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. To mark the first official day of summer, we're drinking a creation by associate web editor Donny Nordlicht. Called the Indian Summer Sip, add three ounces of Absolut Mango vodka to a highball glass with ice, top with seltzer, and top with a splash of pineapple juice.
Obvious Improvements: Sometimes improvement is so obvious, it makes me wonder what took so long. The Chrysler minivans only had one sliding side door for a dozen years until the all-new 1996 models came out; the second door made those vans vastly more desirable. The 2013 Ford F-150 4x4 Supercrew that I’m driving this week is a similar story. This F-150 is equipped with the optional tailgate step, and I’d say it sure would be worth the extra $375 charge. All that’s needed to draw the step out of the opened gate is a twist. Tugging lightly extends it downward. Then the nose of the bi-fold tread flops over. Fix the “oar handle” assist pole into position, and you’re the Sir Edmund Hillary of tailgates. With the optional bed extender ($250) and spray-in bedliner ($475), you have features that will pay off over and over again during the truck’s life.
Ronald Ahrens, Contributor
A Kitten's Road Less Traveled…In An Engine: There are two reasons why a driver was surprised to find a stowaway in her Honda Fit. First, it was a kitten, and second, it was in her engine bay while making a 1,000-mile drive from Oregon to Southern California. The woman heard the stray kitten's cries while leaving Oregon, but was unsure of where exactly the animal was or how to resolve the situation. An animal rescuer and tow truck driver in Santa Barbara, Calif. came to the animal's aid after they sedated and then recovered it from the engine compartment. The fact that it was an adorable, few weeks old kitten sure did help this freeloading feline's case for being rescued. If it was any other kind of stray animal trapped in an engine or anywhere else in the car, they would've promptly been booted from the vehicle, like this.
John Kalmar, Graphic Designer
Outgunned: I thought it was pretty cool that Automobile Magazine employees collectively own six Mazda MX-5 Miata roadsters. Turns out, that's chump change. Over in the Netherlands, a group of enthusiasts recently assembled 459 MX-5 Miatas and set a new Guinness World Record for the "largest parade of Mazda cars." We have a long way to go if we want to measure up to that number.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
Flabbergasted: I'm rarely flabbergasted when behind the wheel, but one car I spied in traffic while on the I-5 outside of San Diego earlier this week left me speechless: a blue-on-white Checker Aerobus station wagon. And not the "short" six-door variant, either -- this sucker was the full-size, eight-door, 23-foot-long monstrosity frequently used as airport shuttles in their heyday. The thing was a little tatty around the edges, but considering the only other eight-door Aerobus I've ever seen in person is rotting to pieces in northern Michigan, I was impressed to see it running under its own power. 3300 were built between 1962 and 1974, but as Checkers often intimately know the ravages of rust, the answer to how many left is usually "not many."
Musical Chairs with Model Names: Overseas, the Nissan Note is a unique, stand-alone model in Nissan's lineup. Here, it's shoved into the Versa portfolio and sold as the 2014 Nissan Versa Note. Seeing as this is now the lone Versa hatchback on the market now, why not just call it the Versa Hatchback? Julie Lynch, senior marketing manager for Nissan's small cars, says her team wanted to retain the recognition of the Versa name while adding a little global gravitas. Lynch also noted the dueling names aren't a temporary ploy, but given this is from the company once known as Nissan-Datsun that also brought us the Pathfinder Armada, we'll wait and see if that's the case.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
Race Ready: The longest day of the year is upon us, and for me that means the 24 Hours of Le Mans. “Hour by Hour,” Preston Lerner’s story about the race in the June issue, gives you an idea why this race is important to sports car enthusiasts. Consider that 18 carmakers around the world produce nearly two dozen GT3-class cars specifically for racing and you’ll see that sports car racing matters. It certainly matters to Chrysler, which has just formally introduced its $459,000 Viper GT3-R at the race, where the SRT Viper GTS-R will compete this weekend. Never mind the goofy prototypes; the real race is between the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Corvette C6.R, Ferrari 458, Porsche 911 and Viper GTS-R.
If you’re looking for traditional racing as the summer begins, you couldn’t do better than this weekend’s event at Milan Dragway, just down the road from our office in Ann Arbor. Sunday, Sunday! Jet-powered 300-mph dragsters! See the Wheelstander! The Great Lakes Gassers! Nostalgia Funny Cars! All for $20! In fact Benny the Human Bomb will do his act, where he locks himself in a flaming car and then escapes. Benjamin Koske is 73 now, but he’s still doing the same act that I saw at National Raceway on Long Island in 1976. It’s quite something.
Michael Jordan, Senior Editor
Fans of Rev-Matching and Trail-Braking Rejoice: Last weekend, I played PR guy in the press box at Michigan International Speedway. Don't tell anyone at MIS, but I'm more interested in what happens on the racetrack this weekend, as NASCAR goes road racing (Sprint Cup at Sonoma, Nationwide at Road America). There's also some other road race in Europe this weekend at a place called Le Mans. Sounds like a great weekend to relocate the TV to your favorite outdoor lounging spot.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Throwing Down the Gauntlet: You thought there was a lot of hullabaloo last January when Chevrolet unveiled the C7 Corvette Stingray at the Detroit auto show? That was just a warm up. The first test-drive reports of the new Corvette will be published before summer is over, and in anticipation of that, Chevy released its own performance numbers on a 2014 Corvette Stingray equipped with the $2800 Z51 performance package. The figures, gathered during Chevy's own performance testing at Virginia International Raceway's 4.2-mile Grand Course, are pretty amazing for a car with an as-tested price of only $56,590. We're talking a 0-to-60-mph time of 3.8 seconds, 1/4-mile acceleration in 12 seconds @ 119 mph, and 60-to-0-mph braking of only 107 feet. In publishing its own numbers now, Chevy is accomplishing three things: 1) getting Corvette enthusiasts excited; 2) putting the competition on notice; and 3) laying down the gauntlet for automotive enthusiast titles to beat Chevy's numbers when they conduct their own testing.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
Good Advice Never Gets Old: Car Talk has been a staple of NPR’s Saturday morning programming for 25 years. Hosts and brothers Ray and Tom Magliozzi announced they were retiring last year, but because the show is so popular, NPR continues to rerun old episodes. On the way home last night I was listening to satellite radio and ran across a snippet of one such episode, from 1992. The callers were a husband and wife who were shopping for a car for the wife. They had narrowed their choices to a Ford Taurus, a Ford Crown Victoria, and a Pontiac Bonneville. (Just think of how much better today's alternatives would be.) The wife wanted the Bonneville because it was “swoopy” and more fun, but the husband was trying to steer her toward the Crown Vic because it was bigger (and therefore safer) and less expensive. Tom and Ray then made various cracks about the three cars – that the Crown Vic makes you grow older just by looking at it, that the Taurus was boring, etc. – before giving the callers a great piece of car-buying advice: Choose a car that makes you happy and that you really want to drive, even if it’s more expensive or doesn’t make the most sense, because if you choose a car purely for practical reasons, you’ll never be happy driving it. That advice may be more than twenty years old, but it still makes perfect sense today.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Soft-Touch Dry: Canadian Mounties clocked a 67-year-old man driving 112 miles per hour just south of Black Diamond, Alberta. The speeder’s excuse is that he had just driven through a car wash and was trying to dry off his car. I sympathize. I sometimes use a quick, cheap, touchless car wash at a Mobil station on Woodward Avenue, and have to dry off the family Miata as I drive down the boulevard. I usually find Woodward’s well-patrolled 45-mph limit sufficient. A judge in Alberta did not sympathize; he fined the speeder $800 and suspended his license for 45 days.
Mark of Excellence: General Motors stunned the press, the nation’s consumers and probably J.D. Power & Associates when it nabbed remarkable results in J.D. Power’s 2013 Initial Quality Study. Porsche was the highest ranked brand, with just 80 quality problems per 100 cars delivered. GMC was next, with a score of 90. Chevrolet was fifth, with 97 problems, Cadillac was fourteenth and Buick was fifteenth. All were better than the industry average of 113 problems per 100 vehicles.Lexus finished third, just behind GMC, with 94 problems, Toyota was seventh and Honda was eighth. Scion had the poorest score, behind Fiat, with 161 problems. Helping GM’s success is the fact that it has one of the oldest fleets in the business, with a lot of bugs worked out, and J.D. Power is giving more weight to design flaws, like MyFordTouch and Sync. GM’s big test comes next year, when key products, from the Chevy Silverado, Corvette and Camaro to the GMC Sierra and Cadillac CTS are replaced with new models.
Todd Lassa, Executive Editor
Learning German Fast: I’ve always been fascinated by the role culture plays in automotive engineering. Even in today’s global industry, a Japanese car still feels different from, say a Korean car, and both feel different from an American car. I was reminded of this again yesterday while driving 220 kph (136.7 mph) in a Volkswagen GTD (which, happily, is headed for the United States). Beyond the fact that only Germany would conceive of a diesel hot hatch, where else might it regularly be expected to drive that fast for sustained periods of time? And how could that not result in a vehicle with a more capable chassis?
On the other hand, I found myself appreciating or at least understanding Germans’ desire for more driver assistance. Why not use active cruise control so that you can relax in the heavily enforced 80-kph (50 mph) sections before spurting off in the next unrestricted section? Who wouldn’t sacrifice just a bit of steering feel at lower speeds, as the new Porsche 911 does, for greater confidence at higher speeds? As Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche recently told executive editor Todd Lassa, “Downhill skiing is about the slope, not the queue.” The problem, of course, is that in the United States almost all of our driving is the queue.
David Zenlea, Associate Editor
A More Hybrid-y Hybrid: Toyota is unquestionably the global hybrid leader. Their Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) system can be found in everything from the miserly Prius that started it all to the $119,910, 438-hp Lexus LS 600h L. Although Honda’s little Insight beat the original Prius to market in the U.S. by seven months in 1999, since then Toyota has been completely dominating Honda—Toyota has sold 62,743 Prii to Honda’s 1,978 Insights so far in 2013. Because of the way Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system is designed with a small electric assist motor between the gasoline engine and the transmission, Honda hybrids can rarely run on electric power alone, which the Toyota hybrids do frequently.
This week, though, Honda announced the 2014 Accord Hybrid, which will not be powered by IMA. Instead, the Accord will use a new system with a much more powerful electric motor. In other words, the new Accord Hybrid is way more hybrid. Honda is estimating the Accord at a class-leading 49 mpg city, six mpg higher than the Camry Hybrid’s rating. We’ll see if this new approach will get Honda a bigger slice of the hybrid pie.
Joey Capparella, Associate Web Editor
The Supercar of Bathtubs: We've heard plenty about carbon fiber tubs for various exotics and race cars over the past decade. The weaved material is lighter, stronger, and safer than the metal alternatives, and the price of carbon fiber is steadily decreasing. However, a different kind of carbon fiber tub caught my attention this week – a bathtub. U.K. company SplinterWorks has crafted this carbon fiber hammock bathtub named "the Vessel" and it looks like the pinnacle in bathing relaxation. It's available in black, red, blue, yellow, pink, bronze, and silver, and a price isn't listed; although, I bet that if you have to ask, you can't afford it.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor