Cocktail Chatter: February 8, 2013

The 2014 Mazda 6 and Top Gear were hot topics this week.

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 — always designate a driver. Much of the northern half of the country will be spending the weekend digging out from under snow, so we’re drinking an igloo cocktail this week. Add two shots of gin, one shot of lime-flavored vodka, and the juice from two limes over ice in a shaker; thoroughly shake until there is condensation on the outside of the shakers. Pour into a large Collins glass and top with tonic water. Garnish with two straws so you can Eskimo kiss as you sip!

Compact-Car Limitations: Jeremy Clarkson drives an absurdly tiny car (P45) that he built. If a Roomba, a golf cart, a Segway and a robot costume had an orgy, this must be the outcome. It seems really uncomfortable. What if you had an itch in your shoulder? How would you go about scratching it?

Tom Hang, Graphic Designer

I Just Wanna Fly: They still haven’t crossed the threshold of imagination to reality, but the idea of a flying car sure is a neat “what if” scenario. A French photographer recently created a series of six images, dubbed “Air Drive” that features six photoshopped images of classic cars as flying vehicles in actual backdrops. Now, if movies tell us anything (and by anything, I mean everything) we should all be cruising around in style on Marty McFly’s legendary hoverboard, another wheel-less form of hovering travel, by 2015.

John Kalmar, Graphic Designer

Finding Treasure: I love the hidden gems rolling around countries with developing economies and scattered around the islands of the Caribbean.

Kelly Murphy, Creative Director



317,909 People Can’t Be Wrong: Remember how much we laughed at the 2012 Honda Civic, that shoddy and de-contented compact car that got scathing reviews from every major auto reviewer, including the influential Consumer Reports? Well, the “bad” and “cheap” Civic was America’s best-selling compact car last year. Awkward.

This week I’ve been driving the 2013 Civic, which received an “emergency refresh,” and it’s actually really good. It may not be as quick as a Ford Focus, and its handling is less enthusiastic than a Mazda 3, but there is plenty to like about the new Civic. Ample sightlines, comfy seats, super-clear instruments, good fuel economy, and a modest sticker price make this a great choice for the average driver. No wonder normal people buy the Civic in droves, even if spoiled and pampered auto reviewers think it’s a “bad” car.

Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor

Future Tech For All: There’s been much chatter about mainstream vehicles in the Automobile office this week, and I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend earlier this winter. My fellow-car-nut friend was talking about how his friend was wowed by the technology in the 2013 Nissan Altima, especially the push-button start. As automotive journalists, we’re often testing fully-loaded cars that have all of the latest tech; that means things like passive entry and push-button ignition have essentially become the norm for us. (Five of our eight Four Seasons cars have both passive entry and push-button start, for example.) However, for most people, the concept of leaving the key in your pocket, grabbing the door handle, and pushing a button is the kind of future technology that would only be attainable to the very wealthy and scientifically attuned. That brings me back to the Altima – it starts at just $22,550 (including destination) and comes standard with push-button ignition. The future is here.

Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor

TV Time: I don’t generally sit down and watch the BBC show, Top Gear, but I turned it on for a few minutes recently and happened to catch Jeremy Clarkson driving what he called the world’s smallest car. The “car,” called the P45—apparently designed by Clarkson himself—uses the chassis of an ATV but has the headlights, turn signals, and mirrors necessary to be street legal. What makes the car unusual—and ridiculously funny looking—is that the upper part of the vehicle’s structure (including a helmet that also functions as a windshield) is actually worn by the driver giving him a striking resemblance to a Transformer. As always, Clarkson personality takes center stage and the antics drag on a bit too long but it’s worth a watch, if for no other reason than to hear Clarkson’s reaction when his face meets the windshield after he hits pothole in the P45.

Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor of Digital Platforms

Back To Our Roots: It’s fun to see the television commercials for the Super Bowl. When they are at their best, these are little visual haiku about America and the people who live here. So give some credit to Chrysler for once again creating the best kind of commercial poetry with its spot about the Ram truck and the American farmer. You don’t have to know anything about the late Paul Harvey and his plain-spoken little commentaries on AM radio to get the message. When you hear the words of this famous bit of work and see the fine, fine photographic images, you are reminded that what sets Americans apart is what we do, not what we have. It was just like hearing Harvey come on AM radio at first light way out there on the western plains of Nebraska, when the scratchy words seemed to have been broadcast from a time of crystal sets, Model T pickups and the Dust Bowl. You’ll note that it is the car – not the smartphone – that helps us tell these little stories about who we are and where we’re going.

Mazda On A Roll: Mazda USA’s CEO Jim O’Sullivan looked tanned, rested, and ready for business as he presented the Mazda 6 to us in Austin, Texas. Why not, since the Mazda CX-5 is a raging commercial success all around the world, Toyota has signed up with Mazda to build a small car, and Alfa Romeo has agreed to build a new sports car. More important, the dollar has a lot more value against the yen than it did a year ago, which gives Mazda USA a little commercial breathing space in its profit margins on its vehicles, which all come from Japan for the moment. Plus the 2014 Mazda 6 gives all those Mazda 3 buyers – there were more of them than ever in 2012, though the car is getting a little old – some place to go when they decide to move up-market.

Roadside Attractions: After driving 1410.7 miles in the 2014 Mazda 6 to Ann Arbor, Michigan from Austin, Texas, I’m reminded again that it’s a big, big country. The law lets you drive 70 mph almost everywhere, and no one seems too interested in going faster. There were plenty of observations to make, but I’m still struck by the amazing variety of road kill around Austin – deer, coyote, and the usual ground squirrel. It made me wonder if I still have that Road Kill Cookbook still lurking on the bookshelf someplace.

Michael Jordan, Senior Editor

Life In The Back Seat: We happen to have quite a few mid-size sedans in the office fleet this week, and I have had occasion to ride in the back seats of several of them. I liked the seats in the Volkswagen Passat and the Nissan Altima well enough, but I wasn’t very comfortable in the Honda Accord and the Mazda 6. Actually, as I told several colleagues, I don’t want to ride in the back seat of anything other than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Jaguar XJL, or other such premium, long-wheelbase sedan. The problem with mass-market, mid-size sedans is what one of my colleagues calls the “knees-up” syndrome. Most sedan back seats are too low and too shallow, so your thighs are never properly supported and you’re never comfortable for long. It makes me realize why crossovers are so popular: in even the smaller ones, the rear seats are usually elevated enough that your lower legs can dangle over and your feet can comfortably rest on the floor. Not that I want particularly to ride in the back seat of a crossover, either; I’d always rather be in the driver’s seat, preferably of a Porsche 911.

Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor

Bigger In Texas: Toyota is looking to pump up the luxury level in its 2014 Tundra pickup. The move makes sense, but what’s with the 1794 name? How, exactly, does 1794 resonate with anyone? I know Toyota assembles the Tundra on property that was part of a ranch in Texas that was founded in 1794, but how many people outside of the industry know that? It comes across as a weak attempt at one-upping Ford’s King Ranch trucks that falls short in execution.

Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor

Pickup Truck Playoffs: I thoroughly enjoyed Ford’s reaction on Twitter to Ram’s two-minute long Super Bowl XLVII commercial paying homage to America’s farmers. “We support farmers, too,” was Ford’s response, more or less, though the underlying message is that Ford is more American, more beloved by the common man, and if it hadn’t been so busy rushing the Atlas concept to the Detroit show, Ford would have been the proper automaker to do that commercial. By the end of the week, Toyota revealed the major refresh of its Tundra at the Chicago Auto Show. With it, Toyota has given up on the idea of competing for Ford, Chevy, Ram volume and will carve a niche out of the high end of the market instead. Yes, pickup trucks are still cash cows for the top four automakers in America.

Todd Lassa, Executive Editor

Deep in the Heart of Wagoneer Country: For fans of Jeep’s classic Grand Wagoneer, of which I am one, it was great to hear that a phalanx of Jeep engineers recently traveled to deepest Texas, to pay a visit to the Wagonmaster himself, Leon Miller.

Mr. Miller, who has been buying, restoring, and reselling Grand Wagoneers almost since the day Jeep stopped making them (in 1991), understands the appeal of this vehicle. Evidently, in Fiat’s ever-changing product plan for Chrysler, a Grand Wagoneer is once again in the offing for Jeep, as a three-row entry based on the Grand Cherokee. That’s good news. If Chrysler engineers can capture some of the style, class, and timelessness of the original, that would be even better news.

Joe Lorio, Senior Editor 

A Return To Form: I first saw the 2014 Mazda 6 in person last month at the Detroit auto show. I thought it looked fabulous on the show floor. Now I have not only seen the car on real roads, I’ve also driven it (although unfortunately very briefly). Color me highly impressed. Mazda’s new sedan looks sultrily spectacular from the front-three-quarter perspective. It looks great from the side. It looks very good from the back as well, even if it does closely resemble the last Saab 9-5 and the Hyundai Sonata. The interior design is straightforward, sporty, classy, functional. The car’s steering is lighter than I expected and not as lively as I’d hoped, but it’s still accurate and part of a very fun-to-drive overall package. Will the new Mazda 6 steal massive sales from the leaders of the ultracompetitive mid-size class? Probably not, but taste making enthusiasts should definitely note Mazda’s return to form.

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor 

A(MX/3) Cause For Swooning: I’m surprised by few things at auto shows anymore, but my heart skipped a beat when I rounded a corner at the Chicago Auto Show and saw the rear clip of an American Motors AMX/3.

Once upon a time, AMC was mulling a rival to the DeTomaso Pantera, which was then being sold through Lincoln/Mercury showrooms. Like the Pantera, this was to be an Italian-American affair: designed in Detroit by a team lead by Richard Teague, the car was engineered (and was to be assembled) by the illustrious Giotto Bizzarrini in Italy. Much like many other production AMX cars, power came from AMC’s 390 cubic-inch V-8, although it was placed amidships in the car. Only six prototypes were built before AMC pulled the plug on the project.

History, however, does not do this car’s lines justice. The cascading rear fenders, the ultra-low roofline, and thin, pointed nose all make this car seem a bit surreal. One passer-by remarked the AMX/3 looked “like the Speed Racer car;” squint long enough, and that front clip does look a little like the famed Mach 5. I especially love the rear quarters of the car — the inboard lamp assemblies are cleanly executed, and the matte black decklid — which is rear-hinged, along with the concave rear window and flush-mounted pop-up spoiler — offers a brief glimpse of the 390 through a series of louvers. It’s absolutely scintillating — so much so, that I couldn’t help but sneak beneath the barrier to take a look at it up close.

Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor 

Not Dead Yet: There’s lot of encouraging news coming out of Detroit these days. Ford has been profitable for fourteen consecutive quarters, doubled its quarterly stock dividends, and announced record profit sharing for hourly workers. Chrysler’s operating profit is up almost 50% over last year and has seen year over year sales gains for 30 consecutive months. That all sounds good, but what of the city that these three automakers call home? The city of Detroit has been on a downward spiral for years, and in his new book, Detroit: An American Autopsy, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie Le Duff takes a look at the hometown of the Big Three and the forces that have wreaked havoc on the city they – and he — call home. It’s a sobering look at what can happen to a city that depends so heavily on one industry – and how it affects the people who live there when that industry fails. But we’re not yet ready to pronounce Detroit dead yet. Now that prospects for Ford, GM, and Chrysler are looking up, we can only hope that the city of Detroit will see some of the benefits.

Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor

Quantity Not Quality: I can’t stand automotive enthusiasts who say, “I won’t see the new Fast and Furious movie. It looks so dumb.” Duh. But last week, after the Fast Six trailer debuted during the Super Bowl, I received texts from friends who wouldn’t know the difference between a Bimmer and a Bowler; friends that would writhe in pain if I tried explaining how an engine can be in the middle of a car.

Alas, they’re all stoked on seeing a Dodge Charger Daytona, Nissan GT-R, Ferrari FXX, Dodge Challenger, BMW M5, Alfa Romeo Guilietta, Ford Escort, Jensen Interceptor, and Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen grace the silver screen together. I submit that the petite blonde on top of Vin Diesel piqued more interest, but no matter. Fast Six will probably be the highest grossing film of a series that has brought cars and car culture into the living rooms of those who think the Veloster is a sports car.

This will not be a quality film. Even the trailer trips over itself (notice that Vin Diesel is wearing a jacket when he gets out of his Dayonta and Michelle Rodriguez tags him in the shoulder). As dumb as the plot may be and despite how poorly it’ll be sewn together, the cars will still look good, albeit not as good as the petite blonde (even though the Daytona is a close second), and even my auto-naïve friends will appreciate them.

Chris Nelson, Road Test Editor

Volkswagen USA Is Still Not Going Up!: The subcompact and minicar segments have grown in the United States, but one of the world’s biggest producers of small cars still isn’t interested.

“The minimum size for an American seems to be a compact car,” says Rainer Michel, Volkswagen USA’s product marketing and strategy vice president. “Anything below, it’s all going around price.”

That means no Up! or Polo for our market. No production version of the Bulli (Microbus) concept, either. This view comes in spite the fact that, as Michel notes, his company’s “core competency is subcompacts.” And yet in America, Volkswagen has learned it cannot fill every segment.

“It goes back to priorities… We have to put our chips on a couple of things. And obviously in order to support our growth plan we have to focus on where the volume is,” Michel says.

David Zenlea, Associate Editor

Hoodwinked: I spent the first half of this week on the phone with my parents’ local Hyundai dealer trying to find an explanation why a warranty-covered repair and oil change for their Sonata cost just over $300. Part of the problem: if a Hyundai service technician removes your Sonata’s cabin air filter (as recommended at 15-16k) and it’s sufficiently dirty, he/she will replace the filter…but not before attaching a special machine to spray a fine “sanitizing mist solution” through the HVAC vents. The filter will run you $20, but add in the cost of the mist solution and a half-hour of labor, and that filter just cost you $89.95. On a 20-month-old car. Hyundai, we have a phrase for tricks like that: bush-league.

Ben TimminsAssociate Web Editor

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