New England’s Own

Playing out in the woods is typical for an 11-year-old boy.  Learning how to drive isn’t normally part of those endeavors, but Ezra Dyer was left alone deep inside the Maine wilderness with his 10-year-old brother and a 1982 Subaru wagon.

“The car was either un-drivable or not street legal,” Dyer said.

Today, Dyer is an automotive journalist who writes news and reviews for Automobile Magazine, The New York Times, Delta Sky Magazine and Men’s Journal.  He also produces videos for Yahoo! Autos and has a regular humor column in The Improper Bostonian, along with the occasional freelance article here and there.

The Subaru in the woods belonged to Dyer’s parents who couldn’t sell the rusted-out old wagon for even $500.  They decided to let the boys drive it around their property.  “Their speed limiter was to not teach us how to shift into second,” Dyer said.  “I eventually figured out that if you push the pedal and push the lever to go into first, you could push the pedal and pull the lever to go into second.”

Years later, with the help of Subaru of America, his brother and a Bobcat track loader, Dyer would turn that property into a mini rally circuit, reliving his childhood in a new Subaru wagon.

Dyer grew up in Jefferson, Maine, a town of just a few thousand and no cable television.  At the age of 15, Dyer purchased his first car, a 1985 IROC-Z Camaro, from a local priest.  “In Maine at the time, you could get a full driver’s license at 15,” Dyer said.  “The IROC had far too much power for a 15 year old.”

After graduating high school, Dyer studied English at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.  There, he wrote for The Colby Echo, the weekly college newspaper.

“That paper had very little oversight,” Dyer said. “I could pretty much write about whatever.”  Dyer eventually started a weekly column about cars.

Dyer didn’t intend to become an automotive journalist.  “I think as a kid growing up I would have loved to do that,” he said.  “The only thing I’m halfway decent at is writing.  That’s why I studied English”

After graduating and moving to Boston, Dyer began writing for The Improper Bostonian, where he still has a column.  One week, he turned his humor column into a car column because he wanted to write about something different.

At age 23 and living in Boston, Dyer heard about the demise of the manufacturing of the Camaro at the end of 2002.  He wrote to Automobile Magazine and suggested they have him write about it.

Executive editor Mark Gilles called Dyer to turn him down.  Dyer’s response was to send the article in anyway, a story about his personal ’85 IROC.  That article, titled “For Those About to ‘Roc, I Salute You,” appeared in the December 2001 issue of Automobile.

Automobile Magazine editor-in-chief Jean Jennings said there was one sentence that got the article published:”Justified or not, the general public associates IROC ownership with a vast panoply of unsavory behavioral traits, from storing leftover Spaghetti-Os in empty Cool Whip containers to passing out with a lip full of Skoal and waking up with tobacco juice in your mullet.”

In a 2005 issue of Automobile Magazine, Jennings praised Dyer.

“Ezra Dyer was heaven-sent.” Jennings said.  “Actually, Ezra Dyer came from Boston, which, if you’ve ever driven there, is more like hell.”

Dyer’s first press car was a 2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, a 405 horsepower, bright-blue sports car from Kentucky.

Years later, he challenged Dale Earnhardt Jr. to a race in the infield at Charlotte Motor Speedway for a story in Esquire.  Earnhardt Jr. was to drive a Chevrolet Cobalt SS while Dyer drove at newer model Corvette Z06, only one of three built at the time.  The point of the race was to prove that the Z06 was a “great equalizer,” negating the talents of a professional driver.  Dyer won, albeit with a 300-horsepower advantage.

Dyer’s daily ride changes from week to week as press cars come and go from his home in North Carolina.  Last week, he was testing both a Lincoln MKZ and a Jaguar XJR, though he said it is unusual to have two cars at once.

His wife Heather transports their two children around in a Lincoln MKT.  Dyer does own a Ford Bronco that, unusually, has a Power Stroke diesel under the hood.  The installation of that engine was featured in Automobile Magazine.

Dyer doesn’t know what the best car he has ever driven might be, but he can name a type of car.  “The genre of car I think is the coolest is the mid-engine V8 cars like the Ferrari 458 or the McLaren 12C,” Dyer said.  “Those mid-engine 2-seat cars are just loud, fast and crazy looking.”

On the other hand, Dyer enjoys a bad car every once in a while.  “I’m always pleased when I find something bad,” he said.  “It’s easier to be funny.”

The worst vehicle Dyer ever drove was a rented Ford RV he used for a friend’s bachelor party.  He described it as “evil driving,” saying expansion joints on the highway would cause it to “start corkscrewing.”

“At least you could fit a few guys inside,” Dyer said.

Dyer isn’t afraid to be critical in his articles, calling out bad cars when he drives them.  “The thing you wrestle with is remembering the humans,” he said.  “A lot of people worked on this.  At the end of the day you have to write what you write.

“I’m not worried about what the Nissan people think me,” he said, referring to his critical review of the Nissan Versa Note in The New York Times.  “I love the Nissan GTR.”

Dyer wrote a critical review of the Lotus Evora in The New York Times, despite his friendship with a Lotus PR manager.

“I received a response that was longer than my article,” he said.  “There was no dead pedal!  You design this whole car from scratch, put in some useless back seats that push everything forward and leave no place for your left foot and still wonder why people prefer the Porsche!”

“I don’t think I’m afraid to be negative,” Dyer said.  “My editors might.”

He did say that he hasn’t driven a BMW since he hinted that the BMW M6 he drove might have been a “cheater.”   “I took it to a dyno and it measured 577 horsepower,” Dyer said.  The M6 is only rated at a maximum of 575 horsepower, and a percentage of that is lost through the drivetrain.  A typical loss would be around 15 percent.

While he never accused anyone of being purposely misleading, saying that a car’s horsepower can vary under certain conditions, Dyer said he does believe the cars journalists get are “top notch.”

Dyer said his assignments vary by publication.  “Sometimes, I come up with my own,” he said.  “It’s important to think about logistics.”  So Dyer wrote an article about finding the perfect po’ boy sandwich.  “If you think of a fun story it translates to something interesting.”

The article was featured in Automobile’s “Ultimate Fantasies” issue.  “Everyone else’s idea seemed crazy,” he said.  “Mine was just a road trip to New Orleans in an Aston Martin.”  Other articles were about driving a Ferrari in Italy and your personal vehicle on the Autobahn in Germany.

Dyer’s favorite road trip was taking an ICON FJ40 Land Cruiser through Colorado over the course of a week with his wife.

“ICON said go have fun and have an outdoors adventure,” Dyer said.  “We were staying at these cool places, fly fishing, camping and hiking.  We even saw Ice Cube in concert.”  The article, titled “Straight Outta Aspen,” was featured in Popular Mechanics.

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Skinner’s Motorcycles Photos

This is just a dump of the photos I took at Skinner’s.  There were far too many for the slideshow, so I figured I would just make another post with the photos.  Click to enlarge.  I uploaded them at a fairly large resolution so that you could really see the detail in everything.

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Triumph

Skinner’s Motorcycles – Click the link to the left.

I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve driven by the sign that hangs over Opelika Road reading Skinner’s with “Triumph” in big letters.  I’ve recently been in the market for a motorcycle, so I decided to stop by.

I talked to John Skinner, the current owner for a bit, and then he gave me free roam of the shop to shoot as many photos as I liked.  There are a couple hundred in a file on my desktop.  I plan to upload a few more, sans slideshow format.

This is one of the coolest shops I’ve ever been into.  John told me people come to his shop because “they want a place with a little grease on the floor.”

I couldn’t agree more.

The Blazer

This is essentially a copy and past from my previous blog.  Since not many people saw it and since I’m focusing on WordPress now, I figured I would post this here.  Going back and reading this makes me realize I’m developing a bit of a theme and possible unhealthy obsession with my vehicles.

DSC_0006

My 2002 Blazer was the less practical 2-door model, but honestly, I loved the look much better better than the 4-doors.  Practicality be damned.  Two-door Blazers featured a steep rake in the rear window, only two seats in the back, second row windows that were simple triangles with old fashioned pop outs.  I didn’t have to chauffeur my friends around because no one wanted to climb in the back or split the bill when it came time to refuel.


Plus, it came with a full size spare that took about about 1/5 of rear cargo space – a very nice place to hide a tool set but a bit of a pain in the ass any other time.  


In short, my Blazer looked and drove like every other Blazer on the street.  


Dad and I decided it we couldn’t have that, so before he handed to keys to me, we made a few modifications.


First, we lowered the car using a combination of springs, shocks and blocks on the leafs.  Since it wasn’t 4WD, we had no real concern about ground clearance.  Yes, the ride was a little more stiff, but I wasn’t afraid of rolling over when I took a turn a little too fast, which was all too often.  Somehow though, oversteer was a problem.  I’m not sure if it was the fault of the suspension or me being 16, but several times in the rain I managed to spin the truck.


Actually, it had to be the Blazer.  All teenagers know perfect car control.


Second, we swapped the stock alloys for a set of ’60s Chevy rallyes, powder coated black.  They contrasted nicely with the crimson color of the truck.  The center caps were chrome ’60s police caps, with the bow tie in the center.  We wrapped those in BF Goodrich Radial T/As, with a slightly taller sidewall in the back to give the car a slight forward rake.  


Unfortunately, the speedometer was never accurate after that.  I estimated it was off at a 12-to-one ratio, meaning that if the speedo said 65 mph, you were actually only going about 60.  


We always talked about doing something under the hood or with the exhaust, but as time went on and I racked up miles, the ideas sort of fell by the wayside.


The great thing about these changes was that everyone knew my Blazer.  Even after my brother took the keys, I would still get messages from friends that said they saw me driving around town. 


Most of those texts were from my male friends.  The ladies never quite understood.  Their loss.  Who doesn’t want to be seen cruising around town with this guy?  


Most of them, apparently.


That truck took me everywhere.  Female occupancy in the passenger seat varied.  I drove it from June 29, 2005 until the day I bought my GTI on May 6, 2010.  That’s 4 years, 10 months and 7 days of ownership.  There might have been a total of 10 days during that entire time where I didn’t put keys in the ignition.  


I put more than 70,000 miles on the truck.  I left a note for Dad the day I crossed the 100k threshold.  

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That 4.3L V6 ran strong until I handed the keys to my brother.  That 4.3L also loved to drink gasoline.  Fuel mileage was disappointing at best, shocking at worst.  I don’t think I ever achieved more than 19 mpg.  


It had the same 4L60-E 4-speed auto that was equipped in every other truck that GM sold at the time.  I wish it had the manual transmission, but that’s more of a desire, not a complaint.  Well, it is.  The gearing was awful.  70 mph meant about 3500 rpm.  You could actually watch the fuel gauge move.  It probably wasn’t any different in the manual, but at least I could row my own.


I used the Blazer for everything.  I took it on road trips, dates and to work.  It hauled fiberglass insulation, guitars, amps and friends.


During one of those road trips, I almost got into a fight with some assholes who decided the paint on the Blazer could be improved by leaning on it while wearing studded belts.

Highway driving was tiresome.  As previously mentioned, the transmission wasn’t geared for highways speeds.  The engine roared at higher revs, but it wasn’t a nice noise.  All you ever heard was the fan.  The steering had a dead area in the center, so you constantly had to correct it or you would start drifting.  There was plenty or torque, so passing was never an issue.  I just wouldn’t recommend going more than 80 mph.


On the other hand, city driving was a breeze.  All that torque meant moving through traffic took little effort.  The seats were relatively comfortable, and the window was just the perfect height to rest your arm.


Because of the airflow around the car, you could have the windows down at 50 mph and get a nice breeze to pass through the car without being assaulted by wind. 


For me the perfect windows-down weather is between 72 and 78 degrees, depending on the time of day, and having the windows down helped me eek out a bit more economy from the engine.


Dad did put a new stereo in the truck.  A Sony something or other.  It helped me get a number of noise complaints, since my tastes in music at the time consisted of various genres of loud.


“Just turn it down when you drive past there,” Dad said.  Thanks for understanding.


He wasn’t so understanding when I first got pulled over.  Then I explained the situation.


Chevrolet, along with many manufacturers who produce trucks, SUVs and vans, has a factory option for rear window tint.  Now in the state of Alabama, tint cannot be darker than 35% on the front.  My factory optioned rear windows came in at a cool 18%.  Dark, yes.  Illegal?  No.

Alabama Tint Regulations

The Blazer clearly falls under the second category.  The officer who handed me a ticket clearly disagreed.  The judge, who threw out the ticket, told me I should have had the windows replaced when I purchased the car.


Bullshit.


The only major problem I can recall is the time we had to have the camshaft replaced, which was quite major.


The car had been running rough for a while.  Finally, it just wouldn’t start.  It turns out the cam was made of a different type of metal than the distributor.  The gears that meshed just wore out.  


Fantastic.


At least regular maintenance was relatively cheap.  I love my Volkswagen, but I cringe when I think of something as simple as an oil change.


But really, the Blazer was nothing special.  There were literally hundreds of thousands on the road.  Why did I take the time to write this up?  


Love.


There are people in the world who don’t understand, can’t understand, the love a person can have for a vehicle, whatever it may be.


It’s not like the love someone has for another person.  That involves a give and take.  


It’s more like the love I have for my dog.  Whenever I see her, she is always happy to see me.  Whenever I want to play, she’ll play.  Whenever I want to relax, she can keep me company.  No conditions, no fights, just ready to go whenever you are.


It’s the same with an automobile.  You take care of a car when you love it.  You fill it with fuel, wash it and take it for drives for no reason at all.  And you enjoy it.  You don’t mind those moments at the gas station because you know that it just means more time with the thing you love.


Automobiles, especially gas sucking ones like the Blazer, are more and more frequently being frowned upon.  Electronic nannies are taking the human element out of driving.  Regulations are being introduced to make things safer and more efficient.  


Fine.


But there will always be people like me who want something simple, something inefficient and visceral.  I love my GTI, but there is something special about pushing the accelerator and knowing a little cable is opening the throttle body, sucking air into a normally aspirated engine.  The sound of the hydraulic steering pump working when you’ve got the wheel at full lock.  The clunk of the transmission when you put the car in drive.  


The Blazer never excelled at any one thing, but it did a lot of things well.  What more could I ask for?  I loved that car, and for all the feelings I have for my GTI, you’ll never forget your first.


*Technically my first vehicle was a 2000 Chevrolet S-10.  My mother destroyed the engine, so Dad gave me his Blazer.  I’ll discuss the “the black truck” in another post.

Roxanne

My baby, Roxanne

2006 Volkswagen GTI

So, I paid off my car this week.  It may not be a big deal to you, but it is a huge deal to me.  I just wanted to share.

I was 20 when I bought my 2006 Volkswagen GTI.  It was my affordable dream car.  I wanted one from the time I started really learning about cars.  And, thanks to my father’s searching and willingness to co-sign a loan, this car was mine.  Well, after four years of monthly payments.

After I got the keys, I used to drive around Huntsville looking at other cars, asking myself what would I take over my GTI.  Very rarely did I come across anything I would rather own.  I would sit at red lights and wonder why anyone would buy anything else.

I suppose this is a love letter of sorts.  I could go on about how my GTI is never boring to drive.  I could talk about how, even eight years after it was produced, I still get comments, questions and stares.  Maybe it’s because of the “Tornado Red” paint and the tartan interior.

But, if I’m honest, this car is everything I could want in a vehicle.

It’s relatively fast.  It’s economical.  It’s practical.  It’s comfortable and quiet.  But, more than anything, it never, ever gets old.  As much as I love cars, driving can be a chore.  But in the GTI, I never seem to mind.

Mine comes with the classic three-pedal setup.  While not as fast as the dual-clutch transmission(the first GTI I drove was a fully loaded Fahrenheit edition with all the bells and whistles), the manual transmission has made me a better driver.  You pay attention more when you have a manual.  Plus, I’m not sure I would enjoy this car as much if I could be lazy and slide the shifter into drive when I’m driving to work.  Though it might be fun to pretend to be Sebastian Vettel as a play with the paddle shifter.

I’m not going to go on about the engine or the way it drives.  There are YouTube videos of Jeremy Clarkson flogging this car around the Top Gear test track that prove my point better than I could ever write it.  It’s all been said a hundred times and more.  All I know is that I still pull harder in a straight line than my friend’s FRS, and that’s enough for me(although the FRS would lose me if we ever came to a corner).

My point, beyond patting myself on the back for being a responsible adult and paying bills on time, is to find something you love and go after it.  For me, it was a car.  Not just any car, but a MKV GTI.  If you have to spend any length of time in a vehicle, find something that’s not boring.  It will make every trip just a little bit better.

YouTube Channels

I just wanted to post some of my favorite auto related YouTube channels.  No, Jay Leno’s Garage is not one of them.  If anyone has any suggestions for me, please post them in the comments.  I’m always looking for more stuff to watch.

/Drive – YouTube channel

Drive Network – Website

Drive posts new videos seven days a week, each day focusing on a different subject.  This is probably my most watched YouTube channel.  These guys have some of the most consistently interesting and high quality content around.  They cover car reviews, automotive news, tuned and classic vehicles, car buying advice and inside views of different car companies.

Motor Trend – YouTube channel

Motor Trend – Website

This is the YouTube channel for Motor Trend magazine.  They put out footage on a regular basis, and much of it can be viewed as companions to the magazine articles.

If you like reading automotive publications, I would highly recommend Motor Trend’s channel.  I personally believe they have the highest quality output of any automotive publication.

EVO TV – YouTube channel

EVO – Website

Like Motor Trend, EVO TV is the YouTube channel for the automotive publication of the same name.  EVO, being a UK-based publication, tests out a lot of stuff that we don’t have in America.  They don’t put out videos as often as some of the other channels, but all of their stuff is high quality.  They also focus more on sports cars than Motor Trend.

They also have a long-term McLaren MP4-12C with regular updates on how useful a supercar can be as a daily driver.

The Smoking Tire – YouTube channel

The Smoking Tire – Website

Matt Farah, who posts the Tuned videos on /Drive also has a separate channel and website, The Smoking Tire.  Self described as “No Hollywood, no bosses, no bullshit,” The Smoking Tire takes a look at some interesting production and tuned vehicles, as well as a look at some amazing car collections with Farah giving very honest and colorful commentary.

Petrolicious – YouTube channel

Petrolicious – Website

These are some of the best videos on classic cars I’ve ever come across.  The production quality is top-notch and I look forward to Tuesdays when the group posts new videos.  I see these more as short films than just YouTube videos.  You get the sense that everyone involved, from the subjects to the people at Petrolicious, are truly passionate about what they talk about and create.

After watching these videos, all I can think about is how to get my hands on a classic Alfa Romeo.

Electric Federal – YouTube channel

Electric Federal – Website

This channel is similar to Petrolicious.  Both put out high quality videos, but Electric Federal seems to fall a little more in the tuner culture side of things.  Not that it’s a bad thing, it’s just not for everyone.  My largest complaint is the lack of regular posts.

Regular Car Reviews – YouTube channel

Warning: There is some NSFW language and subject matter in these videos, and most devolve into nonsensical ramblings.  That being said, these are some of the most consistently funny videos I’ve watched about cars.  It’s just a couple of guys going around reviewing everyday cars while making fun of the culture that surrounds them.  A lot of the jokes might go over the head of non-gearheads, but that shouldn’t deter you from watching if you don’t mind a bit of crude humor.

The videos might be on hold for a bit.  The Toyota Echo that the pair used to travel in was recently totaled, although a Fund Anything campaign to purchase a new car was such a success that I don’t see much downtime.

Slide shows

These are some slide shows from the past month that I found.  I love looking at pictures of cars, taking the time to notice the little details you can’t always see in a quick glance.  These slide shows feature some of the coolest cars from the past and present.

Porsche Museum Warehouse

According to the accompanying article, this warehouse holds hundreds of vintage Porsches that are not currently being displayed in public.  Michael Harley, West Coast editor for Autoblog, was invited to visit the museum’s warehouse in Stuttgart Germany.  Harley said he took the time to photograph the cars in natural light, adjusting the aperture and ISO so he didn’t have to use flash.

This visit was a rare opportunity for a journalist to go through and photograph and tell the story behind these vintage cars and their importance in Porsche’s heritage.

There are all types of cars stored in this warehouse, from vintage race cars to prototypes that never made it to market.  Porsche is one of the most respected names in the automotive business, and this warehouse shows how far the company has come from the days of building tanks in World War II.

What do you think is the most interesting car in the warehouse?

2014 Detroit Auto Show

The photos in this slide show were taken by Dan Neil of The Wall Street Journal.  The Detroit Auto Show last month featured some interesting debuts and concepts.  I gave my thoughts on a handful of cars in a previous post.

Neil’s photos show some cars I didn’t write about, such as the Kia Stinger GT4 concept.  He also gives his thoughts on the cars in the captions.

As a journalist, it’s important to keep up with current events in whatever field you focus on, in this case automotive news.  I hope one day to be able to go to auto shows myself to take pictures and report on the cars in person.

2014 Jerez Formula 1 Testing

Jamey Price shot these photos for the Road & Track website.  Testing for the 2014 Formula 1 season began last week at Circuito de Jerez in Spain, and price was there to take photos of all the new cars, save the new Lotus which isn’t scheduled to debut until the second test.

The 2014 regulations are a major overhaul for car design.  New safety regulations require the nose of the car to meet certain height and width standards.  The new turbo-V6 require the teams to design the car differently.

Price was able to shoot photos of all the different cars.  You can compare and contrast the different designs, most notably the noses of all the cars.  Being on site to photograph testing allowed price to photograph the cars at different angles and speeds.  It’s always interesting to see how each of the teams use the same set of regulations in different ways.

2014 Formula 1 Driver Lineup/Engine Supplier

The 2014 F1 driver lineup has finally been confirmed.  The teams and drivers are based on the finishing order of the 2013 season.  The engine supplier follows the team name.  The number next to the driver’s name is their permanent driver number, with the exception of Sebastian Vettel.  Being the reigning world champion, Vettel will race with the number 1 this season.

Infiniti Red Bull Racing – Renault

1 – Sebastian Vettel

3 – Daniel Ricciardo

Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team – Mercedes-Benz

44 – Lewis Hamilton

6 – Nico Rosberg

Scuderia Ferrari – Ferrari

14 – Fernando Alonso

7 – Kimi Räikkönen

Lotus F1 Team – Renault

8 – Romain Grosjean

13 – Pastor Maldonado

McLaren Mercedes – Mercedes-Benz

22 – Jenson Button

20 – Kevin Magnussen*

Sahara Force India F1 Team – Mercedes-Benz

27 – Nico Hülkenberg

11 – Sergio Pérez

Sauber F1 Team – Ferrari

99 – Adrian Sutil

21 – Esteban Gutiérrez

Scuderia Toro Rosso – Renault

25 – Jean-Éric Vergne

26 – Daniil Kvyat*

Williams F1 Team – Mercedes-Benz

19 – Felipe Massa

77 – Valtteri Bottas

Marussia F1 Team – Ferrari 

17 – Jules Bianchi

4 – Max Chilton

Caterham F1 Team** – Renault

9 – Marcus Ericsson*

10 – Kamui Kobayashi

*Rookie

**Neither Caterham driver competed in 2013, although Kobayashi has 60 race starts from 2009-2012 for Toyota and Sauber.

2014 Detroit Auto Show

The 2014 Detroit Auto Show wrapped up a few days ago.  Detroit has always been one of the largest and most important shows in the auto show season.  Detroit is home to the big three US auto makers, GM, Ford and Chrysler, and all three brought important vehicles to debut to the public.  This is their home turf, and they always take the opportunity to have at least one major reveal per manufacturer.

The following list, arranged in no particular order, is simply my thoughts on just a handful of vehicles that were brought to the show.  I’m picking and choosing vehicles that stood out to me personally.  I was not there, so any comments on the aesthetic appeal of the vehicles are simply from the photos I’ve viewed.

2015 Ford F-150

This was probably the single most important vehicle launch at the show.  The F-Series trucks have been the best selling or one of the best selling vehicles in the United States for years. Ford sells hundreds of thousands of these trucks every year.  The current model is the oldest of the big three.  GM introduced the Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra twins last year, and the Ram 1500 has had a recent refresh.  As such, Ford really needed to pull out the stops on this vehicle.  

Rumors have been floating around for a long while about Ford’s weight loss plan for the F-150.  CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards are forcing automakers to increase the efficiency of their entire range.  New technology in recent years has helped, but large trucks are still some of the thirstiest vehicles on the road.  

With the last generation of F-150, Ford dropped their EcoBoost twin-turbo V6 under the hood of the vehicle.  While not the most efficient engine on the market, sales of the EcoBoost far exceeded Ford’s expectations.  This year, Ford announced a second engine in the EcoBoost range would be optional in the F-150.  This new engine, a smaller 2.7L twin-turbo V6, will help raise the average fuel economy and emissions ratings for the new F-150.

The big news though is the massive weight loss in the new F-150 compared to the outgoing model.  Ford claims up to 700 pounds have been shaved from the new truck through the extensive use of aluminum and high-strength steel.  

Aluminum has been used for years to help reduce weight in cars while keeping structural integrity intact.  The main problems have always been cost and the difficulty of manufacturing aluminum on a large scale.  Ford seems to have overcome both problems.  

Weight is the enemy of efficiency.  Vehicles of all sorts have been getting heavier and heavier for years.  New technology and safety standards have added bulk to vehicles, meaning engines have to work harder to move all that extra weight.  More power helps to move the vehicles, but decreases efficiency.  Less weight means less to move.  That means engines can be downsized without a loss of performance.

Ford’s use of aluminum on such a scale might be the most important innovation in trucks in years.  Chevrolet/GMC and Ram are going to have to respond on the next generation of their trucks.  They cannot afford to be left behind when it comes to innovation.  Trucks are American manufactures bread and butter.  

2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

I love the Corvette.  Since I was born, my father has owned five, a 1986, a 1988, a 1994, a 2002 and currently a 2007.  The last two were both Z06 models.  I learned to drive a stick shift in the ’94.  There was enough torque in that engine to help a teenager from stalling all the time.  I had more difficulty driving my cousin’s Mini Cooper S than I did with that Corvette.  

Though the F-150 was probably the most important debut this year, the Z06 was my personal favorite.

The new car follows a similar formula to the last one.  More power, more technology, less weight and a new engine.  Gone is GM’s LS7, the normally-aspirated 7.0L V8 that powered the last generation Z06.  This new model features a supercharged 6.2L V8 with at least 625 horsepower and 635 lb-ft of torque.  

Personally, I think the biggest news about the new Z06 is the introduction of the 8-speed automatic transmission.  A seven-speed manual is available as well.  GM claims that the new 8-speed up shifts quicker than Porsches dual-clutch PDK transmission in the 911.  And GM’s still features a conventional torque converter.  Surprisingly, my father has expressed a desire for the 8-speed.  

The new Z06 will features a wider wheel arches compared to the standard Corvette Stingray.  Wider wheels and tires are standard all around, as well as larger brakes.  The Z07 option includes carbon-ceramic brake rotors and sticker tires at all four corners.

The new Z06 is also the basis for Corvette Racing’s new C7.R.  Aero devices on the street car were designed with racing in mind. Homologation rules are requiring racecars to be much closer to street cars.

I can’t wait to see one of these on the road and to watch the new C7.R out on track.  

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

The new ATS Coupe is Cadillac’s smallest coupe ever.  This is simply Cadillac’s 3-Series fighter made slightly less practical.  I think it’s quite handsome, though the new Cadillac emblem is going to have to grow on me.

I know that GM is trying to make a more mainstream coupe, but I was slightly disappointed that we didn’t see something quite as radical as the CTS coupe.  I can only hope the next ATS variant will be a wagon.

2015 Chrysler 200

I was genuinely surprised about how much I liked the looks of this car.  I’ve never been a big fan of Chrysler styling.  The first generation 300C never did anything for me, and I really only like the current generation in SRT trim.

The new 200 follows in the footsteps of the Mercedes-Benz CLS, Volkswagen CC and other 4-door coupes.  I think it works, but I wonder how much headroom will be lost in the back seat because of the slope on the roofline.

This is an important vehicle for Chrysler.  The mid-size sedan market is one of the most hotly contested segments in the US.  The Camry and Accord are the sales leaders, though the Ford Fusion has made some headway in recent years.  Chrysler hasn’t had a competitive product in this segment in years, so the new 200 needs to deliver the goods.  

Will we see a Dodge variant next?

2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

This car looks like a mini S-Class, and that’s a very good thing.

I’ve always had a fondness for the C-Class.  My grandfather currently owns a C230 and the wicked C43 AMG.  They’ve never handled quite as well as the BMW 3-Series, but it always made up for it in the straights.  Mercedes seems to use a hammer when BMW uses a scalpel.  That hammer always came in the form of one of the best sounding V8s on the market.  I don’t know what kind of wizardry Mercedes uses to eek out torque from their engines, but the few I’ve driven seem to pull harder off the line than most.

I think the last generation was the best looking car in its class.  I think the same goes for the new one as well.  With the release of the smaller, cheaper CLA-Class, Mercedes can move the C-Class slightly up market.  I just wonder if they’ll drop the V8 in favor of a turbo V6 when the AMG makes an appearance.

2014 BMW M235i

I loved the old 1-Series.  Several times I’ve sat down and attempted to figure out how I could afford one.  It’s smaller than the 3-Series, yet uses the same engines.  BMW’s new naming system means all coupes are even numbers, so the new 2-series is essentially the next generation of the old 1-Series Coupe.

The M235i currently sits atop the 2-Series range and is a replacement for the old 135is.  Power from the strait 6-cylinder engine is delivered through either a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic.  BMW claims a 0-60 time of 4.8 seconds with the automatic.

I look forward to some head-to-head comparisons with Mercedes CLA45 AMG.  

2015 BMW M3/M4

I’m going to lump these two together since the M4 is really just an M3 with two doors.

Both cars drop the high revving V8 for a turbo straight-6.  Both cars are lighter and more powerful than their predecessors, meaning they’ll be faster and more efficient.  I’m still not sold on the looks of the twins.  Not that the cars are by any means ugly, but I seem to prefer the last generation’s styling a bit more. 

Of the two, I’m actually partial to the M3.  I’ve always loved fast yet practical cars, and the M3 certainly fits the bill more so than its two-door sibling.  

My friend is a mechanic for BMW.  I await his opinion on the new twins.

2015 Subaru WRX STI

Let’s take a moment of silence in honor of the death of the hatchback.

Now that that’s finished, I can talk about the new WRX STI.  This car is basically a more aggressive WRX, just like every generation before it.  Like the WRX, the STI is powered by a turbo flat four-cylinder that sends power to all four wheels.  This engine puts out 305 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque.  Unlike the WRX, the STI is only available with a manual transmission.  

The all-wheel drive system features a 41/59 torque split and torque vectoring.  It also features a driver adjustable locking differential.  

The new car features all of the requisite STI features: blue paint, gold alloys, a large air intake on the hood and a massive wing out back.

I’ve always respected the WRX and its more powerful STI brother.  Cheap, powerful and aggressive, this new car should be better than the old.  I’ll attempt to drive one the first chance I get.

2015 Volkswagen Golf R

I drive a 2006 Volkswagen GTI.  I love my car, and I’ve always liked the R32 and its replacement, the Golf R.  To me, these cars were always a more civilized competitor to the WRX and the WRX STI.  They were never quite as fast, but they were substantially more refined.

Like the Subaru, the Golf R features a turbo four-cylinder and all wheel drive.  Unlike the Subaru, you get the choice of a manual transmission or Volkswagens fantastic dual-clutch automatic.  Power is up over the old model and weight is down.  This should mean the new car is faster and more agile than its predecessor.  Buy one with four doors and you have a practical, well-built everyday driver.  

The reason I love my GTI is that I can flog it through the corners, but still achieve 31mpg on the highway in relative comfort.  Plus, with the hatch, there is plenty of room to cargo space.  When I moved to Auburn in August of 2011, I fit nearly everything I needed in the back of my GTI.  

This Golf R is essentially a faster version of the GTI, and if it drives as well as the old one, I might have to upgrade mine in the future.

2014 Mazda Skyactiv Prototype

Formula 1 might be my favorite race series, but endurance racing isn’t far behind.  There is respectable about a series that features Corvettes and Porches battling against wild Audi prototypes for hours on end.

This new car is Mazda’s return to the top tier endurance category.  The car will use a 2.2L diesel four-cylinder engine making 451 horsepower and 580 pound-feet of torque.  We’ll see how this new Mazda pans out when it heads to Daytona this upcoming weekend.