What cocktails go best with all this car chatter? Automobilemag.com is here to help with weekly recipes. Remember, this is for talking about cars, not driving — always designate a driver. In honor of the Detroit auto show starting next week, we're drinking The Last Word, which was created here in The D at the Detroit Athletic Club. Mix equal parts gin, green chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, and fresh-squeezed lime juice into a shaker with ice. Shake thoroughly and strain into a cocktail class and serve straight up.
Hold Your App-lause: I spent the week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Audi's self-parking car and the semi-autonomous Lexus LS are extremely cool and show just how much innovation is still to come in the automotive industry. At the same time, I was really disappointed to see that most automakers here simply presented new smartphone apps for their cars. Sure, it's great to be able to play internet radio, find cheap gas, listen to Facebook updates, or hear the latest news headlines while driving, but I think car companies are putting too much emphasis on these features. It feels like we're heading toward a future in which cars are simply a smartphone dock with wheels. For people who love driving, like my colleagues and I do, that would be a sad day indeed.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
Not Your Mother's Lexus: This past Monday, I was provided some studio time with the 2014 Lexus IS, an exclusive preview before it debuts next week in Detroit. Immediately clear are two things: one, Lexus really wants to kick the snot out of any chance the word vanilla comes up when describing this car. Two, when they present us with something radical like the LFA or the LF-CC concept, count on it serving as references point for future productions cars. The model for my intimate three hour photo shoot was a white IS 350 F Sport—and it looked pissed to be there. My mother would not like this car as much as I do, which is exactly what Lexus seems to be hoping for. The L.E.D./look-at-me lights are separated from the (seemingly demoted) headlight assemblies. Not sure if the scoops and slits decorating the front-end are functional or not, but Lexus is taking advantage of the fact that nobody seems to care about functionality anymore.
The Lexus PR man on site dropped the name LFA while pointing out interior bits that look pulled right from the company's supercar. The F Sport's white paint, for instance, comes straight from the LFA's option list. The same trick accent ring found in the LFA's instrument cluster is now an F Sport exclusive in the IS family. The seats are wrapped in 'hooker red' leather. Again, this is a car that's meant to appeal to me, not my mother. At every angle, this car appears aggressive, athletic, and sexy, not vanilla.
Patrick Hoey, Photographer
Cruise In A Chevelle: Wednesday night, E! News interviewed Tom Cruise about his new movie "Jack Reacher." Cruise said the highlight of the movie was a lengthy car chase scene shot with few visual effects in which he drives a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS. He claims that in the movie he wrecked/totaled eight of the nine cars; he then purchased the 9th one for his birthday present. Additionally it looks like the pursuit/camera car was a Porsche Cayenne!
EV Pollution: The U.S. government wants EVs to make more noise at less than 18 mph. As an avid sportbike motorcycle rider, I take the responsibility on myself to assume nothing. You tell yourself that drivers do not see or hear you, and you ride accordingly. Much like any road athlete, you must be more aware of your surroundings. The responsibility also goes to the EV owner – you must be more aware of your surroundings. The last thing we need with these green vehicles is noise pollution!
Kelly Murphy, Creative Director
Meticulous Madness: The Volvo S60 Polestar Concept might be a one-of-a-kind, can’t-buy-it-here hot rod, but it shows just how ambitious the modest Swedes (and the guys at Volvo North America) are becoming. Funny enough, this is just what the new owners at Zhejiang Geely want, since Volvo is a very premium brand in China.
When you slide the Polestar chip into your Volvo S60 T6 AWD, you get 25 hp as advertised, except it feels like 50 hp. Maybe this is because the power is calculated not in some little aftermarket shop with a flash reading on a single dyno run to redline, but, instead, right there on the factory dyno at Volvo, where the meticulous Swedes take a steady power reading at every 500 rpm all the way up to the redline and then every 500 rpm on the way down, too. And did we tell you about the 48-hour durability run at redline in top gear?
Michael Jordan, Senior Editor
Joy In Gridlock: One of my favorite parts of an auto show isn't sitting in all the new cars, in fact, but is crafting my master spreadsheet to help keep all our ducks in a row once we're on the show floor. While many loathe Microsoft Excel, I take solace in the order it creates from the chaos of two dozen new-car reveals, a smattering of parties, and laundry list of executive interviews.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
Start Me Up: After living in the south for the past year, I've been experiencing a less-than-pleasant "Welcome back to Michigan" moment each January morning by having to scrape frost and snow off of my car windshield. (Remind me why I wanted to get back here so badly?) My vehicle offers a remote start option, but I continually forget to take full advantage of this feature, leaving me cursing under my breath as I tediously scrape away at my glossed over windshield. At least I'm not making the mistake of starting up my car and heading back inside to let it warm up, unlike this Sacramento man. Fortunately for him, his car was shortly located by local authorities soon after. Our Michigan winter has only just begun; it's probably in my best interest to move "figure out remote car starter" to the top of my to-do list.
John Kalmar, Graphic Designer
It Could Be Worse: Nobody likes getting stuck in traffic, but a new poll by PPP (Public Policy Polling) says that most Americans (56%) have a higher opinion of traffic jams than of Congress. With an overall favorability rating of just 9%, Congress is also less popular than used-car salesmen, root canals, and colonoscopies, although it does manage to beat out Fidel Castro, meth labs, and the Ebola virus. So, next time you’re stuck in traffic, remind yourself that it could be worse – you could be stuck in traffic listening to CSPAN on your satellite radio.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Winter Blues: I tend to think of myself as a lover of each of Michigan's four seasons, but after having a lovely phone conversation with Peter Heydon—the owner of two award-winning Duesenbergs and a number of other very fine automobiles—I'm having some serious old-car withdrawal at this January moment. Thankfully, I was able to appease these feelings somewhat the other day while kicking the tires of some hibernating vintage cars and hanging with some other old-car guys. (Few of whom realized, I might add, that the best way to keep contaminants out of the disassembled engine in your 1960s Mercedes-Benz SL is by covering the block with an old Batman T-shirt.) At least I'll have the Detroit auto show next week to get a full dose of new/future cars. I wonder how many old cars Lincoln will trot out at Cobo.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
CBS Discovers Corvette: Nothing like a new Corvette debut to mobilize the news media. A camera crew arrived early this morning to film a segment for CBS Sunday Morning to run January 20, post-auto show. It's been a long time since they've examined a Corvette. Lots of high-tech surprises to those who haven't been following the story for the past ten years. Nice guys, great show, put it on your DVR.
Jean Jennings, President and Editor-in-Chief
Land Of Milk And Motors: People ask me why I love living in Michigan. One of the shortest answers I have is because we're smack dab in the middle of the automotive industry. Hardly a week goes by where we don't come across some weird prototype, development mule, or car from another country that's here for testing purposes. If you're a car person, seeing these things on a regular basis is something of a perpetual high.
That's why I was excited when Donny Nordlicht and Kelly Murphy came back from a brief coffee run with shots of the new 2014 Jeep Liberty. We've seen dozens of early, Alfa Romeo-bodied development mules before -- heck, I saw one casually parked in front of a JoAnn Fabrics store several months ago -- but this is the first -- repeat, the first -- time we've seen one wearing what appears to be production-ready sheet metal.
Somewhat exciting, especially when you look closely at what may be in store for that front fascia. Apart from the seven-slot grille, it seems unlike any other Jeep model presently on the market. But, the car geek in me finds this interesting for other reasons. I, for one, find it fascinating how Chrysler's upped its game in automotive subterfuge -- this isn't the first model launch where it's kept most, if not all production bodywork obscured for the majority of its gestation.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
What Is Chrysler Worth?: The United Auto Workers’ Voluntary Employee Benefits Program (VEBA), the retiree healthcare fund that owns 41.5 percent of Chrysler, says Chrysler Group should register 16.6 percent of its shares with the Securities and Exchange Commission. This would force the hand of Fiat, which owns the rest of Chrysler, to find out how much a share of the stock is worth, and thus issue an initial public offering. UAW retirees don’t want to own so many shares in any automaker, and an IPO would let the VEBA offload its 41.5 percent. Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne are having none of this, and analysts predict the automaker won’t issue stock in 2013. Still, Chrysler has had a quite profitable turnaround in the last couple of years. It’s propping up Fiat, not the other way around, and I’d really like to know: what is Chrysler stock worth?
Accidental Tourist: When I first visited the home of my ancestors, in 1999, Polski Fiat 600s crowded the pedestrian lane on country two-lanes, forcing faster cars to cross the solid centerline to pass. Unfortunately, 14 years of automotive progress hasn’t improved traffic safety in Poland, where 4200 people perished from traffic accidents last year in a country of 38 million people. That’s a fatality rate of 110 deaths per one million people, the Associated Press reports, and the worst record in Europe. Grim stuff, for sure. Great Britain has Europe’s lowest rate, at 32 deaths per million. Poland’s solution is to invest the equivalent of about $160 million in road renovations this year, the AP says, improve its road signs, and step up police controls to stem a speeding problem the government blames for 43 percent of the accidents.
Todd Lassa, Executive Editor
Better Driving Through Music: How does music affect driving behavior? A U.K. website, Confused.com, tested eight – yes, eight – people who each drove 250 miles (like Detroit to Chicago) while listening to an array of music. Confused.com figures the following are the ten safest songs for drivers:
1. “Come Away With Me” by Norah Jones
2. “Billionaire” by Travie McCoy featuring Bruno Mars
3. “I’m Yours” by the heart-melting Jason Mraz
4. “The Scientist” by Coldplay
5. “Tiny Dancer” by Sir Elton John
6. “Cry Me a River” by JT
7. “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from the Armageddon soundtrack
8. “Karma Police” by Radiohead
9. “Never Had a Dream Come True” by an obscure Brit band
10. “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver
More like “The playlist most likely to convince me that ripping out my own esophagus while behind the wheel is a sound decision.” Driving needs your full attention, so your music should keep you alert. Herewith, my own findings; I would never say it was the “safest” driving music because that would just be stupid.
1. “When The Lights Go Out” by the Black Keys
2. “Black Sunshine” by White Zombie
3. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” by The Rolling Stones
4. “Fell in Love with a Girl” by The White Stripes
5. “Gimme Danger” by Iggy and the Stooges
6. “Walk” by Pantera
7. “Cochise” by Audioslave
8. “Running with the Pack” by Bad Company
9. “All My Own Stunts” by Arctic Monkeys
10. “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion
The pure, unadulterated love in that last song will energize you for a long highway schlep. If you believe Confused.com’s study, you’ll believe that.
Chris Nelson, Road Test Editor
Volkswagen GTI vs. Scion FR-S: As I was about to turn onto my usual entrance ramp for my commute to the office this morning, I realized there was a black three-door Volkswagen GTI in front of me. As soon as its driver, a young woman, saw me in my Hot Lava (orange) Scion FR-S, she hit the gas and the race was on. I followed her for eight miles on I-94 as it wends its way around Ann Arbor, but try as I might, I couldn't catch her. I slapped the gearshifter of my FR-S tester's six-speed automatic into manual mode, crazily worked the clickety-clackety shift paddles, mashed the throttle repeatedly, changed lanes frequently but legally, tried not to completely annoy the other commuters and semi-truck drivers that we were dashing among, and nervously eyed my speedometer, which was in definite-ticket territory the entire time. It didn't matter: the more powerful GTI became a speck disappearing into the distance. I finally caught up with her when we exited together, and I could see her smirking in her rearview mirror. Well-driven, miss. I'd been dismissive of those critics who've been pining for more power in the Scion FR-S and its twin, the Subaru BRZ, but now I'm beginning to see their point.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
Testing the Limits: I thought the heavy duty truck towing wars had reached their practical upper limit already. Then out of nowhere Ram announces the 2013 Ram 3500 can tow a maximum of 30,010 pounds. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around that figure all week. I cannot understand how a one-ton truck can be rated to tow 15 tons, especially if those 15 tons are headed down a steep grade. What’s next, an air brake option on the next Ford Super Duty?
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
Eye Ess, Oh: I make no secret of the fact that I don't like the Lexus ES--it spent years as an under-styled lump, and then Lexus grafted all sorts of LF-LC/LFA bits on it, somehow making it gaudy and boring. The jury is still out on the 2014 IS sedan (I have yet to see it in the flesh/metal), but the first signs are reassuring. The IS is full of interesting design features: how the spindle grille is convex, how the Lexus badge is actually inset, how the taillights are stretched and start a line that extends up the quarter panel and all the way to the side skirts. It's the same story on the inside: the speedometer, with its way-cool metal ring, is lifted almost completely unchanged from the LFA. I'm not sure if the Lexus IS will be an interesting car to drive, but I'm glad that the design has plenty of pieces that make you think or wonder. Job well done.
Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor
Happy To Be Here: With the Detroit auto show around the corner, I can’t help but think back to the first one I attended. It was 2009, right around the time the bottom fell out from under the auto industry. The show stands were dim and sparsely decorated—Chrysler didn’t even have lights—and the mood was bleak. People walked around as if in a trance. My entire life I’d wanted to join this circus and it looked as if I’d shown up just in time to see it pack up and disappear. As I hustle to prepare for my fifth Detroit auto show, I’m thankful that the auto industry and the culture it supports still survive.
David Zenlea, Associate Editor