#10 – 2002 Honda Civic Si

From Countach to Civic: One driver’s riches-to-rags story.

At least that would have been the byline, had I last written about a Countach instead of a Gallardo. Alas, alliteration was not meant to be.

Notice my inability to take decent pictures when it’s snowing.

But while it may not be an Italian supercar, the Civic is no slouch. For starters it’s a rare European-styled hatchback, and for added authenticity it was actually made in the UK. In fact it was the first time Honda made a North American-market civic outside of the US or Canada. And on the topic of firsts, it was also the first time the Si did not share a body style with the standard Civic, and it was the first Civic to use the new engine from the Integra with 160hp from a 2.0L I4 engine.

Another fun fact about this car is that in Canada they apparently tried to mix the Si and R monikers and marketed this car as the Civic SiR. How awesome is that? If I had one I would call it Sir Civic and think I was so clever.

I really like 3-door hatchbacks, there aren’t enough of them here on American soil and it’s a shame that this body style was only offered for 2 years in the US. I don’t understand why most hatchbacks in the US seem to come in 5 door styles, as if cars are worthless if you can’t easily get a child seat in the back. I know I have no money and therefore the car manufacturers don’t give a damn about what I want, but more 3-door hatches, please. (Volvo, I’m looking at you right now. A new C30 maybe?)

You could totally fit a child seat back here, look at all this room.

The exterior styling has certainly held up well, even 13 years later, but what about the interior? A 13 year old Civic has absolutely no chance of looking good in 2015, right? Bzzt. No, it still looks good. It’s rare for any car to not look dated after more than ten years, but proper sport seats are timeless, and Honda took a conservative approach with the styling that just worked.

Chrome bits were replaced with brushed metal bits, and the (imitation) carbon fiber trim was used sparingly, though its plasticky nature revealed itself with some cracks from wear. Bound to happen after 195,000 miles of changing the radio station and adjusting the heater through these wonderful Pennsylvania winters.

The gauge cluster was also simple and easy to read and wouldn’t look out of place today, unlike that giant digital speedometer in the modern day Civics that I can’t imagine will look good in ten years. If you’re ever a passenger in a car it’s a fun game to watch how fast the Civic in the next lane is driving. Try it sometime, but not if you’re driving. Safety first!

I liked driving the Civic as much as I liked looking at it. I was initially worried about the gear shift being mounted almost vertically on the console but the weirdness is solely a visual thing and didn’t affect drivability.

Ok the Carbon Fiber Trim looks a bit odd in the pictures, it’s really not bad in person, I promise.

The shifts were smooth and even with my lackluster skills I couldn’t really mess it up, though the engine was so quiet that I constantly thought I had stalled the damn thing. At one point I even parked on a steep hill to prove to myself how awesome my skills are how nice the clutch is. And I’m sure it would have been nice, had the hill not been covered in a sheet of ice that made forward movement impossible in a front wheel drive civic without snow tires.

But in the end the most remarkable thing about the Civic is that there was nothing really remarkable about it, except maybe for it’s rarity. This is one of the hardest reviews I’ve had to write yet because I liked the car but for intangible reasons that I can’t put words to, and there was nothing that I loved or hated enough to provide some fodder for an interesting review. To take up some space I’m even tempted to talk about the fun facts that I learned on Wikipedia like how this Civic has a less-than-ideal suspension set up and gained a bit of weight over previous generations in exchange for increased torsional rigidity, but that’s not very exciting.

I’ll just end this by saying that you can’t go wrong with a 2002 Civic Si, if you’re lucky enough to find one in good condition. Kinda like this one that I just wrote about which actually is for sale. So go buy it and then tell me what you think so I can write a better blog post.

Hey, I just realized I could call this the Honda Hot Hatch review. Yes, alliteration wins out after all.

#9 – Lamborghini Gallardo of indeterminate vintage

The good news: I drove a Lamborghini! The forever-coveted, would’ve-had-a-poster-on-my-bedroom-wall-if-it-wasn’t-already-covered-in-pictures-of-Garfield, ridiculous-looking Lambo. (I was a strange kid, ok?)

The bad news: I learned from the Ferrari post that I suck at writing about supercars, and unfortunately for you this post probably won’t be any better. It’s like that first time you meet your favorite actor or band, and you tell yourself repeatedly that they are just regular people but when you finally meet them all you can do is stare and say words that ultimately do nothing except make you sound like a huge dork..

So I’m going to try to talk about the Lambo like it’s just…a car. But it’s not! It’s a freakin’ Lamborghini!

This isn’t off to a good start.

The backstory: I found another one of those things where you pay people money and they let you drive an expensive car around. Unlike the Las Vegas trip though, this one involved driving a Gallardo at high speeds around the road course at my local racetrack. Oh yeah.

Before taking off in the Lambo we got a (very fast) group ride around the course in a Mercedes SUV. To learn the lines, or something. It was hilarious. (Mini review of some random Mercedes: It was big, had leather seats, could easily fit 5 adults, and was faster than it should have been.)


My parents heading off for their run in the Mercedes.

Now that we knew where we were going, it was time to wait in line. I kind of liked the blue Lamborghini, but the yellow was oh-so-flashy. Not like it mattered, they were both the same car and they were assigned based on line position. I ended up with the yellow one. Not disappointed

So, the car. They didn’t tell us much, I guess they figured the point was to drive the cars, not write novels about them. I should really speak up next time, show up with a voice recorder and a list of questions. As far as I can figure it was a Gallardo LP560-4 so a V10 with AWD and something like 550hp? There was a brief driver’s meeting ahead of time at which point they tried to say it had 700hp, but that’s not Gallardo territory, and I don’t understand why they felt the need to inflate numbers. Most people are driving 150hp Hondas, even 550hp is an amazing leap.

Also I’m completely guessing on the AWD, but I imagine giving high horsepower rear wheel drive cars to civilians and setting them up on a track would be a recipe for disaster, and there were no disasters that day. Except for the Ferrari repeatedly breaking. But that’s another story.


The poor Ferrari having a bad day.

Finally, my yellow chariot was ready.
Getting in the car was an ordeal. Supervision was required to make sure the seat was adjusted and my seatbelt was fastened. Safety First!

There were co-drivers in every car, and I was initially worried that they were there to be track police and swat at feet with batons if the speed or engine revs got too high. I was quickly proven wrong as I found out that my co-driver was actually a SCCA/NASA driving instructor who is used to helping people drive fast! Yes! None of this “keep it under 6000 revs” nonsense. No, it was “put the pedal down now.” That…was pretty awesome.

Anyway, back to the car. The inside. It was so dark! Black leather, black alcantara dash. Soft, fuzzy, but oh so dark. And it doesn’t have that same luxury feel as the 458 had, it was very straightforward and simple with no bells and whistles. I can completely get behind a car that is purpose built to go fast and maintain control, but after driving the Ferrari it just seemed outdated.

Since I have no pictures of the interior of the Gallardo, here are some Ferrari pictures to show you what it was not. It was much easier to spend time with the Ferrari since it was recuperating from whatever malady prevented it from being on the track that day.


Nothing fancy here, but it’s usable. Also, see how you can make out the floor? Yeah, not so much in the Lambo. That was more like looking at the batcave during a power outage.


I just like this steering wheel. And that knob on the right looks like it would make such a satisfying click when you turn it, but they never let you touch that if it’s not your car.

The funny thing was though, that once I was out on the track I didn’t give a damn. It could’ve been made entirely of scaffolding and I wouldn’t have noticed.

Confession time, I write about cars but I really don’t know much about them, or how to drive them properly. I pick up bits of knowledge here and there and it really helps with standard road cars, but when I’m in a car like this I just want to pretend that I’m on Top Gear and can say informed things about steering feel, and understeer, and throttle response. But no. What I can say is that when I hit the gas the car went like mad, and I could do that whole wait until the last second before a corner and brake hard, and I was so confident in the steering even at high speeds on a banked curve.

I think I may have said the same things about the 458 last year, and if I didn’t I should have, but it was all so much more pronounced at the high speeds that I couldn’t reach on Vegas highways.


I haven’t mastered the art of motion pictures with that fancy wheel blur, you’ll just have to take my word that the car was moving fast.

Also to further cement that I am not Top Gear material, more than once I forgot about the paddle shifters because I was so enamored with the car. Luckily the engine let me know of my error. Loudly.

And I can’t really say a whole lot more about that, unfortunately. I had this great instructor in the car with me and while I know the theory of high-speed driving it was so great to have someone remind me of lines and when to brake and just lots of other little things. So I spent my time listening (and squeeing and saying how awesome the car was) and not really looking at or analyzing the car itself.


All that driving is hard on the fuel tank.

So with all this being said, if I won the lottery tomorrow it would be a extremely difficult to pick between this and the Ferrari. They often get compared, but I think they are cars made for 2 different purposes. It would be hilarious to walk out to the driveway and have a Lamborghini staring back at you, but the creature comforts of the 458 are a huge selling point. Also, have you seen those headlights?

In conclusion then, I would win the lottery and then lease each one for a year. It’s the only sensible thing to do.

#8 – 2013 Chevrolet Spark

Subtitle: The most exciting review you will ever read about a Chevrolet Spark

It’s time for yet another installment of “Drive that Rental Car!” My finances were a little more sad since the last time I needed a car in Las Vegas, so I took the sensible route and rented an economy car. The default was a Kia Rio, but the picture on the car guide was a little depressing, so I chose the Chevrolet Spark solely based on the exciting name. I had not heard of a Chevrolet Spark prior to the conversation with the rental clerk so I was going into this completely blind.

When we arrived at the garage to pick up the car, I was delighted to find that it was blue, and it had a certain degree of cuteness due to its tiny stature. And then I looked over and saw the Kia Rio that the man next to me in line had rented, and realized it was considerably more stylish than the picture on the brochure and I had a small case of renter’s regret. But I glanced again at my delightfully blue Spark and chose to carry on.

Parking? No problem.

Initial thoughts

The first challenge for our little Spark was to get us and our luggage to the hotel. For the sake of convenience we put the luggage in the back seat, but quickly decided that this was not a good consumer test. After all, what if we had had passengers? So we opened the hatchback, quickly decided there was no way in hell our luggage (2 small suitcases and 2 carry on laptop bags) was going to fit, and proceeded to prove physics wrong by smushing everything in and slamming the door before something could fall out. Victory!

Empty boot…
Empty...

Full boot!
Full!

(If we had passengers? Well, they’d be carrying their luggage on their lap. Sorry imaginary passengers.)

Now to drive it. Last year, I felt that the Mustang was underpowered for how much horsepower it supposedly had, but apparently I just needed to drive this to truly appreciate how nice horsepower is. It was summer in Las Vegas so of course the AC was turned on full, and the poor little car seemed like it couldn’t get out of its own way. But we made it safely to the hotel with a stop at In-n-Out Burger (Woo!), and things were good.

Day Two

The next day I had plenty of time to explore so I was looking forward to a day driving on the delightful Nevada highway system. However there was a nagging bit of anxiety wondering how on earth I was going to travel on 65mph highways with a 1.2L engine that takes over 11 seconds to get to 60. The answer, it turns out, is to turn off the air conditioning, put your foot down hard, and be very thankful that most drivers out west seem to know what they’re doing. I would be terrified to drive this on the east coast with tiny on-ramps and drivers who are offended by your attempts to merge. But it was cool. I even learned to deal with the heat and drove with my window down to ensure maximum power.

Enjoying the view

Windows down, looking at some rocks.

I can’t talk about power (or lack thereof) without mentioning how well the Spark handles the opposite: braking. I wasn’t expecting much for a car that seems designed for low-speed city driving, but man was I impressed. The Spark is apparently well under 3000lbs which means that even simple brakes should be more than sufficient. There was a lot of high-speed-to-stopped traffic at rush hour, and the car handled it like a champ. It even had about 6500 miles on it, which I’m sure were 6500 abused-rental-car miles, but I never would’ve known if the little odometer wasn’t staring at me in all its digital glory.

The Interior

The inside of the Spark wasn’t anything special, but it wasn’t bad either. There were blue accent trims, lots of cubbies and cupholders to put all my things (water, water and more water), non-offensive climate control dials, and a big shiny touchscreen.

I love door cubbies. No sarcasm, really.

Passenger-side dash

It was hot.

These displays! Always! Why??

I’m saving this rant for next post, but these airbag displays. What? Why? No.

Lived in.

The back seat, roomy enough for a sweatshirt and a brochure, or probably a few people or kids or dogs if you’re into that.

I normally dislike touchscreens in cars because tactile feedback creates that muscle memory which you want when you should be, you know, looking at the road, but I kept the system on the radio screen and the buttons were large enough that I could select my desired radio station without needing more than a glance in that direction. However It did get significantly more unpleasant once I had to manually search for stations or view more than the standard 6 or so presets. Luckily the power button and volume buttons were not on the screen itself and had handy indentations so I could feel where they were without looking.

A non-horrible touchscreen.

The steering wheel was basic and had the standard cruise control buttons on the left, bluetooth buttons on the right, and additional volume control buttons behind the bluetooth.

The thing that makes the wheels turn

Nice amenities

The most interesting feature on this car, to me at least, was the modular gauge cluster design that was obviously used to make manufacturing both right-hand drive to left-hand drive cars cheaper and easier. The dash itself was pretty much symmetrical, and the (tiny) gauge cluster was attached to the steering column and not the dash. You can tell that for right hand markets they simply have a mirror image dash layout and stick the steering wheel on the other side.

So modular. So wow.

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Notice how this is just a smaller mirror image of that passenger dash cubby from a few paragraphs up? Yeah.

The speedometer was the only analog gauge, the rev counter, fuel indicator, and assorted trip statistics were on a digital screen. I did kind of enjoy the digital rev counter because while it wasn’t all that pretty, it was hilarious to watch the little dots freak out and jump from the standard 1000rpms up to 5000 rpms every time I put my foot down (which was often). I’m not going to lie, I also used the silly digital rev counter to pretend that I was in an LFA and the engine was just so fast that an analog dial couldn’t keep up.

The relevant info

Day 3

By the third day I had come to appreciate the tiny little car, though I realized that my heavy foot was not doing much for the fuel economy. I felt like such a tiny car with a tiny engine should get better fuel economy, but I was only averaging about 34.5mpg. Definitely better than my car at home but I have these weird notions that econoboxes should be able to get like, 60mpg. I don’t know where I get that idea from (probably European diesel cars. So Jealous.) But when my driving consisted almost entirely of sitting in traffic or going 70mph I guess I can’t really complain. Oh, and it has a tiny gas tank and takes regular fuel, score!

Also by day 3 I found myself getting sick of driving on highways. It seems like there is a mental limit of how much I can handle worrying about whether the little car would stay in the lane or hit a bump and skid out of control. It was pretty obvious that the Spark was designed to be a city car and not a high speed commuting car.

Target. Oh yeah baby. Palm trees.

Taking a break from driving to demonstrate why they call it “sky blue.”

Conclusions

I love the Spark, it was adorable. But I probably would not want to rent one again in a town like Las Vegas. There are such delightful highways with wonderfully high speed limits, and while I didn’t mind the tiny engine and lack of power anywhere near as much as I expected, the skinny tires and non-optimal driving dynamics made it squirrely and uncomfortable at high speeds. I was never really scared, (except that one time I got a bit too adventurous on an on-ramp that we’re not going to talk about here) but I often found myself wishing I had a more stable car.

In town at low speeds it was a much nicer place to be, and I was thankful for the good fuel economy during the many hours that I was stopped at lights. I would’ve preferred the A/C not be so anemic, but that’s about the only complaint there.

Keepin it hot.

At least while driving there was a breeze from the windows. Not so much out in the desert.

As an addendum, I did come home and look at a tiny used (green!) Spark, mostly as a joke, just because I think it would be a silly little cheap car to drive around town in, but they wanted $15,000 for a used spark with 25,000 miles! Seriously? Is this car so in demand that they can get away with those prices? I checked the Chevrolet website and they start at just a little over $12k, so this seems a bit ludicrous.

I also neglected to mention throughout this (very wordy) post that the Spark comes in an electric variant. I want to try it out since the popular car sites all seem to think it’s wonderful. Anyone want to order one so I can take a look at it? Oh the bother of living on the east coast, where we aren’t cool enough to order a Chevrolet Spark EV.

Spot the Spark

#7 – 2008 Lexus RX350

I wasn’t going to drive this Lexus. I have about ten drives in a queue in my head and I want to get them written out before I start anything new. But yesterday a wild Lexus appeared, and I couldn’t turn it down. I wasn’t sure if I had ever driven a Lexus before, and upon seeing the interior for the first time I was reminded of those Toyota SUVs I wrote about oh, so long ago. So, drive it I did.

So the car is relatively stylish (it had a 2007 or 2008 facelift so this was one of the first years for this style), it’s AWD, and it’s as cushy as you would expect a Lexus to be. I wanted to hate it, because as I said just that afternoon to a coworker “I hate all SUVs,” but it wasn’t really that bad.

I made a mediocre video detailing my thoughts on the Lexus, but it was filmed before reading my handy book on how to shoot videos, so it’s not that great and therefore is not being shown here. My wonderful writing will have to suffice for now. I would apologize but I’m really doing you all a favor by locking it away forever.

The inside. (I um, took no pictures of the exterior. It was cold.) It’s not too shabby.

radio climate, not bad.

Time for a close-up! It has everything you could need. Buttons, like the Saab. But since they were all still legible, and since the Lexus does not turn the climate control on full-blast right away I was not too offended.

controls up close

Part of me says that wood steering wheels are for old, stodgy people but holy cow do I love them. Also note, the void that is the space where the gauges should be. They aren’t digital and off, they are just that stealthy.

Wood Steering wheel, Luxury at its finest.

This is apparently called a gated automatic. (Did I determine that months ago and forget? Very possible. Will I go read old posts to find out? Probably not.) Not as good as a gated manual, but the name makes sense. Today I decided to make peace with them, because while it’s ok to be opinionated, I don’t want to be a dinosaur. Unless I could be a velociraptor in which case, rawr. Also, nifty seat heaters with a knob! They worked almost too well.

This is apparently a gated automatic

Why, oh why, are “panic” and “lock” the same button? I can see it now, middle of winter, freezing cold, gloves on, mashing the button to make sure your car is locked, when all of a sudden the alarm starts screaming at you and you drop your delicious vanilla chai all over your coat and you drop the dog leash and your dog runs away forever. And this could be a big generalization, but I’m under the impression that Japanese alarm systems are more obnoxious than the quiet, polite European alarm systems (source: I drove a Japanese car with a broken alarm system for many years.)

Lock apparently equals Panic. Ok then.

Light-Up door sills! In the front and back! Bonus points for things that light up.

127_0029

Now, on to the fun stuff. Like how this car is apparently a death trap.

Roll Over! Good Boy!

And this harmless-looking little center console…

It may look innocent, but this is an alligator.

Also dangerous. I tried to move it, it was like wrestling an alligator. Watch your fingers, and your arms.

See, I'm not making it up. Only alligator consoles need warnings.

And then I had to drive it. After seeing the huge sticker right on the visor (seriously, airbag warnings get hidden on the inside of the visor, but the rollover risk warning is right there in your face) I was excited to put it through its paces. You can imagine that my test drive went something like this.

This is when you wish I had an in-car camera, right? Really, that would be more fun. Sorry, maybe next year.

But it doesn’t matter because the Lexus, much to my dismay, stayed perfectly upright. It felt like an extremely solid little SUV for the whole drive. At the time there was a flash flood watch here so the pavement was a perfect skid pad (I made the tires squeal and everything!) but there was no indication of the car wanting to lay down for a nap. Even the brakes were ok. I’m left wondering if the sticker was just a case of overly-cautious engineering for the litigious society we live in. Yes I’m sure on sharp offramps it’s a danger, but any more than any other SUV? (Note: the Lexus GX460, the big brother to the Toyota Highlander that I drove earlier did indeed have rollover issues, but again that’s more a proper SUV than this squat little RX.)

So I am now forced to rethink my position of hating SUVs. They might not be for me, but I completely understand why they could be for some people. (Though personal advice? For whatever extra room you get in a small crossover SUV like this, just get a wagon instead. I’m betting it would have similar cargo room and you know, wouldn’t need that giant sticker telling you about your impending doom. And wagons are cool, because I said so.)

#6 – 2004 Saab 9-3 Aero

I like Saabs. They are Swedish, and I like anything Swedish. This car was also a trade-in, and it was ridiculously cheap, which made all those alarms in my brain go off. Not the bad alarms, the good alarms that say “Hey dummy, it’s Swedish, it’s cheap, and you’ve been wanting a junk autocross car for awhile.”

Front view

So of course, I grabbed the keys and took it for a drive, but not after a thorough look-over.

Exterior styling is excellent. I tell myself that Swedish cars have a timeless beauty, and they don’t look old or outdated until well after most other brands of the same generation. At least I can admit that I’m biased, right?

Are you sick of me talking about my love for Sweden yet? Well just sit tight, it’s only one review. I promise I’ll review an American or German or Japanese car next time.

So we like the outside, and this car is in great condition. Obviously well cared for, I couldn’t find a scratch or dent anywhere. Not bad for an 8 year old car (holy crap, 2004 was 8 years ago?)

IMG_0366 (Medium)

IMG_0363 (Medium)

(Seriously, how does this happen though? Every modern Saab I’ve seen has had this problem.)
ex-badge

And then, the inside. Well first, the key. Most cars have a plastic key fob with a metal pull out key in case the electronics aren’t working.

Proper keyfobs

This car? Just a plastic fob as far as I can see. I can only assume that there was a standalone metal key somewhere, but when this car was turned in, it only came with one very, very beat up plastic fob. Top Gear Top Tip: dog chew toys are cheaper than new keys for your Saab.

funky, broken keyfob

The interior is nice. I like different color accent leather. And it’s not just pretty leather, it’s comfy! I like the back seats, I sat in them for a few minutes.

Comfy!

Front seats also very nice, if a little worn-in. And the buttons. There are buttons everywhere. No dials or knobs, just buttons. Are there no knobs in jet fighters? Is that where this came from? I guess you don’t really want knobs when you’re inverted in a jet fighter, you might think that you’re turning the radio up when you’re really turning it down, and that would be tragic.

(Yes we all know, in order to pilot a jet fighter you must be smart enough to know when you’re turning the radio up or down, I’m just making a point here, ok?)

I really like the gauge cluster in this car. It makes me happy, and I can’t really say why. Everything is there and it’s not too complicated. I hate overly-complicated gauge clusters.

More buttons on the steering wheel.

The cockpit

Buttons buttons buttons. Look, a sunroof button, and a light button.

What is this thing?

And this little nub that um, senses something. Ambient light sensor? Temperature sensor? It’s times like this that I wish everyone would leave their window sticker in the glove box so I could see what the standard options are on a car like this. Being Swedish I know it’s very safe, and it’s probably got lots of fun gadgets because that’s just what they do. Jet fighters, remember?

Speaking of fun gadgets, time for the fun one. The big 2.0L 4 cylinder turbocharged gadget under the hood. But before we start it up, seatbelts! Safety first!

seatbelt octopus

Oh, Wait.

IMG_0390 (Medium)

And it is then that I am reminded of the true make of this car. GM. Saab apparently brought their own important bits, steering, suspension, turbo (very reliable, from what I hear) but the interior, while nice, is still GM.

At least Saab kept the totally awesome key location. I love this, feels so high tech. Fighter jet.

Did you remember your pre-flight checklist?'

And then I start the car and aaah! The fans are on full and they are screaming at me! Help! Flail frantically looking for the climate control fan knob, but there are no knobs! Oh, it’s a button. And apparently this was a common problem, because the previous owner completely wore off the decrease fan button.

IMG_0384 (Medium)

It’s an 8 year old car with 140k miles on it, and I can’t be upset about a squealing climate control, and I don’t even mind that whole “Hey we can tell it’s hot and stuffy in here, let’s turn the fans on full blast to get some air circulating!” but making it so non-intuitive to turn them down is a problem. I guess you can argue that most people aren’t driving different cars every day and they learn, but what happens when you loan your car to your sister, or worse, trade it in to a dealership for a random employee to go on joy rides with?

Being a Jet Fighter Saab, it has kept the infamous night mode. This is fun, but I don’t really see the practicality. Especially because it a)disables the tachometer and b)makes it look like you are always out of fuel.

Night mode

I guess you don’t really need the tach, you should be able to listen to the engine to shift, but if you have night mode on it’s probably late and dark, and that’s not really an ideal time to run out of gas, which you are liable to do if you have no clue how much gas you have.

Oh, did I not mention that this was a manual transmission car? Yes, it is, please excuse me while I go squee. It seems like there are so few manuals so I love it when I get to play with one. And this is a nice one. It shifts really smoothly, and I was able to change gears without feeling like I’m on a roller coaster. I don’t do this every day so my manual driving isn’t the smoothest. But the Saab made it easy, and I love it for that. Also fun fact; to shift it into reverse you have to pull up on the shift boot. I wouldn’t think this would be practical or easy, and it does require a slight shift (no pun intended) in how you hold the shifter, but it’s not like reverse is something you use often so it’s cool. I liked this way more than I should.

I didn’t get a chance to do a proper road test due to license plate issues and not wanting police trouble, but my drive around the parking lot was nice. Felt very smooth, enough power and braking. It did have some squishy suspension issues but again, old car with lots of miles. And there were creaks and rattles and gah. Sorry GM, I love you, I like to support American businesses, but I haven’t seen recent American cars that feel anywhere near as sturdy in the long run as their foreign counterparts. Someone please prove me wrong here.

So I do want an Autocross car, but I decided against this one. At the very least it would need new shocks to race and not feel like you’re going to fly across the car at every corner. I do like the power (stock 210hp with a turbo that has been proven to be pretty reliable, as far as turbos go. Also lots of upgrades available, can easily see it getting up near 300hp) But a quick look on the forums confirms my suspicions: “Anyone who would want to get one of these cars and mod it can’t afford it.” The car itself was cheap, but I can’t imagine the problems and money involved with getting parts and labor, especially now that Saab is dead. For the money I would rather go for a smaller, rear-wheel drive car that I could work on myself. (Someone keeps pushing for a Miata, but I just don’t like the styling. Maybe I just need to drive one. Good thing that is consistent with my mission.)

edit: How could I forget the cupholders?? I love the overengineered cupholders in Saabs. And I neglected to take any pictures. I have a video, but it’s silly so instead I’ll leave you with this last picture of the half-broken-pseudo-heads-up display. Because Fighter Jet.

Heads up!

#5 – 2012(?) Toyota Yaris

Time for another edition of “Drive that rental car!”

2012 Yaris

Except I didn’t really drive it, I was just a passenger. Liability and all that, it wasn’t my rental. But I spent more than the usual 5 minutes in the car and there isn’t a whole lot of surprises so I’m declaring myself qualified enough to write about it.

As you’ve already seen from the title, this week we had a 2012 Yaris.

Actually, I’m looking this up and it might’ve been a 2011. They keytag from the rental place said 2012, but I don’t believe them.

When I think of the Yaris my mind immediately assumes hatchback, and therefore thinks either “Cute!” or “Awesome!” But it was the 4-Door sedan version. Boo.

From the back...

First impressions: It’s small. I like small cars, if I lived in a city I would want a small car. I just wish more cars were small but had some style and didn’t feel all plasticky like this poor Yaris did. I’m sure there are some out there, I just haven’t gotten to them yet.

Wait, I'm supposed to manually adjust my mirrors?
Manual mirror adjustments…haven’t seen that in awhile.

Simple...
Knobs and stuff.

No, not that kind of shifter, anything but that!
Have I mentioned yet how much I dislike these? And yes, D and 3 are a side-to-side shift, not front-to-back.

I imagine someone, somewhere likes how simple this wheel is...
Most simple steering wheel ever…

iPod! And...sticky traction control.
Gratuitous “ew, why is my rental car sticky” picture.

I did like how the dash was in the center. I was informed that apparently they use this car on both sides of the pond (and maybe the Japanese side too? I don’t know) and this made it easier to build a car in both LHD and RHD configurations. (Maybe? Looking for references on this.)

radio, gauges, etc.

(I’m just going to put a quick disclaimer here. I’m on migraine medicine while writing this. It’s fun. But if this review is a little incoherent, blame the drugs. I’m actually pondering how I can use this to my advantage. Something like My Drunk Kitchen. My Triptan-Addled-Brain Car Reviews? Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? I’ll keep working on it. Also, all pictures were taken with my usually cooperative phone, but the Yaris apparently needed to be overexposed so they aren’t the best.)

So as a passenger, I could easily see the speedometer, tach, gas gauge, etc. This was cool, because one of the things that bothers me most being a passenger in a car is not being able to watch all the needles. Yes, I know I’m weird. It was also easy to read, no complaints. I’ve been told it is not so ideal from the driver’s standpoint, the information you need is not right in your view so it tends to be ignored. Also the woman at the car rental place said that it was really strange at night, it’s not normal to have your field of view be so dark.

Up close, can you feel the excitement?

In case you haven’t noticed, the location of the gauges was the most novel part of this car. And it’s a shame, because apparently for 2012 they changed it to a more traditional layout, thus removing one of the few things that made this car stand out in my mind. (This is why I don’t believe the keytag when it says it was a 2012 model. Also apparently for 2012, the Yaris only came in 2-door and 4-door hatchbacks, no sedan styling.)

Anyway. The seats. Gah. I know, it’s a cheap car, and some people want that, but I think they just grabbed flat pieces of foam and glued them in and said “Here! Sit!” I hope, for the sake of people that own this car, that it molds to their butt after awhile. I also could not adjust the back part of the seat so that it would be comfortable. Again, hopefully that would break in after awhile.

Those non-ergonomic flat foam pieces were also strangely placed. I’m all of 5’2”, but the seats were uncomfortably high with no height adjustment option. Is this some compromise for those people who enjoy being up high while driving (like they would be in an SUV)? My 5’10” boyfriend was almost hitting his head on the ceiling. Crazy.

But it wasn’t horrible. Even after all of this, I still liked the smallness. If I drove only in cities for short trips it wouldn’t be bad. I know Toyota has had some issues lately, but I’m under the impression that they still have a reputation for being reliable and this seems like a good, cheap car that wouldn’t drink fuel or rack up the repair costs.

Also, if you did get it for city driving but still had to take it out on the highway, it’s surprisingly not horrible. Sure it’s not fast, but it had some punch to it. (Surprising for a 1.5L, 4 cylinder, 4-speed(!) car.) I would’ve felt comfortable merging into traffic with it.

Here, have a silly short video of the Yaris making some noise as it merges with all the scary traffic at rush hour:

What else…Oh, the back seat was nice. I would argue that it was significantly more comfortable than the front seats, and legroom was surprising for such a tiny car.

Surprising legroom

And lastly, cupholders. Cupholders everywhere, hidden away so as to conserve space when you did not have a beverage, but hold your drink snugly when you did. They’re like the murphy beds of cupholders. Two thumbs up for drink containment.

This bottle isn't going anywhere

Now you see it..

Now you don't!

So in conclusion, I rate this car a solid: “OK”. Exterior styling was nothing to write home about, it’s a 4-door car, yippie. Interior was the same, uninspiring but not bad. And um. I really don’t have anything else to say. It was just that kind of car. Anyone have any recommendations for small, economical cars that won’t immediately fade from my memory?

(I just wanted to check some things on Wikipedia before I published this review, and wow, ok. Apparently the internet at large agrees with me on this car in that no one ever took the time to add more than minimal details about this model. Just not worth their time? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_Yaris)

Blog Update

I started this blog earlier this year and it’s been a little slow since then. I recently tried to get back into it and migrated over to WordPress for a fresh start. Hooray for new internet homes!

However I wasn’t terribly happy with that last Ferrari post. I’m not a Top Gear writer. I can’t write about cars in such a way that it is thrilling reading.

Well, not yet anyway. But I’m learning.

So this is just going to be my space to write about the cars I drive, and hopefully provide some perspective that you don’t always see. It’s my job (like real, make-a-living job) to look at cars and try to convince people of why they should want that car. So I’ll drive all these cars and try to point all that fun stuff out. And it’s refreshing too, because unlike at my job, I’m allowed to point out the negative bits here.

And of course if anyone has any feedback be sure to let me know. The comments actually work now, thanks wordpress!

Right then. I’ll go back to writing about cars. Stay tuned tomorrow for my exciting review of a car that, um, has black paint.

#4 – 2011(?) 458 Italia

As explained by my last post, I was recently in Las Vegas and had a chance to drive a fun rental car. But that wasn’t enough for me. I decided I needed to pay a slightly exorbitant amount of money to the folks at World Class Driving so that they would let me drive a supercar (or three). (Note: this post is in no way sponsored or endorsed by World Class Driving)

458(1)

We arranged our drive for first thing on a Monday morning, and we drove out on Sunday evening to find the location of this so-called “Dream Garage.” We found the garage relatively easily, so then we stopped to watch some Mazdas, BMWs and an Evo X drive around cones in the parking lot of a karting track.

That’s not really relevant to the story, but autocross is cool.

We arrived at the Dream Garage on Monday morning, where we were greeted by 6 absolutely gorgeous supercars sitting in the parking lot, and some people milling around.

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We were eventually ushered inside to fill out some paperwork and agree to the $10,000(!) deductible if we were to wreck a car and our personal insurance didn’t cover it. They took a copy of our credit cards so that they could get money off of us in the event that something happened. They apparently just assumed that everyone had at least a $10,000 limit on their cards.

Next we got to sit on some comfy couches and learn a bit about the cars and get the lecture of how it’s important to respect the cars because they will bite if provoked. (Especially the Jaguar, I hear they have pointy teeth. Ha ha.)

Finally we headed back outside to the cars. The format of the event is that there are 3 cars per group, and everyone rotates so that they get to drive every car in their group for awhile. Group 1 had a Lamborghini Gallardo, a Jaguar XKR-S, and a McLaren SLR. Group 2 had a Ferrari 458 Italia, another Jaguar XKR-S, and a Bentley continental GT (All automatic or DSG). We were in Group 2, and somehow, remarkably no one was crowding around the 458 so I happily jumped in the driver’s seat.

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It was a blessing in disguise that we were in the Ferrari first. Since we were the first group of the day, we were faced with the task of driving the cars to the actual event location out in the desert, which meant driving a collection of supercars on the delightful highways of Vegas (and the associated fun acceleration that comes with merging onto highways with 562 horsepower at your feet). But before the highway, it meant some driving on city streets, where I could get used to the behavior of a DSG at low speeds. Have you ever seen the video where someone repeatedly stalls an Aston Martin One-77 and wondered how on earth someone stalls a (million dollar) glorified-automatic car? Yeah, it’s not really an automatic. The only way to describe it is that it feels very much like a manual, and when the revs get too low it behaves exactly like a manual. The Ferrari didn’t stall, but I could see how it might. So at low speeds the car was a little jerky, though I’m sure this would easily be overcome with some practice and learning how to feather the gas pedal the way you would a clutch.

And then came the highway driving. Whoa. I’ve been writing this review in my head for months now, because really I have no idea how to do this car justice. They say that when you are really in tune with something (driving, flying a kite, etc.) it feels like the thing (car, in this case) is just an extension of your person, and the Ferrari definitely makes getting into that zone easy. Every input has a direct- correlation to what the car does. There is no unnecessary play in the steering, and the suspension isn’t rock solid, but you can get a good feel for the road surface below you. The gas and brake are expectedly the same way, and when you want it to go or stop it will do just that with no questions asked.

I just remembered this is a car review blog, and maybe I should talk just a little more about the car rather than go on at length about how much I love it. So then, the seats? They were cool. I love sport seats and bolsters that hug you (I think I’ve said this in a previous review). The interior was good, definitely not a bad place to be and everything was well arranged and made of quality materials, no rattles here!

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Unfortunately in such a short drive you don’t really get to play with climate control and other settings, but the important gauges were all easy to read.

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The tachometer is front and center and yellow, along with a display showing you what gear you’re in, and it gives you tips saying when it thinks you should shift into another of those 7 available gears. Downshift is automatic if needed to prevent stalling, or you can do it yourself earlier to make the engine make fun noises. The speedometer is off to the right and is a digital display, and sometimes this display is instead a navigation screen in which case you just get a digital speed reading (no dial, just a number) on the left screen. I don’t remember looking at the speedometer much when driving it (and I think Ferrari expected this when designing the car) but this could be a slight problem if this is a car you drive often and you live in a town full of police.

There are also so many other fun things to say about this car, but I don’t want this review to go on all day, and others have already covered them more in depth than I ever could. Follow that link if you want more specs and to hear about all the interesting tech in this car. My personal favorite is the front wings that are optimized to funnel air into the radiators (no intercoolers here), but at high speeds actually shift to reduce drag. How cool is that??

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However there were some quirks with the car. Namely that putting on the parking break apparently required supervision. (I didn’t see a problem so sorry for the lack of discussion on this, but I’m guessing some other people who have done this event had problems understanding how it works, or maybe it did have real issues and the car was just behaving well that day.)

Also, both the paddle shifters and the turn signals are on the steering wheel. It was slightly embarrassing in the beginning just how often I changed gears when trying to change lanes, and signaled when trying to change gears.

The last problem is that the steering wheel is very F1 inspired with lots of buttons and gadgets, all guaranteed to make the car go zoom, but we were instructed not to touch them.

Ok, that’s not really a car problem, but I needed at least 3 complaints about this car, lest it seem like Ferrari is paying me to say that their car is a little bit of heaven. (Anyone from Ferrari reading this? I would gladly take bribes in exchange for some more seat time, because I reach so many millionaire readers who are ready to run out and buy one of these cars 😉 )

To sum it up, I wanted one of these since I first heard about them, and now that goes double. But I would obviously want to drive some of the competition first, since Lamborghinis still have a special place in my heart. (I didn’t drive any other cars on this trip, my boyfriend drove the other two and hopefully I can convince him to write a guest post one of these days.)

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#3 – 2012 Ford Mustang V6

I recently arrived in Las Vegas and needed a rental car. I bet that most people aren’t this excited about rental cars, but when your mission is to drive lots of cars, the rental process seems almost like a vacation in itself.

(This is an exaggeration. No one wants to deal with rental cars after a stupid long flight with turbulence and weird air pressure issues that make you feel drunk. I will say that McCarran airport has their act together and the consolidated rental area and shuttle buses are a nice touch. Also the nice folks at the Hertz counter made the experience painless.)

We were hoping to get a free upgrade to some fun car, but of course that never happens unless you’re a member of their points club. The woman we spoke with did say that we could upgrade the car for a fee to something like a Mustang, at which point my boyfriend asked if she had anything fun and German, but when the answer was no we settled on the Mustang.

Initial impressions were mixed. The new Mustang is a nice looking car (at least I think so, the boyfriend prefers the new Camaro) and it was clean and the trunk managed to easily fit our piles of luggage. (By contrast, said boyfriend’s 4-door car at home could not fit all of our luggage in the trunk gracefully. Stay tuned for that review later) However the Mustang has a big hood, and has those big safety-influenced A-Pillars so the first time driving it with the unfamiliar visibility issues isn’t really too fun, especially in a new city.

The car had the basic version of Sync, which basically only lets you use voice commands with bluetooth. I get that voice-command climate control is difficult without touch-screen climate (which I hear Ford is getting rid of, or at least scaling down in the near future), but it would be really handy if they carried over the Sync voice commands for radio. I hate surfing through XM/Sirius and it would be so much nicer to just say Car, play Sirius, BPM. (Not in those words for you Sync fans out there, but it’s more fun when doing a write-up to pretend that your car is a robot.)

The Ford Mustang also has the exact same noises and welcome sounds as a Lincoln. For a company that is trying to make their luxury brand seem more upscale and exclusive, it’s weird to keep such similarities in a “lower ranked” Ford.

Despite how it may sound, I didn’t hate the car at all. It drove really well, the radio, climate and settings were all easy to use, and there were lots of customization settings to change interior color lights, gauge lighting, etc. The seats were also very comfy and I didn’t mind them one bit for long trips.

I would recommend that anyone looking at this car get a manual transmission, or look at a different car if you need an automatic. The transmission was extremely sluggish and to this day I refuse to believe that there were 305 horsepowers coming from that engine. The plus side of the slushbox was that fuel economy was amazing. The car would love to jump up to the highest gear (and refuse to downshift unless you told it forcefully with your right foot) and we were averaging well over the advertised 31mpg. I think we made it from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon and back on the equivalent of one tank of gas. (We filled it when we could since we didn’t want to risk running out of gas in the middle of nowhere so it wasn’t a straight trip with no fill-ups, though it would have been a nice experiment.)

I do have one important consumer warning about this car before I go. This thing is a vampire. It wants your blood. I dropped the lens cap to my camera under the seat one day, and I ended up bleeding from an edge that felt as sharp as knife under the seat. I know modern cars tend to stick lots of electronics under seats these days, but for how often I drop things I have never had an injury this bad from a car. My boyfriend also lost a bit of blood from a rough edge in the trunk when loading luggage, and later scraped his hand on some other part that I can’t recall.

So overall the car might be a little rough around the edges, but it’s a Mustang so I think that makes it ok.



Sadly this is the only picture you get today. I spent too much time running around taking pictures of canyons and fake pyramids and the poor Mustang was neglected except for this lone shot as we were packing up to catch (or miss…) our early morning flight.

#2 – 2005 Nissan Maxima 3.5SL

It’s expected, when undertaking a project like this, that one would start with some introspection on previously driven cars. This is mostly done to ask the all-important question: “Do I remember enough about this car to write a review without having to track down another?” The answer, I’ve found, is almost always “No.”

Luckily, the car I was thinking about most, the Nissan Altima, is a relatively common car and I shouldn’t have a problem finding another one. And of course, within a week of starting this blog, a Nissan Maxima appeared. Not an Altima, but close enough and I couldn’t wait to give it a try.


You’re probably wondering why I’m so excited about a basic Japanese car, and the simple answer is: I wanted to try out a CVT now that I have a few more cars to compare it to.

Astute readers out there are yelling “But the 2005 Maxima doesn’t have a CVT!” Well Ok, I didn’t know this yet, so I headed for the nearest road and put my foot down.

And it was heaven. This was a 3.5L V6 Maxima SL with 265 hp, and it felt like a dream. The shifts were the smoothest I’ve ever felt in an automatic car. Revs go up, car shifts, revs go down, repeat. At this time I still thought it was a CVT, and I thought maybe Nissan built some sort of shifting replication feel into the car, and I liked it. Of course I now know it was just your standard automatic and this was just a superb example. Which is funny because if you google “2005 Nissan Maxima Transmission” you get several hits saying how the transmission in this car is horrible and jerks and breaks and blah blah blah. This must have been one of the lucky ones because it wasn’t exactly low-mileage and really, I cannot say enough about how nicely this car shifted. And it had power to go along with it, the smoothness was definitely not because of a wimpy engine.

Anyway, on to the rest of the car. I have determined that the SL badging on the trunk stands for “Super Luxurious.” It has all the standard luxury features, leather, heated seats, xenon headlights (impressive for a 2005 model), moonroof (unfortunately for me it had the optional traditional moonroof and not the silly-looking but curiously weird fixed skyview roof that is narrow and extends the length of the car roof), screen built into the dash…


Oh wait. Is that a large display screen full of 7-segment digits? I don’t really understand their reasoning behind this one, a decent radio display could have taken care of this information without looking like it was from the 90’s. By the end of my test drive I had come to appreciate it, simply because it let me set daytime and nighttime brightness levels that adjusted the orange hue to my liking. I’m probably the wrong person to be writing car reviews, it doesn’t take much to please me. Either way, this is still not a design choice I would have used.


Again it had a horrible non-linear automatic gear shifter. Do people bump the shifter while driving? Is it that eating a hamburger while driving makes it impossible to not flail and bump things? Or do car manufacturers think that this gives people the same satisfaction that one gets from shifting a gated manual? I don’t know, and I don’t like it.

This probably isn’t sounding super luxurious to you. And you’re right. Because then, as I was about to call it a day and exit the vehicle, I noticed a row of buttons hidden to the left of the steering wheel on the dash.


Ooh, does that one fold in the mirrors? I hit the button. Nothing. Thought maybe I should put the key back in the ignition and turn the car on before expecting buttons to do anything. Tried again and yes! The mirrors folded in. I am very particular about sounds, and I just really like the sound of power-folding mirror motors. I should mention right now that this car was driven in a major city quite a bit and damaged accordingly. But yet, the mirrors have survived probably hundreds of hours in those cramped parking lots and not taken their share of the damage. I’m going to credit the power folding mirrors with this.

Next button. Hmm. It almost looks like a steering wheel. But not quite like the steering wheel in this car. (Author’s note: It does quite resemble the steering wheel in the old Z cars, if this was intentional I appreciate the retro styling. They carried some of this over into new Nissans but not as much as this button implies.) So I hit this button, and nothing. Following my hunch, I waited a minute, and next thing I knew…the steering wheel was toasty! If that isn’t luxury I don’t know what is. Actually, I take that back. Real luxury would be a heated and ventilated steering wheel for the summer. But that’s beside the point. This was cool. I liked it a lot. It almost made up for the lack of seat bolsters.

So in conclusion, cool car. I was much more impressed than I had planned. And after the experience of driving this wonderful, if slightly dented, example of a Nissan, I can safely answer the question posed by the most recent Nissan television commercial. “Wouldn’t it be great if your car never had to shift?” No, Nissan, it would not be great.

Addendum: A week or so after driving this car, I was walking down the steps of my apartment and in the parking lot I saw it… And in the exact same tone as the Top Gear crew spotting a Dacia Sandero for the first time, I said (out loud) to myself “Hey, that’s a Nissan Maxima with the standard fixed glass skyview moonroof!” And my day was considerably brightened.