Cocktail Chatter: May 3, 2013

Automobile Staff
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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 celebrate the brightly colored spring flowers that are blooming outside our office windows, we're drinking a the equally bright sparkling screwdriver. Four ounces of brut champagne get combined with one ounce of orange vodka, and two ounces of orange juice in a white wine glass to make this bubble treat. Garnish with a slice of orange.

 

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Rules of the Road: Owing to their superabundance across the land, starlings and sparrows are almost invisible, and the same is true of pickups. I’ve just relinquished the keys of a 2013 Ram 1500 Laramie Crew Cab 4x4 after 800 miles, during which time my eyes were unusually receptive to other pickups. Maybe this was because of sitting at the same level instead of having to look up. Anyway, I formulated these rules of trucking for universal observance by other pickup drivers:

  1. 1. Wear a hat or cap. A naked head just looks wrong.
  2. 2. Steer with the butt of your left hand atop of the wheel, as I found myself doing, and turn by applying modest downward pressure in the desired direction.
  3. 3. Carry a $100 bill for fuel.
  4. 4. No tonneau cover, please. Tonneaus impede the pickup’s natural function, bringing you disrepute.
  5. 5. Because you can, tow!
  6. 6. Instead of an unfreighted bed, jam in a lot of empty cartons, yes, and tight so they won’t blow out, and in letters large enough for the Kenworth crowd to read when you go by, write interesting and perhaps provocative things on the cardboard, like “Bites While Kissing” and “Pocatello Exhumation.” It’ll give them something to talk about on their radios, and you’ll look important.
Ronald Ahrens, Contributing Writer

A Different Shade of 'Green': Electric cars and hybrids are doing its part to help reduce our carbon footprint, but what about the environmental impact of how cars are made? French designer Jean-Marie Massaud and Toyota have teamed up to devise the ME.WE, a car centered on sustainable manufacturing. The ME.WE is completely electric, boasts 100% recyclable polypropylene panels and has a deliberately simple dashboard — placing most of the controls on the driver's smartphone. I'm a big fan of minimalist and sustainable design, and this concept fits the bill in both areas. It will be interesting to see how the ME.WE holds up on the road (namely, in any kind of accidents), but the idea behind sustainable manufacturing is yet another way for the auto industry to "go green."

John Kalmar, Graphic Designer

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Haters Shouldn't Hate: The other night I knelt down to snap an iPhone photo of the BMW M3 I was testing when a passing cyclist laughed, "It's just a car, it's only a car." I should have realized he was an idiot based on his lack of helmet or lights at 10 p.m., but his comment got me thinking about what the general public thinks of car enthusiasts.

It's not uncommon to hear people belittle or express surprise that we enthusiasts like expensive, fast, or impractical vehicles; a date once asked me, "So, uh, why do you like cars?" Frankly, I think it's ridiculous to pick fault with someone else's hobby or interest. I bet Mr. Cyclist snapped a photo of his snazzy new bicycle and would have been offended had I quipped, "It's only a bike." And though I have no children, I don't moan, "It's just a human," when friends or family gloat about their offspring. In other words, Mr Cyclist, why should you care whether I want to Instagram a photo of an orange, $80K BMW?

Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor

Oh hey there, Honda: If you haven’t already, check out our series of U.S.-market sales roundups by segment (compacts here, CUVs here, and mid-size sedans here) and then see if you can find a pattern. It shouldn’t be difficult to find it: Honda captured first place in each one of them. Yes, the Accord toppled the Camry, the CR-V pushed aside the Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4, and the Civic thrashed the Corolla. It’s too early to say if consumers on the whole are turning from Toyota’s products to Honda’s, but I’ll say that it’s always a good day when products like the Accord—which really did raise the bar on mid-size motoring—beat the Camry. Ditto the Civic, which is much, much newer than the ancient Corolla. For a company which two years ago looked grim amidst two natural disasters, it’s good to see the guys at Honda back on top.

Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor 

The Next Ferrari: I’m making my first visit to the eye-popping headquarters of Ron Dennis’ McLaren Group, in Woking, England, which includes an electronic technology company, the supercar manufacturer, and, of course, the Formula 1 team. I’m naturally dubious about the chances a new car manufacturer of any type can exist, let alone thrive, on its own, but McLaren is different. It built the legendary F1 in the 1990s, of course, then followed up with the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, and in 2010, launched the MP4-12C. This year, it begins production of the P1 supercar, a turbo V-8/plug-in hybrid model that, unlike most supercar “start-up” models, looks like it could be built, carefully, by any of the world’s largest automakers. Only better. Dennis’ operations are immaculately clean, efficiently run, and include displays of McLaren’s historic racecars, from Bruce McLaren's own ’69 F1 car through several of Lauda’s, Prost’s, Senna’s, Hakkinen’s, Raikonen’s and Hamilton’s winning rides. We also got to see a pit crew from the current F1 team practice, indoors, a pit stop on Sergio Perez’s MP4-28. The goal is to get the tire-change pit stops under two seconds. As for the road cars, McLaren intends to be a leading global supercar manufacturer by 2015, and a global luxury brand by 2020. No more F1-to-SLR or SLR-to-12C production gaps. I think McLaren will make it.

Todd Lassa, Executive Editor

Now is the Time: Eleven years after my wife bought her first car -- a used 1997 Honda CR-V -- in her sophomore year of high school, she has boldly proclaimed that now is the time to buy her second. For the past two days, I've come home not to find her reading a book or tuning into a Tigers baseball game, but actively scouring web sites like the EPA's fueleconomy.gov, NHTSA's safercar.org, and --ahem-- automobilemag.com. For me, it's fun to come home and find her excitedly researching and talking about cars.

So, what's on the short list? Well, there's a list, but it's hardly short. As a SUV/crossover fan, something from that segment is a must -- as is all-wheel drive, given our semi-remote location. That modern small- and midsize crossovers are more fuel efficient than ever is certainly a blessing considering that's one segment we'll be shopping, but there's one contender that arguably makes little sense: Toyota's FJ Cruiser. Yes, it's big; yes, it's a bit thirsty; yes, it's a little cramped inside; and yes, we'll not use 100% of its off-road abilities day-in, day-out. That said, it is charismatic, relatively comfortable, in her price range, and -- perhaps most importantly -- the only non-exotic vehicle she's dreamed of owning for the past eleven years. We'll see how this process shakes out.

Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor

Virtual Reality: All those hours poured into Gran Turismo could pay off someday -- meet Bryan Heitkotter, the first American to go from racing virtual cars (featured in games like Gran Turismo 5) to racing real cars.

Tom Hang, Graphic Designer

It Bugs Me: We just took delivery of a Volkswagen Beetle convertible for a Four Seasons test. I love the 2.0T engine and six-speed manual transmission, which are directly borrowed from the GTI. But the loss of chassis rigidity and the dorky Beetle styling really take away from the experience behind the wheel. I feel like I’m driving a caricature of a car when I’m in the Beetle. It’s frustrating to have a car so mechanically similar to a GTI that feels completely different to drive. Hopefully the car grows on me soon. Otherwise it’s going to be a long year.

Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor

Box Be Gone: This week, our European bureau chief Georg Kacher reported on Volvo's plans for the next few years. Most exciting is the promise of a new C60 coupe, which will ride on the automaker's all-new four-cylinder-only platform that will be shared with the next S60 and various other models. While little is known about the 2016 C60, Kacher says that photos of an early clay model invoke the design themes of the sultry P1800 coupe from the 1960s. A sexy, fuel-sipping Swedish coupe? Sign me up.

Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor

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Daffodil Season: It’s been a long, cold, and wet winter, but Miata season is finally here.

David Zenlea, Associate Editor

 

 

Welcome to the Fleet: I walked around the back of our office building this week and saw our brand-spanking-new Four Seasons Cadillac ATS sedan parked near the back door. And I thought, damn, that is a good-looking car. As I stood there looking at it, I realized that it's been a long, long time since we've had a Four Seasons Cadillac, and that, in fact, the ATS marks only the fourth Four Seasons Cadillac we've had in the 27-year history of Automobile Magazine. Our last one was a first-generation SRX crossover, which we quite liked. Before that, you have to go all the way back to the 1992 STS sedan. And before that, the first Four Seasons Caddy in our fleet was a 1990 Allante roadster, which happens to be the very first test car I ever drove here. Remember the Allante? Its bodies were designed and built by Pininfarina in Italy, then packed into Boeing 747 cargo planes and flown to Detroit for final assembly at the Hamtramck plant, which now builds the Chevrolet Volt. Neither the Allante nor the STS nor the first-generation, rear-wheel-drive SRX brought Cadillac the fame and stature it sought and continues to seek, but the ATS looks like it will go down in history as a true competitor to the brands Cadillac has tried to emulate for so long: Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi.

Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor

Tis the Season (For Convertibles): The weather has (finally) turned. When I look out the office window I see forsythia blooming and maple trees budding, but the surest sign of warm weather is a convertible in our parking lot with the top down. That’s what I’ve been seeing this week with the newest car in our Four Seasons fleet, a VW Beetle Turbo convertible. I’ve yet to drive the Beetle but am itching to get into it now that I can actually drop the top without having to bundle up first in a winter jacket and earmuffs. Road test coordinator Chris Nelson predicts the Beetle convertible will be our most in-demand car this summer. I’m not sure I agree about that (I’m thinking our Mercedes GL450 will win that title), but it will surely most of the next several months with its top down and a smiling driver behind the wheel.

Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor

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Curve Crazy: I wasn't going crazy. My colleagues and some folks at Nissan thought I was, though, when I reported that a bleeping Sentra test car kept making beeping sounds at somewhat random times, usually around the time I began rounding a back-road curve. I sent this video to Nissan PR, and they eventually (after showing it to a number of people around Nissan's Nashville campus) came upon a Sentra specialist who was vaguely familiar with its cause. It turns out that the car's navigation system has a Guidance Information setting called "Speed Warning for Curves," which uses GPS to detect when a curve is approaching that it thinks the car is traveling too quickly to safely negotiate. Who the heck is this feature for? Blind drivers? Perhaps the Sentra is simply acting in self-preservation. Quick curves are definitely not its forte.

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

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