the collapse of Lehmann Brothers. They might as well have been showcasing coffins. No one was looking at the cars and you could see in the faces of there salespeople that they thought they might never sell another car.

A big advantage to you becoming an auto journalist would be I would get to see you more as now they all seem to be located here in Ann Arbor! I suspect this is because of the late, great David E. Davis. The EPA testing facility is here as well so we sometimes get a glimpse of a barely disguised cool new "mystery car" cruising around as part of a test.

I am hoping that Mazda brings out the diesel version of the 6 by the time my present lease is up this summer. They keep postponing the introduction for some reason. You are not alone in your high opinion of the 6.

They put in the turbos because there is no other way to combine performance with emission controls AND good gas mileage. Naturally aspirated engines can't be fine-tuned on-the-fly like a digitally controlled injection engine. The 4-banger BMW 2.0l diesel gets stupendous gas mileage: real-world 50mpg toddling along at 90km/h, 35mpg at a more pleasant 150km/h and 25mpg at 210 kmn/h, all while meeting EUR4 emissions standards. You simply can't do that with an aspirated engine...

I just got my updated company car, a 320td, downsized from a 525td due to smaller transportation needs (empty nest!), and while I miss the smoothness of the 2.5l straight six diesel, the 4-banger 2.0l diesel works well with the 8-speed automatic. There is a very small turbo gap: the motor uses a bi-turbo construction with a large turbo for low speed and a high-speed small turbo for higher speeds, and the only lag point is where the one shifts over from the other AND the automatic is changing speeds. Otherwise: smooth power curve. Stop-and-go as well. Given that diesel costs something along the line of $8/gallon, every little bit helps...

Car makers often make strange engine/transmission choices. The original Neon could be had with 2 engines, a less expensive high-torque one and a more expensive 16-valve higher hp version but whose torque band started higher up on the rpm band. I felt sorry for the folks who bought the automatic transmission with the higher hp engine, the transmission prevented it from reaching the torque band most of the time, so they paid extra to get a dog.

I had a 96 Escort GT 5-speed. It was a sort of close-ratio box and there was only about 900 rpm between 4th and 5th. So at normal highway cruising speeds in 5th speed, the car was intolerably loud, and needlessly so. Why have a tall gear that isn't?

I owned a 1986 Colt Turbo. Unfortunately it had lots of turbo lag but had a nice tall 5th gear. It was a pleasure to drive.

Who is sitting in at the meetings when they make these decisions? My guess is that it's people who know very little about cars or how to drive them.

Cheers Mike,

Anybody who beats up Bay Em Vay and the WSJ surely must be a fine photographer as well!

Confess I steer clear of auto shows and showrooms because I'm too susceptible to their shiny allure. Marriages can suffer as a result. Sadly, I'm driving an orphan whose maker has vanished, so will need to wrestle with getting a replacement before some failing random key and unobtainable part strands me in the mountains somewhere. Am tentatively educating myself on what’s out there.

The little Acura you highlight sounds nice, but the nose is far too goofy to be greeting me in my garage. Trivial, but we forge relationships with cars that are more than driving appliances (e.g., Camry). Now, the Dino OTOH....

Turbocharging is a bit of an engineering artform (if that's not oxymoronic). Spanning more than two decades of turbo Saab piloting I've experienced both wicked turbo lag and its complete absence. My first, a 9000T, had to be alerted by certified letter that boost would be required--at least when beginning from rest. Eventually it got the hint and then would GO. This made left turns against oncoming traffic a never-ceasing adventure, but the reward was in having the fastest sedan sold in the States, somehow propelled by a puny 4-cylinder engine. My current 9^5 has a tiny tubo that’s detectable only when driving with the windows down. The torque peaks barely off idle, which is where I like it. My spouse’s 2L Audi turbo is about the same, only I NEVER hear that turbo.
Not trying to sway your opinion on boost, but you owe it to yourself to not rule them out summarily. Small, boosted engines have significant upsides compared against bigger NAs. FWIW a friend’s 335Ci Bay Em Vay is on its second set of turbos and, improbably, fifth fuel pump. So not everybody seems to have sorted out that technology.

Every six over here (EU) is available with a manual gearbox other than the 2.5L petrol. And btw you can get it in a kombi as well :)

I remember Tony Curtis flogging a Dino around in "The Persuaders." Sexiest car of its day, I think.

My daily driver is a Lexus GS F Sport, which is a perfect car (trust me) and not at all boring; Lexus has stepped up its game big time in the Sporty Car Department. For a couple of days last week I drove a friends' Porsche 911 Carrera (early 996, 2001ish); I hadn't been in a 911 in lots of years. It had that "I'm always ready to to get in BIG trouble" thing vibe that real sports cars have, but overall it's just a revolting little insect car that isn't even faster or better handling than my infinitely more comfortable GS. I'm past it, I guess.

I like estate cars aka station wagons. Tough to find in the US in part because they do not quality as a truck. Huge SUVs qualify as trucks and to not count against EPA mpg gas efficiency fleet averages in the US.
Cadillac makes a nice wagon in the CTS. I believe that is the only US wagon. The opposite of Europe, wagons don't hold value so the best move is to buy used.

The Mazda man might have been mean to you, but he's right about only 3 people (figuratively) wanting manual transmission.

Manual transmission in a car is like DOS in a computer.

I'll take the iPhone-style car. Thanks.

Love your off-topic Flyin' Miata!

I like the idea of the new Mazda 6 with a stick. But, sadly, I had a 2004 Mazda 6 V-6 hatchback with stick that had horrible intermittent transaxle issues. It took months to figure out what was wrong. So I won't go back to the brand (probably ... I have to leave myself an out). I love the "zoom zoom"-ness of Mazda products, but for me reliability trumps "slightly more fun to drive." If I had to pull the trigger today, I'd get a Honda Accord Sport edition with stick (an awesome value!), or that ILX you like. We've had 6+ Hondas/Acuras over the years ... all super reliable, and generally fun to drive, even the big minivans.


No worries. I found a blog about Rocks>Lakes>Mountains>Sunsets that Im spamming heavily until you get this out of your system.

Murcuns? Oooh, I get it. Septics.

Golf GTI - just won Wheels mag Car of the Year third year running. A$46,300. Huh.

Mazda 3, 6, CX-5, all familiar names here. Miata? Sounds like a pussy cat. MX5!

Not that I want to further your car angst, but I suggest you drive the ILX. I have been a happy Honda owner forever. I traded an Audi S4 wagon for an Acura TSX wagon. I miss the engine sound, but the TSX is more than fast enough on public roads, more comfortable, corners flatter, and goes twice as far on a gallon of gas. I also have a recent era Civic, and while I haven't given the ILX a drive, it addresses every small thing about the Civic that needs improvement.

I, too, dreamed of the Dino 246. I wanted the Spyder. Of all the cars I dreamed of back in the days of my displaced adolescent sexual desire -- 911S, Miura, Bora, Europa, and the kinky Citroen SM -- the Dino 246 topped them all.

Thanks for bringing back some memories!

Did you see the Audi A3 e-tron? Not only is it a big brother to our beloved Golf, but it has some incredible technology in it from what I've read. It is a plugin hybrid with gas backup, which is nothing new. But it will recharge it's fully-depleted battery to full capacity after about 100 miles of highway driving, and it rarely uses it's disc brakes, almost exclusively braking with regenerative systems.

Plugins aren't (yet?) practical in NYC, and I'm not in the market for car ownership besides. But it is the car that I dream of anyway.

Shame about Americans and hatchbacks. Audi has discontinued the gorgeous A3 hatch in the US and replaced it with a hideous little sedan version. The e-tron is rumored to bring the hatch back (see what I did there?) to our soil. Here's hoping.

Nice shots of cars under less-than-optimal lighting conditions. Interesting comments as well. Thanks for the off-topic posting.

Where your car showroom I hope to go to there to buy a BMW.

RobinP: yes America has regional differences in car taste. In California where I live, the Toyota Prius is #1 while in the whole US, it is the Ford F150 pickup!

The Mazda MX6 did pretty well in the Australian Car of the Year awards for 2013.

The ILX strikes me as the modern-day 4-dr Integra, Honda's first attempt at the über Civic. The RDX was pretty cool but from a marketing standpoint, hatches were unfortunately dead by then.

Completely with you on the weaksauce engine/stick combo from Mazda. And yet, I totally understand why the dude said what he said. Just visit most any dealership and speak to any salesperson and they will tell you the same thing: manual transmissions Do Not Sell for "normal" cars.

Honda has enough shared platform with the ILX/Civic that makes an exception possible, whereas Mazda's standard-bearer Miata isn't shared with 3 or 6.

I've got one of those Mk7 Golfs you mentioned, though mine is from the humbler end of the range - 1.4 SE TSi 5 door. I've found the performance is as good as I will ever need and the economy is excellent. I'm very pleased with the quality of the fittings and equipment in the cabin. And as far as turbo-lag is concerned, there isn't any. (I remember it from several decades ago when it was a popular tho' short-sighted solution to the problem of packing more performance into a small car.)

I'm completely satisfied with the Golf. Good job really - being on the glide-path towards retirement, this is intended to be my 'last car' - the one I'll keep until it or I fall to pieces. I'm hoping we'll both be good for 15 years.

In reference to questions about diesel cars in the USA asked by a few people above, they're finally starting to make a few inroads here. The characteristics of turbo-diesels are actually pretty close to the lazy, big V8s that used to be so popular with Americans -- big torque down low, but not liking to rev much -- so in theory they should have appeal.

Unfortunately, diesel cars got a really bad reputation here ~30 years ago. There was a brief spike of popularity of diesels at the time due to high gasoline (petrol) prices, but it was killed off by:

1) To get a diesel engine out the door quickly, General Motors modified a gasoline engine rather than designing a purpose-built diesel. The resulting engines had high failure rates due to differing nature of diesel combustion, and it gave diesels in general a reputation for poor reliability.

2) The engines were extremely noisy and produced a lot of soot.

3) In colder parts of the country, it could be difficult to get a diesel to start in winter (needed bigger batteries with some insulation in order to produce enough heat through the glow plugs to get the engine to fire in extreme cold).

Those problems have been solved pretty effectively by modern turbodiesels, but the bias against them remains. VW was the only volume manufacturer to sell diesels here until recently, but Chevrolet now has one and it looks like some other manufacturers are following suit.

Note that diesel pickup trucks are actually very popular in the States as the huge torque they produce makes them very good tow vehicles.

Turbo lag is nonsense, I have two A4.

I get the security gatekeeper thingie, however it's a royal pain in the ass for those of us with problematic eyesight.

How about pickup trucks that can actually haul something and drive across farm fields without falling apart? Improved mileage and actual 'wind wing' windows to help with ventilation.

The ILX is certainly a spiffy looking car with a nice interior, but no matter how inviting, it's still front wheel drive, and therefore dull as dishwater to drive compared to a proper sports car. All that engine weight over the front wheels guarantees mulish under-steer, no matter how good the manual shifter.

I'm immensely frustrated by the steadfast refusal of the auto industry to produce the kind of car an adult enthusiast might actually want to drive where there are four genuine seasons including a real winter. Like, with *snow*. As in, an all wheel drive car with decent power and a manual transmission. Rear drive sports cars are a genuine menace when roads are snow covered, even with four snow tires.

For example: Infiniti, Lexus, Mercedes Benz, Volvo, Cadillac etc. all build competing entry level sports sedans that can be had with all wheel drive and with a manual transmission. *But you can't get both features on the same car*. WTF?
The only choice appears to be Subaru's WRX/STi, complete with Mike's favorite 'flyin' douchebag' wing as it is marketed toward teenagers rather than adults. I'm not holding my breath to see if VW deigns to actually send the Golf R to the U.S. with a manual shifter.

Apparently the marketing teams for the manufacturers have determined that all drivers from Denver to Toronto to Maine are nursing home inmates.

Boxes and engines...

Recently we decided on a Citroen C4 Grand Picasso. It's a 1.6 Tdiesel with a "light" hybrid assist.
The best engine in the lineup for our use, was not available in stick... Only autobox... That both the wife and me dislike. We were being forced to get a bigger engine (useless for our driving style) that uses more fuel just to get the stick.

So we looked at everything available within our parameters, and in the end, the C4 was still the best choice, but not as good as it could have been.

1st world problems...

I share your admiration for the 246 Dino. It's pretty and nice and simple. I believe it made 175hp and came along before ABS, launch assist or traction control.
Too bad they now cost twice the price of my house. I suppose the closest thing to a modern Dino would be a Subaru BRZ. I know the layout is all different but they seem to fill about the same niche.
Eventually the Dino morphed into the GT4.
What were they thinking?

Horses for courses; for most actual driving an automatic is much more convenient. Also, these days, except in cheap cars it's often more efficient, or at least no less efficient. It's still a good chunk of money extra, but a $1000 option on a $20k car is less of a bump than on a $12k car.

Until my current car I never owned anything but a manual transmission. I deliberately switched over (I believe I would have had trouble finding my Camry with a manual if I'd tried, though). That plus being much quieter (previous car was a 1998 Saturn SL) made the Camry exactly what I needed at the time; made many of my drives MUCH more pleasant.

Never owned any of the real sports cars (closest I came was owning a VW GTI 1986-1998).

Brits like hatchbacks because they are shorter and easier to parallel park. I guess a lot more of us live in (19th century or earlier) street houses and don't have driveways. There is never enough parking space in the UK.

Like you taste in Cars!

I'm driving a 2003 Mazda 6, which is the grandfather of the current 6.

200,000 miles on it, and it still drives great. No rattles of any sort, corners fabulous. It's got the 4-cylinder with 5 speed manual, and I have gotten up to 40 mpg on the highway if I behave.

I'd love to get a new car, but this thing is still a pleasure to drive and I'm thinking its time for some new front shocks and another 100,000 miles.

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