Cocktail Chatter: February 1, 2013

Super Bowl ads and Alfa Romeo's return.

What cocktails go best with all this car chatter? is here to help with weekly recipes. Remember, this is for talking about cars, not driving — save the cocktail for the end of the drive or designate a driver. This week’s cocktail recipe is courtesy of Fran Adams, bartender at Jer-Ne restaurant + bar at the Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Ray. For winter (even in California), Fran recommends a Hot Toddy. In a footed glass coffee mug, muddle a slice of apple, a slice of orange and a slice of lemon.  Add a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg and ground ginger.  It’s nice to add a cinnamon stick and piece of star anise.  1 Tablespoon honey.  1 1/2 ounces of bourbon or brandy (your preference).  3/4 ounce Grand Marnier.  Prepare a side teapot of hot water.  Top with the hot water and enjoy!

No Boring Cars: A new report from J.D. Power reveals that 36 percent of new-car buyers avoid hybrids or electrics because they cost too much, and 25 percent of shoppers pass on those models because they don’t like the exterior styling. Frankly, I’m thrilled to hear that people are wising up and not simply buying a Prius because all their neighbors have one. There’s a time and a place for hybrids like the Toyota Prius, but many people would be happier with a cheaper, better-looking, and better-driving car.

How Far We’ve Come: British magazine Autocar recently republished some comments from angry British motorists confronted by a 1983 law requiring them to wear seatbelts. Here are my two favorite complaints:

“I’m not convinced that seatbelts are a good thing… One time I would never wear a belt is if I got pregnant again. The belt is very uncomfortable passing across your stomach.”

“I don’t like them at all, and I never wear them… They make me very restless and when I’m wearing one I keep thinking about that flaming belt instead of concentrating on driving. That can’t be safe.”

One day, I suspect, we will look back on frivolous complaints about anti-texting and distracted-driving laws with the same amount of disbelief.

Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor

Superbowl Pre-Game Score: Audi 1, VW 0: Volkswagen and Audi both jumped the starter’s gun in the Superbowl ad derby, releasing their commercials days before the big game. Audi features a high-school kid who is headed to the prom without a date, but then dad tosses him the keys to the S6, and it emboldens him—marching into the dance, he plants one on the hottest girl in school. Although her date, the prom king, gives him a nasty black eye, he comes away undaunted.

Where Audi’s message is bravery, Volkwagen’s is happiness. VW’s spot features an oafish white guy whose Beetle has transformed him—into a don’t-worry-be-happy Jamaican spreading his special cheer throughout the office. Now there’s someone who deserves a punch in the face.

Joe Lorio, Senior Editor

Next Big Thing: I’m not one to make sales predictions, especially for cars I’ve not yet driven and least of all in writing. And yet as I watch the Super Bowl commercial preview for the Mercedes-Benz CLA250, I can’t help but think this baby Benz is going to be the next big thing.

If I’m right, the CLA would be the first bona fide hit in the fledgling premium compact segment, which has been growing but not quite exploding thanks to the likes of the Buick Verano, Acura ILX, and Ford Focus Titanium. These models are competent and luxurious, but they all lack what I’ll call the CLA’s Kate Upton quotient.

You don’t have to be a marketing genius (and I assuredly am not one) to realize there are lots of people, particularly young professionals, who will gladly shell out $30,000 and change for a car that looks very much like a $75,000 Mercedes CLS.

David Zenlea, Associate Editor

Yes I’m Versatile: Some guys can clearly only do it well one direction; I go both ways in expert fashion. I love this new little parking video from Porsche this week.

We’re Tired Of Her Too: Lindsay Lohan got busted by TMZ posting photos of her shopping and smoking cigarettes on the day she supposedly got a doctors excuse of a respiratory infection; the excuse was to get her out of being in court in LA. The story broke and she hightailed it on next flight to L.A. Once there, she was chauffeured around the L.A. area hotels in a stunning Porsche Panamera. Yes I said hotels — even the dashing car was unable to get her accepted at any of the posh pads. Apparently she’d trashed a room at the first hotel years before. The second was “booked full.” No word on where she ended up, as the paparazzi lost track of the Porsche, or they lost interest in Lindsay. Let’s hope for the latter.

Kelly Murphy, Creative Director

Are You Siri-ous?: It looks like Apple’s grasp on the tech market has also spread to the auto industry. Honda recently announced that Siri, Apple’s voice-activated personal assistant, would be offered in the 2013 Honda Accord, Acura RDX, and Acura ILX. General Motors also confirmed Siri’s availability in its vehicles this year, with plans to offer it in the Sonic, Spark, and Spark EV. I’m interested to hear if Apple is in talks with plane, train, or bus companies (now that they have automobiles covered) as to how to spread the company’s reaches even further.

John Kalmar, Graphic Designer

Say It Again, Sergio: It seems that almost every year for the past decade, we have been hearing about the “imminent return” of Alfa Romeo to U.S. shores and how it’s only (always) just two years away. Chrysler released its annual earnings statement this week, complete with a detailed new-product road map for the next three years. Included on that plan are 14 new models from Fiat and Alfa Romeo slated to debut by the end of 2016, six of which will come from the storied Milanese brand. Well, guess what? While we should see the 4C sports car this year, Alfa’s real return to the States will come – you guessed it – in two years.

Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor

Oh, For The Love Of Cars: In light of the continued automation and electrification of automobiles, I am ever so slightly comforted by the following eerily familiar quote, which comes directly from the conclusion of Ken Purdy’s seminal 1949 book, The Kings of the Road:

“The present trend is all toward giving the automobile more and more to do and the driver less and less. The fun is going out of driving. If cars were becoming more and more economical, safer, as they become more and more automatic, then perhaps the stubborn soul who likes to manage his own affairs instead of having them managed for him would be a bit happier. But, as we have seen, that is not the case. [Carmakers] have taken the fun away, given us nothing, and charged us more for it.”

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

The New Black (Series): Chances are, when you hear the words “Black Series,” Mercedes-Benz and its über-performance AMG Black Series cars are what come to mind. But now another company has launched a line of Black Series products, and it’s probably not the kind of upscale manufacturer you might think. Two days ago, Hasbro – yes, the toy company – launched a new Black Series line. The first action figures to get the Black Series treatment are from the original Star Wars movie – Luke Skywalker, R2D2, Darth Maul, and an Imperial Sandtrooper. Four more will be introduced later in 2013. As happens so often when new car models are introduced, Hasbro’s Black Series models are bigger than their predecessors (now 6 inches tall as opposed to 3.75 inches). Unlike Mercedes’ Black Series cars, however, the Hasbro models are eminently affordable, at $19.99. No word yet on whether they come with a turbocharged spaceship or what kind of aerodynamic properties they may have.

Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor

Ciao, Alfa?: Chrysler Group and Fiat Auto CEO Sergio Marchionne this week announced that Chrysler earned a net profit of $1.7 billion last year, eight times the company’s 2011 profit. Fiat would have lost $1.4 billion in ‘12 without Chrysler’s profits. After the financial results, Marchionne announced 14 new Fiat and Alfa Romeo models bound for North America, including the Alfa 4C next year, followed by the Giulia sedan in 2015 and the Mazda-based roadster in ’16. That calendar ’15 Giulia is a car I’ve been covering for about a year. It’s a rear-drive BMW 3 Series-sized car to be based on the new, smaller rear-wheel drive platform Chrysler is designing for the SRT Barracuda. Marchionne confirmed this car to me in all but name late last year. Of course, we’ve been waiting for Alfa Romeo to return to the U.S. market since the early ‘00s, and Marchionne says he’s not going to bring the brand back without the right product. Good news is that getting three good rear-drive Alfas in the next three years is far better than having a decade worth of badge-engineered FWD Fiat-based Alfas lingering on American used car dealer lots.

Todd Lassa, Executive Editor

They Don’t Call It Winning, They Call It Racing: Another Rolex 24 at Daytona is behind us, and no manufacturer could be happier at that than Mazda. They entered last weekend’s famous endurance race in the new GX class with three four-door 2014 Mazda 6s (a first at Daytona) fitted with race-prepared versions of the 2.2-liter, twin-turbo diesel engines (another Daytona first) coming in the production car later this year. All three unceremoniously exited the race by the six-hour mark, done in by a 25-cent part that caused the fuel lines to fail.

The engines had fifty flawless dyno hours each, but very little track time—one of the three cars had been finished only the week before the race. “Our number one goal was to get three cars qualified,” said Mazda motorsports director John Doonan. “Our second goal was to start three cars.” And that, as they say, was that.

Unfortunately, rabid Mazda fans had much loftier ambitions for the company that has zoom-zoomed its way to twenty-three Daytona class wins over the years. There was lots of Twitter chatter whining about bringing back the rotary. It bears mentioning that the rotary didn’t exactly set the world on fire at its first race outing. And Mazda raced the 24 hours of LeMans 20 times before an overall win twenty-two years ago.

Until the Mazda 6 SKYACTIV-D Clean Diesel team makes its return at the next race in Austin, Texas, fans can take solace in the fact that announcers covering Daytona for SPEED noted just how gorgeous the cars looked. That, and that Mazda has confirmed a long term commitment to diesel engines in the U.S. market.

Jean Jennings, President and Editor-in-Chief

What Surprise?: Enough of the sneak peeks from carmakers of their upcoming Super Bowl TV commercials. Even though Audi had some 3.5 million views of its Prom-themed S6 commercial a week after releasing it publicly, I say that automakers ought to maintain an element of surprise. Wait, not an element of surprise; total surprise! Don’t breathe a word of your TV ads until they are live-broadcast during the game!

Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor

Lincoln Log: I’ll say from the out that I actually like Lincoln’s recent attempts at rebranding itself. The name change to “Lincoln Motor Company” was a little hokey, yes, but the accompanying print/multimedia campaign was slick, cool, and inviting. Yesterday’s teaser for the 30-second “Phoenix” Super Bowl spot was even better—it was a 17-second video of someone taking a flamethrower to a ‘90s Town Car, the kind of surreal and hilarious idea you’d expect from someone like comedian Patton Oswalt. I was hooked…right up until Lincoln released its long-awaited “Steer the Script” ad last night. The ad had an interesting premise (Lincoln and Jimmy Fallon would craft an ad out of thousands of tweets about crazy road trip experiences), but the execution is bad. Very bad. I’m hoping that “Phoenix” turns out to be a cool advertisement, because otherwise Lincoln (and its uncertain future, and its floundering sales sheet, and its ever-changing executive structure) is about to look like it’s ready for retirement.

Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor

Wishing for Warmth: Michigan had a sudden temperature spike this week, which has me yearning for spring. Temperatures were as high as 61 degrees on Tuesday, and then they dropped to the teens by Thursday morning.  I don’t mind the cold when it sticks around, but going from sub-freezing to roadster weather overnight wreaks havoc on the roads and ensures no matter what type of tires you’re running, they no longer match the weather conditions. I’d really like to get back to warm temperatures so the local tracks open back up and we can do a few more interesting comparison tests on them.

 Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor

My job’s really (not) hard: I spent a whole day creating a driving loop that takes less than two hours to complete. In total, it’s 73.6 miles long. How many miles did I drive? About 250. As drained as I was when I got back to the office, just as the workday ended, I can’t imagine a better way to spend a day. Well, maybe if I’d been in a Porsche Boxster S instead of our Four Season Volkswagen Passat TDI.

Chris Nelson, Road Test Editor

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