Cocktail Chatter: March 22, 2013

It's [Midsize] Madness 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. In celebration of the first day of spring, we’re drinking a festive cocktail called the Deep South. Take a quarter-ounce each of lemon juice, lime juice, dark rum, and Southern Comfort and shake well over ice. Strain into a champagne flute and top with champagne.


Plug It In, Plug It In: City officials are very proud of the fact that Ann Arbor’s newest, expensive, underground parking lot includes free charging stations for electric cars. So when I went to dinner downtown last weekend, I parked there to juice up my Ford C-Max Energi test car for free. I foolishly expected the charging spots would be empty, but to my surprise, one sport was occupied by a Chevrolet Volt and another by a Ford C-MAX Energi. When I returned a few hours later, another C-Max Energi had joined. I suppose getting a few miles worth of “free” electricity makes the $1.20/hour parking fee a little more palatable for plug-in hybrid drivers.

The concept of free charging outside businesses (even Cracker Barrel now has free EV chargers) is very interesting. Although it’s a good idea that will encourage adoption of electrics and plug-in hybrids, can you imagine any business giving drivers of normal cars a free fill-up of 87 octane while they’re parked? Or for that matter, a public parking lot that gifted owners some free fuel?

Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor

Ritual Gluttony: Next week marks both the New York International Auto Show and the Jewish thanksgiving holiday of Passover. During the Passover Seder, we retell the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt and give thanks for freeing the Israelites from slavery, and – in true Jewish tradition – eat large amounts of delicious foods. However, during Passover, I also give thanks for more than just my ancestors being freed and the bountiful food before me, but also for the plentiful new metal of the New York show. Next week, I get to be a glutton twice over – once for eating food, and once for looking at shiny new cars.

Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor

Madness, I Tell You: The mid-size sedan segment might not be known for sporting prowess or high horsepower figures, but it’s easily one of the most important segments on the market in terms of sales. The mid-size segment is the intersection of economy, comfort, reliability, design, power, and curb appeal—the cars in it are designed to score well in all categories, but not well enough that it’s to the detriment of the others. You might not see the point of a mid-size sedan, but millions of Americans do every year.

As far as our Midsize Madness results are concerned, I’ll agree with our eight reviewers that the best mid-size sedan (as a holistic package) is the Honda Accord, but only one car in the segment excites me every time I drive it—the Mazda 6. I’d unequivocally recommend the Accord, but I’d spend my own cash on the sultry, sporty competitor from Hiroshima.

Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor

Like Dinner at Ben’s Chili Bowl: It’s either a case of bad gas, or any kind of gas. President Obama’s truck-based Cadillac limo was disabled during his first trip to Israel when someone put gasoline in the diesel tank (diesel, as you know, is not a gas). Or, the GM Topkick-based Cadillac has a gasoline engine and someone refilled it with diesel. The facts aren’t yet clear. All we know for sure is that the Cadillac broke down before Air Force One arrived in Tel Aviv, so alternative transportation, no doubt an equally heavily armored limo, was rushed in from Jordan. Believe me, I’ve been there before. A long time ago, driving a borrowed BMW diesel wagon in Central Europe, I double-checked with the refueling station counter person to make sure I wasn’t pumping gasoline into the car. Making sure I had the right pump made me nervous. On the Paris-to-Beijing Mercedes-Benz drive touting the company’s diesel E-Class in late ’06, the automaker brought along its own diesel tankers to refuel the Mercs rather than get bad diesel in Kazakhstan. While photos of the President’s truck-car make me yearn for the days of elegant Lincolns and Cadillacs from Eisenhower to Clinton, I understand the need for this big, ugly, armored limo. I hope someone in the Secret Service sorts out the type of fuel it takes.

Todd Lassa, Executive Editor

Choices, Choices: Every spring, I feel the project car itch – and although it’s still snowy and bloody cold here in Michigan, it’s technically spring, meaning I again feel that itch for something old, odd, or both. I passed an original AMC Pacer Wagon for sale the other night that called out my name, but drove by a beautiful ’66 Ford Mustang coupe in a darling shade of teal that left me breathless. Speaking of teal, a beautifully restored Jeep CJ-5 in that same hue is for sale outside of Atlanta – and speaking of vintage off-roaders, my friend just emailed me a link to an auction for a ’63 International Scout that’s arguably the nicest example on the planet. So many choices, so little time and money. Maybe I should just ascribe to the Universal Code of Automotive Journalism and sit down, shut up, and buy an E30 or a first-gen MX-5…

Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor

Slaughterhouse Saab: Are you in the Brooklyn area, a fan of Kurt Vonnegut, and in the market for a 1991 Saab 900? Well, I’ve got just the Craigslist ad for you. No matter what you’re buying, Craigslist can usually be hit or miss. But there’s always a chance that you’ll run into a description that not only leaves you chuckling, but seriously makes you consider purchasing said item afterwards. Some of the extra perks that accompany the car include a printed copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, “Have I Got a Car for You!”, three CD copies of “early ’90s albums for creating period-appropriate road-trip atmosphere,” as well as a “handsome Bentley repair manual for your reference.” Never before have I wanted to buy a ’91 Saab more so than I do now.

John Kalmar, Graphic Designer

TDI FTW: Hopefully you’ve been following our weeklong Midsize Madness comparison test. If you haven’t, catch up here. While I agree with the Honda Accord winning from the group of cars we gathered, it’s not my favorite midsize sedan. Our Four Seasons Passat TDI would get my dollars if I were shopping for a midsizer today. I love the fuel economy, ride quality, and incredible amount of space the car combines. Once the Mazda6 diesel shows up I may have to revisit that opinion, but for now I really like the Passat.

Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor

Think XJ: I drove the Jaguar XJ V-6 AWD a couple of days this week and, when I wasn’t doing my usual drooling over the fabulous interior (this one was medium blue leather, with contrasting white stitching on the seats), I was thinking about how important it is for Jaguar to have available all-wheel drive on its big XJ and midsize XF sedans. In the midwest and northeast, aka the Snow Belt, buyers want all-wheel drive. Period. Jaguar could not be a player alongside Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi without it. Now it can. So, I say, if you’ve already done the 7-Series thing or the S-Class thing, think different. Think XJ.

Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor

Smells Like Money: Information has begun to leak out about the all-new, next-generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class, due out later this year. As expected, the car will offer a long list of new technologies—some just a little bit silly. In that category lies the automatic perfume atomizer (seen previously on the smash-hit Maybach Zeppelin). Now you know what your current, so-called luxury car has been lacking.

Joe Lorio, Senior Editor

Manual Madness: Our Midsize Madness tournament was quite enjoyable to take part in, but I’ve been in involved in a number of comparison tests that have involved much more exciting metal, from the Aston Martin DB9 to the Ford GT to the Bentley Continental GTC. The thing is, the cars in our tournament of midsizers could actually fit both my budget and my needs. Fortunately, a few of them could also satisfy my desire for driving excitement, namely the Ford Fusion, the Honda Accord, and the Mazda 6. They all also happen to offer manual transmissions, which we didn’t test for Midsize Madness but would be a requirement of mine in a car like this. Ask me again after I drive a stick-shift Mazda 6, but right now I’ll put the Accord at the top of my personal list, primarily because its manual transmission is so lovely and the Ford’s is lackluster. The Accord’s airy-feeling interior would also suit my family of four extremely well, but a similarly wonderful manual gearbox could easily convince me to tighten the interior packaging so I could live with the Mazda’s sultry skin.

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

Driving Hiatus: I took a vacation from driving last week. Actually, I should say that I took a vacation last week and didn’t get behind the wheel of a car for eight days. That’s not to say I never rode in a car, because this is America, and in most places you kind of need a car to get around. (And in Florida, where I vacationed, you definitely need a car to get around.) But I didn’t do any of the driving myself. I spent a week in the front passenger seat of a Kia Rio hatchback rental car. (Quick review: the seat sits too low and has no height adjustment, so you feel like you’re sitting in a hole. Plus, the lower seat back actually curves away from your body, so you there’s a big space where the lumbar support should be.) I also spent some time in the back seat of a Lincoln MKZ, which is more comfortable than the Rio but also isn’t as spacious as one might like when sitting behind a driver who stands 6’3”. I’m now back in Michigan, and while I enjoyed the warm Florida weather and being away from work for a week, I think I’ll be the one to sign the rental agreement next time and let my husband be the passenger.

Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor

Such a Tease: I went to our website yesterday and saw a photo of an Audi A4 with a bed sheet draped over it. “That’s stupid,” I thought. Upon closer examination, I realized the photo was of the upcoming A3 sedan, not the A4. “That’s stupid,” I thought. Then I watched the video that accompanied the photo, in which a man with bad teeth tells you that the quilted leather rear seats in the Audi A3 are “hot” (but neglects to mention if they’re actually heated). “That’s stupid,” I thought. Then a message says an online sneak preview will take place next week on Wednesday, March 27. “If you’re not going to tell me anything, Audi, then wait until next week,” I thought. “Show me something, or go home.”

I love a tease as much as the next person, but there are definitely good and bad teases. The automotive world is full of bad teases. And I don’t mean to pick on Audi. Every automaker is guilty of putting out terrible teasers. Either keep it under wraps, or make it worthwhile. A crappy overhead view of the 2014 tC, Scion, won’t do it.

How about the pitch-black streaks of a 50-yard burnout done in a neo-muscle car? Or the touchscreen of tech-filled luxury sedan? Or the inside of a minivan that’s been packed to the gills? Even something as simple as a straight-on wheel shot would be better than the dross we’re getting.

Chris Nelson, Road Test Editor

Planning Beyond Planned Obsolescence: I recently had opportunity to meet Mazda CX-5 program manager Hideaki Tanaka. He let slip that he had been a young product planner for the original MX-5 Miata. I excitedly pulled out my phone and showed him pictures of the red ’93 Miata I purchased last summer with only 128,000 miles on the odometer. Wearing a bemused smile, Tanaka-san told me, “People always make sure to show me pictures of their first-generation Miatas. We want those people to buy third-generation Miatas.”

This is, in fact, a real challenge for Mazda. The new Miata—a great car and a great value—competes not only against the likes of the Subaru BRZ and MINI Cooper Roadster, but also against the thousands upon thousands of cheap old Miatas that don’t have enough sense to break down and force people into Mazda dealerships.  It will be interesting to see whether the upcoming fourth-generation Miata can step out of its predecessor’s shadow. For now, I’m installing new shocks and springs and gunning for 150,000 miles.

David Zenlea, Associate Editor