Cocktail Chatter: April 26, 2013
Electrics, sports cars, and distracted driving.
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. With summer weather drawing ever closer, we're sipping on mango-peach sangria this week, from Food & Wine. Combine a quarter cup of fresh mint, one cup of Grand Marnier, two peaches cut into thin wedges, one bottle of Viognier (but we won't fault you for using another white wine), one third cup of water, one chopped mango, and a third cup of sugar. Mix together with ice and serve in a glass with plenty of ice cubes.
Short Circuit: Earlier this month, Slate published a story titled, "Electric cars: They're expensive, inconvenient, and not even good for the environment. " It lays out several reasons why electric cars are a losing proposition and make no sense, but the author's arguments are incredibly weak. He complains that mining precious metals for lithium-ion battery packs, for instance, is bad for the environment -- but neglects to mention that oil drilling, oil spills, and "fracking" are also hazardous to our planet's wellbeing. He laments the high cost of the few EVs on sale today and their short driving ranges, forgetting that all new technologies are expensive and limited until their engineering costs have been amortized. Think about your first cell phone: it was incredibly expensive, only made static-filled calls in certain areas, and its battery didn't last particularly long. Does that mean cell phones were a silly idea that should have been ignored? Absolutely not. I concede that electric cars are imperfect and are not the panacea some industry types promised, but I think Slate needs to have a more open-minded view on the potential for EV development.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
Best Work Outing Ever: While some offices hold canned food drives or basketball bracket pools during March Madness, Hyundai's R&D Center in South Korea takes a different approach to friendly interoffice competition. Its annual Idea Festival challenges engineers to imagine and develop innovative "free mobility" designs. One of those was a multi-rotor flying electric concept "car," if you can even classify that as a car. For the Hyundai engineers participating in next years' Idea Festival, I know a guaranteed way to win it all: make the hover board from "Back to the Future Part II" a reality.
John Kalmar, Graphic Designer
Perfect Wingman: If a BMW M6 doesn't sound like the idea vehicle for hauling eight guys on a weekend vacation, you'd be correct. That said, the M6 was able to haul luggage for eight guys. Last weekend, my brother's bachelor party was held on Put-in-Bay, a small island in Lake Erie located just east of the Cedar Point amusement park. The seven others in our group opted to just walk onto the ferry, but I brought the M6 along for the trip - and as such, ended up using it as the world's sexiest luggage cart for the journey. Every inch - and I do mean every inch -- of the M6's trunk and rear seating was used to pack duffel bags and coolers.
It seems a bit silly to bring a 560-hp sports coupe to an island that's 4 x 1.5 miles large, has speed limits that never exceed 35 mph, and boasts vehicular traffic that frequently includes super-stretched golf carts ferrying bachelorette parties to the nearest watering hole. Indeed, there wasn't much chance to enjoy the car there, but the journeys to and fro the island were completely different stories. The back roads from the freeways to Port Clinton, Ohio, were long, open, and relatively empty, and the M6 was all too comfortable cruising along at a rather brisk pace. Purists groan at the thought of the adaptive dampers, steering effort, and throttle response, but it does allow you to perfectly hone the M6's behavior for your mood - which was a blessing on Sunday, because my tired, disheveled self wouldn't have much enjoyed a spine-rattling ride all the way home to Michigan.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
The Tough Economics of EVs: I drove the new Fiat 500e the other week, and not only is it surprisingly good to drive, but the final, out-of-pocket price is no more than that of a regular 500.
Does this mean that the price of EVs has finally come down? Actually, no. Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne recently said that his company will lose $10,000 on every electric 500 sold. And don't forget that the car also enjoys $10,000 in direct state and federal subsidies (in the form of tax credits). Neither of those scenarios is sustainable, long-term. EVs may be getting more practical to drive, and might be starting to win consumer acceptance, but they won't reach critical mass until they become much cheaper to produce.
Joe Lorio, Senior Editor
Formidable Forte: Two weeks ago I sampled the 2014 Kia Cadenza. Overall it's a very nice, big front-wheel drive sedan. This week I drove the 2014 Kia Forte for the first time and I'm absolutely blown away. I expected good interior and exterior looks and extremely intuitive infotainment features, which it has in spades. I did not expect the Forte to ride so well. Suspension tuning has been Kia's biggest problem in recent years. The Forte now rides as well as a Honda Civic. I don't have a single significant complaint about this car. I suspect Nissan dealers are very afraid of the Forte.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
Heart's Desire: Earlier this week, Jaguar released a new short film it co-produced with Ridley Scott Associates. The fourteen-minute flick, entitled "Desire," stars Golden Globe and Emmy award winner Damian Lewis, the perfectly cast Jordi Mollà, and the sultry Shannyn Sossamon. However, while tracking down related flicks - like the Lana Del Rey music video for "Burning Desire," the film's title song - I stumbled across a slew of videos on Jaguar's YouTube page that set my heart aflutter. The three, in particular, that caught my eye (and ear) were the videos showing off the F-Type's powertrains and exhaust options, the XRK-S GT, and the XJR. All three videos are replete with the fabulous aural excitements of Jaguar's supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 and the ocular delights of the Ian Callum's sensuous designs. Me-ow.
We Wouldn't Expect any Less from Them: Renault has long been known as a kooky carmaker. While it may have pioneered the fairly staid segment of family people movers with the original Espace, it also created the weird Avantime, the overly creased Vel Satis, and the car-cum-golf-cart Twizy all-electric. The French automaker also took the second-generation Espace and created an "Espace F1," complete with a carbon-fiber chassis, carbon-fiber body panels, and a mid-mounted V-10. Now, Renault is at it again: last week it teased a new development from its F1 team - this week, we found out it was the Twizy Sport F1. Like the Espace before it, the Twizy gets an extroverted yellow-and-black paintjob and a more extreme powerplant. In the case of the little Twizy, it's a Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) that boosts total output from 17 hp to 97 hp and top speed from 53 mph to 68 mph. I've heard that the stock Twizy is actually quite entertaining to drive in urban settings, so I could only imagine what a blast one would be with almost six times the power would be. Pity Renault says that the Twizy Sport F1 is a one-off, just like the Espace F1.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
Rain Rover: I took our long-term Range Rover Evoque to the suburbs of Chicago after torrential rain forced the Des Plaines River to crest. Flooded streets, yards, and homes all around, but also plenty of pop-up ponds for the Evoque to play in.
Chris Nelson, Road Test Editor
Distracted Driving: This week, the Department of Transportation issued guidelines aimed at reducing driver distraction. The DOT hopes that these guidelines encourage automakers to develop in-car electronics that are "less likely to distract the driver with tasks not directly relevant to safely operating the vehicle." It's a noble goal, but it seems to me that that horse left the barn several years ago, long before in-car electronics even existed. In fact, distracted driving is nothing new - kids have been screaming in the back seats for years, bothering their harried parents and causing them to take their eyes off the road. Eating while driving is easily as distracting as using a navigation system. Automakers will likely follow many of the DOT's recommendations, but it might not be because of those guidelines. It will be because people want electronic interfaces that are easy to use and, hence, less distracting. If only they could do something about those damn kids.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Fisker Crisis: Though the Energy department cut off Fisker's federal aid when the extended-range hybrid automaker failed to move into GM's old Delaware Kappa assembly plant, it's now under considerable fire from Republicans on Capitol Hill for failing to cut off funds completely. Former CEO Henrik Fisker says his company can succeed if it finds the right "financial and strategic resources," Reuters reports. It hasn't built a car since last July. Fisker says such resources would allow it to pay back $200 million in federal loans. I say, cut your losses, DOE -- run, don't walk, away from him.
Spicy Sports Car: At Geneva in March, I didn't get close to the production Alfa Romeo 4C, but early this week, I got to sit in one and start up its mid-mounted 1.7-literturbo four at a studio in Turin, Italy. I don't know what it is about Alfas. I have an inexplicable weakness for them, even though I've only driven one, ever, the 156 on a press trip in Portugal in 1997. The 4C's design is controversial, but I found it la bella machina, calling it sex on wheels in my online feature. While its Milanese design chief, Alessandro Maccolini, laments Alfa's move to Turin from its ancestral home of Milan, I had reason to be happy we were in this town. After our 4C deep dive and photo shoot, Fiat treated us to dinner in the restaurant at the famous test track on top of the automaker's old Lingotto assembly plant.
Todd Lassa, Executive Editor
Fancy yet Frugal: Way back in the year 2009, Automobile spent four seasons with a $22,570 Mazda 3 hatchback. The level of feature content in that compact pretty much blew our minds: leather seats, seventeen-inch wheels, navigation system, sunroof. Fast forward four years to this week, when a $25,515 Kia Forte pulled into our parking lot. It has power folding mirrors; touchscreen navigation system; heated front seats, rear outboard seats, and steering wheel; and LED accents. Granted, Kia is always ahead of the curve on equipment, but the truth is the American compact car is evolving at warp speed. Nearly every automaker—General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford—offers a compact car that could compete in Europe. So, before you trade in your cloth-seat mid-size sedan for another cloth-seat mid-size sedan, you might do yourself a favor a check out the compact car you can buy for the same money.
David Zenlea, Associate Editor
Give Us Time: I can't be the only person looking at cars like the Chevrolet Spark EV and the Fiat 500e and thinking they're really good ideas. I suspect many so-called "millennials" will as well: we're a population that like technology and efficiency, and are mobile without being nomadic (as in, we like moving about but don't necessarily need the ability to drive great distances on little notice). A car that has enough space for a medium-sized trip to the grocery store or laundromat, with a powertrain that's actually faster than the gasoline version, in a package that's easy to park? As soon as these cars become affordable, sign me up.
Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor