Archive for the 'errata' Category

You feel now as we felt then.

Thursday, September 29th, 2022

Amidst all the hubbub over XM you’d think no one had paid a lick of attention to the crash course and unabashed curse BMW has binged on for two decades.

It’s an affront to BMW! To my eyes! To good taste and sense and aesthetics! To UDM! To design itself.

Twenty years ago E65 was the same punch in the chest. The same disillusionment, and dismay. To that this adds SUV, which we’ve had 5 more years to accept they’re capable of doing well, and the defecation upon M, which they’ve done repeatedly since before Y2K.

Then they had Range Rover to take the high road to China. Now the X7 isn’t skyscraper enough. The iX too restrained. And the X5 and X6 and X3 and X4 Ms too constrained and contained.

So we get this second coming of sheet metal bent around components it seemingly reluctantly and then resignedly fails to contain. Another mule let out early, another sketch retrieved from the waste bin.

Both look like what MJ might create. Both refuse to be ignored, a la Fatal Attraction.

And that’s the beauty of it, even if beautiful is not what one can call it.

Where I couldn’t bring myself to look at the 7er then, and still cannot, this time I haven’t been able to look away. When I saw it in person some weeks ago, spent far longer walking around it in eccentric circles, my eyes and brain picking up on different strains and refrains the way you do at an art gallery. Something modern, pretentious, inscrutable, but somehow undeniably labored over. Even if you wish like hell it had been aborted.

Yet as E65 signaled what’s to come, so does this. If you can’t see why they did it, you haven’t been paying attention, nor are you the buyer paying for such an invention.

Like the X5 and the Cayenne, the DBX and the Macan, the Urus and the Purosangue, it will print money the way Elon fans somehow still believe their latent and perennially late Robotaxis will. And if we’re lucky those who line up to buy it will fund projects that are more our speed and cup of green tea.

Between this and E65, I’ll take this. 20 years on that tangled bungle still looks unfinished, whereas 20 from now I suspect this’ll appear they completed their homework early.

Histories of the Unexplained: The next C63S throws us a curve ball.

Friday, September 23rd, 2022

When we are young we learn that some animals are expected to sink or swim immediately after birth.

Others, like humans, are given more time to be set up for success and survival.

Cars tend to be more like the former.

I’ve been observing the industry for near 40 years and working in it for about 30.

And seemingly not a week goes by that a car isn’t released into the world without the proper support it needs from those who have one job: to bring it to market and market it.

In this series we will discuss cars that aren’t quite given what they need by their makers to succeed, and so are immediately lambasted by the public and the press.

Unexplained and therefore unappreciated.

Here we will attempt to right history.

The most recent example is the Mercedes Benz C63S revealed to the world yesterday, after months to years of forewarning that it would be powered by half the cylinders and would likely be some form of Hybrid (to achieve even higher outputs.)

The internet did not take well to the news, even if the news wasn’t exactly new.

Now don’t get me wrong; I was a huge fan of the huge V8 they shoehorned in the W204 C63. And I too did not take well to the news a generation ago that that V8 had been replaced by a one with a third of the capacity lopped off and two turbochargers plopped on.

But in usual fashion, Mercedes did the hard work, engineering the system well enough that the response and even the sound did a good impression of the former motor and made a good impression overall. Once I drove the W205 I was pleasantly surprised at how it felt consistent. And I think they’ll aim to achieve that best they can where they can, and aim for something compelling in exchange if they’re making a gamble such as this.

I’m no fan of the inline 4, but I think it helps to remember that the performance Benz didn’t start with the AMG Hammer, but rather the 190E 2.3 -16. This performance C class precursor was powered by an I4 not a I6 or V8. A high winding one. While that shifted to I6 and V8 as the cars got larger the precedent is there.

When it comes down to it, yes the next C63 will sound disappointing to those outside. But that may be a welcome relief, given how obnoxiously loud the last ones could get. In fact Mercedes was quick to point out the car can be started silently and move on EV alone if you’re leaving the house early. So while the car in the videos was meek, European models tend to have different exhaust components and tuning and noise pollution standards are a consideration. And we have yet to experience what the car will sound like to the driver and occupants, even if they sound ends up having to be enhanced artificially and again, electrically.

This is a hybrid. Which could be one to stick around for quite some time. If so, it could be a pattern for what the car is to become. And even if it doesn’t, that just means it could be one of the most singular cars ever done, whether you like how it goes about its business or not.

But it’s not a hybrid in the perjorative sense. This is how Corvette is going to do it. How Porsche is going to do it. How F1 has been doing it for years. That’s right; while they’re not using the KERS, that’s what this is looking more like, because kinetic energy recovery is a decidedly hybrid thing.

It’s also important to look not at just the weight but where the weight is carried. And not just the outputs but where they are deployed.

The trade off for not being able to hear the V8 is not having the mass of a V8 under the hood. As heavy as the next car is, it looks set to be better balanced, and have that mass shifted from where you don’t want it to where you do. On the rear wheels rather than the fronts. The current 5 series is an interesting steer in hybrid form for this reason. Perhaps more so even than the vaunted I6 cars. Because it has a slightly rear bias to its distribution of 51:49. (Update: the distribution on the C63S is an even more promising 48:52.)

Combine that with the immediacy of electric drive at the rear and an electric turbocharger feeding the 4 pot and things are looking good that it won’t exactly have slow reflexes or responses.

And then there’s the addition of the rear wheel steering. You can see how the car bends around corners already. And I’m sure the system will shrink the sense of size and mass.

In the end I think the car will be vindicated by those who take the time to drive it , even if it’s not likely to be validated by those who don’t.

It’s an entirely different approach than the one they’ve taken, and while it’s not on paper my cup of tea I applaud the bravery of throwing away the successful recipe and starting nearly from scratch. We doubted they could do an AMG worthy 4 cylinder and they did. Then we doubted they could do an AMG worthy A class and they did.

What’s more troubling to me than the C63S is that just as the W204 acknowledged a trend to the V8 up front, others may follow suit as tends to happen. Another thing that tends to happen: not all engineers approach the problem with the same attitude or budget.

Remember too that the C63 comes at a time when AMG has been engineering the One, a hybridized F1 motored hypercar. What they’ve been struggling with there and learning from their struggles has to have affected where they netted out here.

Let’s just hope that the final result is more compelling than the One and more compelling than the C43, which also has a 4 pot, 4 wheel steering, and 4 wheels driven.

To wear the AMG badge, it needs to. And to be let out as an AMG after their recent string of hits I think there’s a good chance it will.

Mazda CX50: After trying so hard at high fi, Mazda takes the Bose approach.

Saturday, August 6th, 2022

You have to admire the chutzpah of Mazda. The tenacity. The daring.

Here’s a company that burned its hand on Amati, was bedded and abused by Ford, and has set its sights on achieving its dreams since it became single again.

If anything defines their upmarket aspirations and global thinking it’s the CX5. Refined, right sized, and a super happy fun ball on a mountain road.

But the CX5 requires time and patience to understand. It doesn’t shine on a test drive, doesn’t make a great elevator pitch on the showroom floor.

The rear seat is snug, the chassis requires you be comfortable with roll and weight transfer, and the car as a whole demands you prescribe to the less is more approach that is oh so Mazda from the MX5 on down – or is that up?

You see Mazda’s upmarket ambitions elsewhere in the line too. The CX30 and 3’s interior, for example. In the deft tuning of every control and switch. Unfortunately those ambitions have gone unnoticed and unappreciated as buyers click their tongues on snug rear seats and lower horsepower ratings.

The CX50 is a very different approach. Feels more like a step sibling. One raised in a different home. Rather than trying to be refined and polite and genteel like the CX5 or 3, or playful like a CX30 or MX5, the CX50 seems to want to be more like the best sellers to fleets and families.

You can see some hints of domestic in its design cues. And clearly the CX50 is laid out to be more competitive in the US: stretched for more stretch out room, widened for less roll in the corners.

What it is is a wagon, elevated, in the vein of the Subaru Outback, but before Subaru turned the Outback into the very thing it was meant to be an alternative to: a clumsy and caricatured beast of burden.

Problem is, the CX50 comes across as a bit of a caricature itself.

Rather than try to nuance its way into your heart, the CX50 gives America what it wants: flat cornering, turbo torque, elbow and leg room, and a tough and rugged appearance. You won’t find the interior materials you’ve come to expect from Mazda here, nor will you find the fluidity in the ride and handling. The CX50 has a chip on its shoulder, and desperate to shed its nice guy image.

It feels more like a Subaru in another way: like decisions were made by a focus group or in a PowerPoint deck. There’s less cohesion and integration than you find in the aforementioned Mazdas. The controls feel like they’ve been plucked from different cars rather than honed for the same one. The ridge wriggles and jiggles as though to remind you it’s a tough and macho SUV. But really, like that Outback is better as a Legacy, there’s a sense the CX50 will grow its sales for the same reasons it’s stunted as a product. By targeting the base desires of the journalist looking for front end grip or the shopper punching it out of the parking lot it ends up feeling like product Mazda committed to for America. Which is fine; it’s been too long since they bothered to think about what America really wants. The CX5 has been a runaway sales success despite its size, not because of it.

But me? I’m far more excited about the upcoming CX60 and CX70. While the CX30 and CX50 feel like stopgaps thrown together to appeal to market trend, signs are strong that the CX60 and CX70 will finally fulfill Mazda’s destiny to compete with the premium makes. And for space in garages that are tired of the premium makes resting on their laurels.

So when you’re shopping for a crossover, especially one from Mazda, or reading a review of the same, you’d do well to ask yourself: “Do I want hi-fi, or something that isn’t as accurate but gets the party dancing?”

The CX50 may not just feel right, but it’s probably right on target for what people want right now: a wagon that disguises its wagon- ness enough to be taken seriously, and more fashionably that any wagon would have been. We’ve been crying out for a Mazda 6 wagon, and like it or not the CX50 is as close as America deserves or is going to get.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’ll be over here listening to my high – fi, waiting a bit longer for the CX60 to arrive.

my how you’ve grown

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Nearly two decades ago the Honda/Acura NSX shook up the performance car scene.

This year, the Nissan GT-R is said to be doing the same.

But could the two cars be any more different?

Looking at this picture I stumbled across on the web – is the NSX is too much like a Formula 1 car or is the GT-R is too much like an SUV?

new MINI suffers the effects of cost cutting

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

I’ve ranted before on my concerns with the new MINI based on what I’d seen in pictures and what I’d read regarding the engineering used.

Now that I’ve seen it in the flesh I’m even more concerned…

I must admit that it looks less awkward in person than in photos. But simply walking around and sitting in the car I noticed some serious flaws, especially when compared to the last version. All stem from BMW’s directive to make the next Cooper more profitable than the last one.

The last Cooper felt more like an old 911 than the current 911 – the feel of the switchgear, the door latches, even the fuel filler cap were tactile delights that hinted that the components were meant for looooong service lives.

Walking around the new Cooper you immediately notice a huge gap between the hood and the front wheel arch. Oops.

Unlatching that hood from the inside you appreciate the fact that the latch is relocated to the correct side but the feel of the pull convinces you you’ve broken something. Gritty is too kind a word. Lifting that hood you notice that the panel’s not just lighter, it’s downright frail in feel – if you don’t lift from the middle you can see the panel distort under its own weight. Imagine picking up a Dell laptop by the corner vis a vis an Apple Powerbook – such is the magnitude of the disparity. (A 91 Civic felt more robust!)

The fuel filler looks serious but when you touch it its lightweight plastic roots are too evident. People trading their old MINI for new will miss the way their old car was built at every fill-up.

The trunk latch, like the new X5’s, lacks the old models precise electric latch and soft touch button. Again the sound and feel is shamed by far cheaper cars. The Suzuki SX4 - a car that’s built far better than it need be – comes to mind.

Sitting inside the visibility isn’t what it was – the dash slightly higher and deeper. The speedometer’s larger size you’ll get used to but the way the climate controls move through their range of motion and the overstyled nature of the controls you won’t. Splitting the radio into two areas didn’t make sense in the 7 series and it doesn’t here either. Gimmicks like the downlighting that changes hues (but only matches the dash lighting on one setting) and toggle switches mounted overhead, aircraft style probably seemed like a good idea around the water cooler but should have been left in the trash can right next to it.

I’d have started the engine and taken it for a drive but didn’t want my disappointment with the above to cloud my judgement of the purportedly more refined – some might say aloof – feel.

More to come…

why MINI’s puffed up new Cooper leaves me deflated

Sunday, October 15th, 2006

The old Cooper struck a shockingly artful balance between the rawness of the original and the refinement of a BMW - even the supercharger’s whine mimicked the gear whine of the original.

In remaking the new Cooper, MINI had to do something and the new car will no doubt be an advance in many areas (particularly in having a lighter, aluminum blocked engine). But from a design and intent standpoint, certain things make it more pre to trend than its rather timeless predecessor. They are: Read the rest of this entry »

a little rough around the edges

Thursday, October 5th, 2006

UPDATE: Click here to download a short clip taken during the my drive…

Original post [08.28.06]: Acura recently decided to drop the RSX from their U.S. lineup, feeling it was too unrefined and raucous to be sold next to cars like the RL and MDX. So it surprised me today that I was relieved to return the keys to the RDX because it felt – well – unrefined.

Let me back up by saying this was a car I expected to love. On paper it has one of the world’s most advanced all wheel drive systems, a suspension based on the new Civic’s (a good thing) and loads of torque without resorting to a heavy V6. It has the industry’s best nav system with real time traffic data. It was benchmarked against BMW’s X3. I was sure I’d love it.

But I didn’t, and neither did the potential buyer I accompanied. And here’s why… Read the rest of this entry »

Acura’s A-Spec package for the TL - don’t drive home without it

Tuesday, January 24th, 2006
The A-SPEC’s performance enhancers involve more aggressive suspension tuning, as designed by Makoto Tamamura, the famed chassis engineer behind Acura’s NSX sports car…. the stock TL torque-steers upon corner exit and understeers severely when pushed hard into a corner. In A-SPEC form, both torque steer and understeer are dramatically reduced—we even experienced an occasional hint of oversteer on aggressive corner turn-in. Braking performance from the factory-installed Brembo four-piston disc brakes improves, too, thanks to reduced nosedive during hard stops and the stickier rubber. source: Motor Trend

(The package improves slalom times by nearly 4 miles per hour and increases lateral grip by .06g. We continue to suggest those in the market for a TL or TSX insist the A-spec suspension be installed before delivery).

Has ‘hybrid’ lost all meaning?

Saturday, October 8th, 2005

Like ‘SUV’, the term ‘hybrid’ has become a media buzzword that’s now being slapped on an increasing number of vehicles. While many deride SUVs as unsafe and inefficient, I can name cars that don’t handle as well and drink more fuel than – say – a Subaru Forester or BMW X3.

I recently drove the Lexus RX400h in the type of urban driving that the hybrid is supposed to be best at and averaged 18 miles per gallon, while Motor Trend’s Long Term test of a 2004 Chevy Silverado Hybrid resulted in an overall average of 14.8mpg.

Has ‘hybrid’ simply come to mean ‘less inefficient than it might have been’?