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November 19, 2018

And the winner is...

In the past year, we considered a number of small-ish crossovers, but nothing quite worked out. The failure of Volvo XC40 stung the most — I had big hopes for that car. But it wasn't particularly premium for the money; seats were surprisingly uncomfortable; the no-knob HVAC controls on the touchpad drove the last nail into that coffin. The Subaru Crosstrek (XV) came very close, and I think I would've gotten one if the 6th gear was reasonably tall. Eventually, I had no choice, but shop a size up: above 4000 lbs cut-off, and more than 180" long. Once there, the 2019 Acura RDX and BMW X3 quickly came on top, and I went with the latter because Acura's infotainment is just too weird.

My 2010 Wrangler was the best car I ever owned and almost completely reliable for the 9 years (2 days in the shop total; no break-downs aside from a flat battery once). I test-drove the JL and it is basically the same thing, only improved over JK everywhere they changed. However, the headroom is just as lacking as before. In the JK, I modified the seat rails to lower the seat, but this time around I just don't have the energy. And frankly, I wanted to try something different.

The 2019 X3 is oppressively large, but at least it has the headroom.

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March 12, 2017

2016 Lexus ES

Autojournos salivated for years for a downfall of Lexus, and pronounced it "resting on its laurels" with Hyundai (now Genesis) always about to beat it, but never succeeding. Well, here it comes: Lexus ES is now cheaply made and falls apart after only 12,954 miles.

Power/Volume button's cap popped off.

Dash sags and allows to look under the windshield.

Stitching of the steering wheel cuts painfully into my index finger.

Someone could try to argue that 13k miles is a hard duty as a rental. But I only grant it in case of the volume control button that a renter could pop, but not the dash and not the stitching.

Lexus is in trouble.

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February 22, 2016

2010 Jeep Wrangler long term

It has been more than 5 years since the day when I was driving by a dealership and thought: "today is a good day to buy a Jeep". It was the best car that I owned, by far.

The biggest thing I bought with it was the capability. It's drive anywhere in comfort. Not the comfort as isolation from road imperfections or noise: it is a real jeep with all the discomforts that implies. But it's a comfort of driving. With RAV4 I could get wherever I need to get, or nearly. Jeepers in my club were often surprised. But it took a continuous, grueling effort: watching your track at all times on the trail, plan every move ahead to put the wheels just right. It was exhausting. But the Rubicon just rolls over everything. So easy.

Aside from the big advantage of the capability, one minor thing that I learned to appreciate with the jeep is driving a convertible. Never been a fan of that previously: it's noisy and dusty. Really not a thing to do in town. But out in the desert it feels proper. Wrangler is designed with no regard for the ease of access to the back with the top on (it's a big reason why 4-door versions are so popular).

However, I had trouble fitting in. At my height, the roll bar intruded into the area where my head needed to be. If I were to be rear-ended, I would crack my skull upon the cage. So, I reworked the seat brackets to lower the driver seat. It was the biggest mod I did to the jeep, it even required cutting and welding. Other mods were fairly minor: things like a CB antenna and rails.

Initially I was apprehensive about reliability. And I even had a transmission leak. But the leak was fixed under warranty and the jeep was trouble-free since then. It's at 85k miles now.

BTW, it gets about 19 mpg in daily driving.

The only weak spot in the jeep is its lack of sportiness. It squats and sways too much, and rather slowly too. It's just not chuckable, even with traction control off. But that comes with the territory.

Pictured: Jeep at the Imogene pass, Colorado.

UPDATE: A few small good things:

  • Pulling on a door handle of a locked door unlocks it. I'm not a fan of the design where occupands must unlock doors for handles to work. Scion xB was like that (in both generations) and it made me mad.
  • Fog lights can be turned on in conjunction with parking lights only. On RAV4.3, headlights had to be on for fog lights, which pretty much defeated the purpose of the fog lights. Useful fog lights are designed to illuminate the road, but not the fog. If normal headlights are on, their light is reflected by the fog and obscures the road.
  • Although headlights were often panned as dim, their plastic is tough and does not go yellow with age.

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April 11, 2014

Albuquerque Motor Trend Auto Show 2014

I did not try to kill myself checking out every car this time (almost killed myself last year and did not like it). So, the personal highlights follow.

Car of the show is Mitsubishi Mirage. I know that it was maligned by the car press and that supposedly it drives poorly. Sure, it's made by Mitsubishi, which teeters on the exit from the U.S. market. But it only costs $13k! THIRTEEN. I was in the market for "cheap" cars last year (got a Fit). You could not even get a poverty spec Spark for that much. And the Mirage is rather comfortable even for someone 6'5" or 200 cm tall. Even steering and pedals are in the right place. I drove a FIAT 500, and had to drive it with outstretched arms. Sorry, Sergio, but this is way better. I am fighting the urge to visit the dealer and drive one of these.

Of course if we consider quote-unquote "cheap" cars overall, then Honda Fit is still the king. They rolled out the redesigned 2015 model, and it's just as good as the one I bought last year. A little full of electronics, but whatever, it's the life.

The civilian Ford Transit Connect was the close runner-up after Mirage. It's awesome in how purposeful it is. If you need a universal transportation module, nothing better exists on the market. And that headroom! Kickass! Only $25k, too.

Ford brought out the new 2015 Mustang with the IRS, but it was labeled "Prototype Vehicle Locked For Your Protection". Jerks. Jeep people did not bring Renegade either.

The hachiroku is still very nice. Well, there was no change from 2013.

Forrester is nice but overpriced.

Nissan continues to boycott the show, except for Infiniti.

The entry BMW still has a better interior than Mercedes, but the difference is not anywhere as stark as it was in 2013, when Benz was crazily bad. A lot would come down to their infotaiment, but cars were unpowered. Neither brought out one of their new FWD cars. I can understand missing 2AT, see Ford and Jeep above, we are in deep flyover country that did not deserve it. But CLA is a 2014 model! Perhaps I missed it after all?

I had time to sit in S-klasse. Ugh. Gauche as all get out. Even has the analog clock. If that's what the rich have to deal with, I don't want to be rich.

Finally, I pinched my fingers in an Acura door. Window was open and I closed the door while holding the frame. That hurt 3/10. I was too used doing so in the Jeep, but was no Jeep. I suppose it only takes one lesson not to do that for an Acura owner, and it was my own fault, but not an excellent first impression anyway.

Tags: cars

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November 13, 2013

Jeep and mileage

22 mpg in daily driving? Better believe it. Note the Mileage Counter A and the fuel gauge: 280 miles on something like 12 or 13 gallons. I reset the counter when I refuel.

Truth to be told, it's mostly an artefact of traffic not being heavy around there. Cruising at 75, Jeep does about 19. Slowing to 65 stretches a bit about 20 at flat land. Getting into a traffic jam can get really bad quick.

Tags: cars

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September 15, 2013

A Daihatsu Rocky sighting in 2013

Look at this storied antique:

It still looks sharp and attractive despite decades of neglect.

Tags: cars

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August 29, 2013

Cars in Hokkaido in 2013

A mysterious sporty kei car by Honda (may be Beat according to Thomas' article about Cappucino):

The aforementioned Cappuccino near Toyota Comfort:

The Unmatched GT-R:

A common pickup truck:

A less common pickup: Toyota Tundra, which may even be re-imported from Sun Antonio, TX, U.S.A.:

And as the final oddity, a one-lane freeway:

Tags: cars

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August 23, 2013


Finally found the elusive NBOX: in a Hondarent's lot. There as not one of them in the streets. "King of The Kei Cars" indeed. Bertel, I am disappoint.

Tags: cars

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August 13, 2013

Instapundit on Lexmouse

Instapundit tests an Audi, and:

First, the Navigation system uses an annoying rotate-and-click knob to enter information; this is the same interface that was on an Audi A4 that we rented in LA last year, and it’s vastly inferior to, say, Lexus’s point-and-click interface.

Oooooh yes, the sweet smell of affirmation.

Tags: cars

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May 03, 2013

Oh Jack you card

Did you know that Jack Baruth had a blog? I didn't until he commented on Facebook page of Rob Finfrock, a fellow renter of N28GX. But he does, and uses it to get back at butthurt commenters, over a rental car review. It's the kind of car review that everybody does, only Jack's was amplified by it published by TTAC. Here's something I hope comforts him, always: at least they comment.

Tags: cars

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April 21, 2013

Albuquerque Motor Trend Auto Show 2013

Attending this kind of event comes with certain constraints: basically it's an exhausting exercise of fit check after fit check, and a car beauty pageant. So, as a way to know cars, it's quite lopsided. But it's fun. With that in mind, a few highlights...

Mercedes C-class was a disappointment, made bigger by the surprise. It's not quite as bad inside as a rental Camry, but comes close, and nowhere in the class of, say, Lexus IS and ES. Not even in the class of BMW 3xx, which is quite nice. If BMW did something about their ghastly run-flats, I would be really interested. Unfortunately, BMW didn't bring the 1-series to the show.

A number of other interesting cars was missing, too. Nissan missed the show completely. Too bad, I meant to check out the Z. Toyota didn't bring Yaris. What's up with that? I love junk cars, and 3-door Yaris is one of the cutest. Sure, I looked at Prius C, but it's not the same.

Speaking of junk cars, GM Spark is outstanding. Of course, it's not warming the weaboo heart like Yaris, but the fake panels on the inside were amazing. Almost makes me forgive how GM assembly workers forgot to install brake pads on Spark.

Ford Fiesta and Mazda 2 turned out to be somewhat tight inside. Nothing impossible, sort of like Neon was. Of course back then Neon was surprisingly roomy, but this is 2013.

Even stranger, then, is how I simply cannot fit into Scion iQ. Headoom must be around 36 inches. The car does not look low, but I suppose the seat is too tall, and there's nothing to be done about it, absolutely nothing. Very disappointing, because I like the concept. Fitting into Mazda MX-5 is impossible too, but at least there it makes sense. It's a small sporty car and all that

In the end, Honda Fit is still the king. I hear some commenters call it "dated", which just makes no sense. In my world, there's "good" and "bad" and there's no "dated". What the heck is that, anyway? Fit is simply the best.

The cutest car at the show was actually a pickup: a Toyota Tacoma. "Cute as a button" may begin to describe it, but I am just a sucker for this kind of thing. It's a mistakenly conceived truck for the poor people: 2WD, manual, bench seating. I say mistakenly because the poor buy used full-sizers instead. Stole the show for me, really it did. See, I knew the merits of Fit beforehand, but this was a fun discovery.

To be sure, I learned a few other tidbits, too. Honda Civic retained the independent rear suspension in the age of decontenting. Honda Ridgeline has an amazingly long bed (and a clever gate). Silly commenters made me think that its bed was too short, but they knew nothing. It's a couple of feet longer than SportTrac's, possibly even longer than the bed of Crew Cab Tundra.

Oh, and finally - the Toyobaru FT86 twins: Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ. Very nice. Low seating makes getting and out somewhat of a problem for less sporty people, but provides me with the vital headroom. Sadly the "new hachiroku" is a car that really must be driven, so there's no point in blogging it. Maybe when I crash the jeep, I'll get one. Unless I get a used BMW 135i, G37, or a Z. What a good time to be a car enthusiast.

UPDATE: Here's how Autoblog explains Fit:

Some six years later, the plucky little five-door continues to be a packaging wonder. Its flat load floor helps deliver a surprising amount of cargo area with the rear bench folded – up to 57.3 cubic feet. That number is more than twice what the Fiesta delivers, bests the Sonic by 10 cubes and the Versa hatchback by nearly seven. In fact, it's more space than class-above competitors like the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra GT and Mazda3 hatchbacks. And it's not just maximum cargo space where the Fit still wins, but also how those cubes are reconfigurable to accept objects of various shape and size.

Frankly this makes me concerned. Remember the original Scion xB? Remember how Toyota screwed up the redesign?

Tags: cars

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April 03, 2013

Sighting of Tesla Model S

I heard they are as common as Priuses around San Francisco, but it's the first time here. Local plates.

Tags: cars

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March 15, 2013

2012 Ford Focus hatchback

I skipped a few "Rental Car Review" instances mostly for not being relevant, such as Chevy Impala: The Worst Rental Ever that Almost Killed My Family (a wheel bearing was on its last miles). This Ford thing is pretty cute though.

First, the good: gosh this thing is sporty. Driving it helps one understand the appeal of the "hot hatch" in the minds of people. Personally, I was in hotter sedans before, but Focus does have its charms. Secondly, the CVT works great. Cannot say anything about its durability, but it wasn't clunking as much as Fiesta's.

Now, the bad.

The throttle requires exquisite management, and I'm not joking. It's easier to launch Focus with a manual without jerking your passenger around than with the CVT. The throttle is fully programmable and there was plenty of underutilized travel, so why did Ford choose this?

Visibility to the rear is nil. Now, I heard a lot of complaints from my family about various cars on this score over the years. Some even thought JK lacked visibility, but it never was an issue for me. Well, this is the time for me to suffer their suffering. Backing up was a crazy excercise. And there's no camera.

Finally, the thing is just plain too wide for what it is. Ford tends to go whole hog on width in general, which I noticed with the prev-gen Fusion. But man, that one was a car fighting for retirees with Buick. This one is different. Why so wide? Yeah, it helps cornering, but there must be limits.

Tags: cars

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June 27, 2012

Hardtop Hoist

Check this out: a DIY hoist for a jeep hardtop:

Now I can pop the top off for a quick trip to a local off-road area. Before it was too much trouble, so I only did it when my wife was out of town. It was not feasible to reconfigure it back as family SUV quickly.

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January 23, 2012

Hyundai Elantra

This is going to be even more capsule than usual:

* Just as good as Hyundai Fanbois at TTAC say, but

* The visibility to the left is impaired by the A-pillar even worse than usual, atrocious.

Tags: cars

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November 11, 2011

Nissan Sentra

Capsule review:

* Very nice engine; CVT is nowhere as offensive as whatever is used in Fiesta.

* Very little to distinguish from Versa. {Update 2012/01/06: Alex L. Dykes had the same idea.}

Tags: cars

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March 29, 2011

Lexus mouse redux

I got a Lexus HS loaner again, and noticed something that I missed previously. The Lexmouse includes a force feedback. But it does not merely vibrate. Instead, it has resistance programmed into it so that the user can navigate the UI items without the need to point precisely as with computer mouse. This is somewhat similar to edge resistence in Linux window managers, such as Metacity. The precise pointing remains available, too. I didn't know about it when I addressed J's complaints, but this is even more awesome.

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March 17, 2011

Ford Fusion quick take

I had access for Fusion for longer than in case of Lexus HS, and a good thing too, because it took me a long time to figure out how to lower the seat. But once I did, it became rather comfortable (as we know, the headroom is of paramount importance to me). There were a few things to nitpick. The biggest problem is the excess width. The car feels grotesquely obese, even if I suspect it may not be much wider than any other car. The inboard position of seats may have something to do with it. The other problems were insignificant: the key tag kept biting me in the knee, for instance. It seems like a competent car.

Ford did away with a column-mounted shifter, which I thought added character to their products. If I remember right, the previous Fusion I drove in 2007 still had it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the new shifter, but I'm a little sad. On the other hand, I wish they adopted Toyota's stalks. If you don't like "nostalgic" controls and swap them in for "conventional" ones, please go the whole way. I have a Jeep that uses Toyota layout for crying out loud. Continuting the same theme, Fusion uses the retarded red rear blinkers. I can understand Jeep doing that, they even sell red blinkers in Europe (I thought it was prohibited, actually, so imagine my surprise). But Fusion is a normal car.

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July 02, 2010

Oh J.Greely you card

I have an online friend who's a total curmudgeon. Last time he griped about the awesome bar (the thing about it is how after the same initial rejection I loved it). This time it is the Lexus mouse, which we mentioned recently. The main complaint is that to use the mouse, the driver has to take eyes off the road. But it is true to any other interface too! The fallacy J. is pushing is that adding buttons would allow one to count clicks or whatnot. And it's false. Of course, some functions work without looking, for example radio on/off and scan. But the lexmouse does not dispose with them! All it does is replacing the touch-screen or tab-tab-tab-like-crazy UI, the one-touch buttons are still there.

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June 07, 2010

The real SUV prices

I scouted the websites a little bit, configuring an off-road platform that would be livable on the street, and found something curious: they all cost about the same, a shade above $30k (not considering incentives, because I hate them).

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is the only Wrangler with lockers (front and rear). It's kind of amazing that Chrysler would even build Jeeps without them, but there you have it. Since Wrangler does not take a roof rack, and is short, I added a hitch. MSRP: $31,355.

Toyota FJ Cruiser only gets "off road" (OF) package if "convenience" (CQ) package is selected. There go $3600 for the shit like backup camera (I test-drove it and the camera is not needed. Also, it's mounted on the spare wheel.) With roof rack, MSRP: $30,779.

Nissan Xterra Off Road MSRP: $30,700. BTW, a Pathfinder 4x4 is $30,340 - you trade a rear axle and a locker for bling to end with the same price.

Jeep is surprisingly expensive in Rubicon trim, I have to say. It's possible to knock some dough off by speccing a manual tranny and a softtop, but it does not change the bigger picture. And if it's not Rubicon, it is not that much better than RAV4 (it climbs better thanks to the low gear, but that's about it).

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