Tag Archives: Auto Industry

In Praise of the Lowly Minivan

9 Jul

I never thought I’d buy one. I mocked them constantly as lumbering, unnecessarily large, silly vehicles that become little more than repositories of vomit and floor Cheerios.

I hated minivans, insulted them and their owners, and pledged never, ever to get one.

The appeal of a third row was well known to me. I had owned a Honda Pilot some 7 years ago and appreciated its size and convenience. I didn’t appreciate its fuel “economy”. When we had people visit from out of town, we’d oftentimes rent a minivan to avoid driving in tandem, and six or seven of us could all fit in one vehicle.

But still I resisted, buying instead a VW Passat Wagon (which had electrical gremlins), a Saab sedan (which had been vomited in, and thereafter reeked of it), an underpowered gas-guzzling 5-cylinder Volvo, and a couple of GTIs (which were fun but occasionally impractical).

But last year, while out-of-town family was visiting for an extended period of time, we decided that driving everywhere in two cars simply didn’t make sense. It was time to bite the bullet and look at vehicles with three rows.

I was initially attracted to the Ford Flex, which has a third row and has the added benefit of not looking like a minivan, but instead like an overgrown Mini Cooper. Unfortunately, when I drove it, I had a lousy dealer experience which turned me off to the car completely.

And, as I predicted when I wrote this post on June 2, 2009, three weeks later I purchased a 2009 Honda Odyssey from Lia Honda on Transit Road. I bit the bullet and got a minivan. And not a pseudo-minivan, but a genuine soccer-mom-mobile. I had to get rid of a GTI, to boot. That was hard. (Aside from the Flex, we also looked at the VW Routan, which is a re-tuned, re-badged Chrysler Town & Country). At that pre-swagger-wagon time, the Toyota Sienna was long in the tooth and out of the question.

So, for the past year or so we’ve been rolling in a suburban icon. The thing about it, though, is that I love that car. Seriously, it could very well be the best vehicle I’ve ever owned.

It’s not particularly fast, and it doesn’t have go-kart handling. It doesn’t look hot at the curb. But the thing is peppy enough, has a smooth 6-cylinder engine that cuts 3 cylinders off when cruising to conserve fuel, and fits everything we can throw at it. It’s been to Toronto, Detroit, New York City, Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Nashville, Knoxville, Destin, FL and Mobile, AL. It is a comfortable, practical, economical joy to drive. The kids have their own space, and arguments are kept to a minimum. We have the EX-L model – on hot days, the tinted windows can be supplemented with roll-up shades. The third row folds flat to expand cargo space to almost Dodge Sprinter proportions. The second row can be configured for anything from zero to three people, maxing out passenger capacity at 8 in relative comfort, with a deep trunk space for luggage. There’s even a huge bin in the second row between the seats for the kids to store books, toys, etc.

Usually, I get bored with cars after about a year. I’m a sucker for new models and new technologies. I adore the new Golf and Jetta Wagons with their 50+ MPG diesel engines. The new Mini Clubman turns my head every time I see it. I’m unbelievably excited to see a Fiat Cinquecento in a Chrysler showroom within the next few months. But none of those could replace that minivan. That thing has proven itself to be a competent, capable, Honda-reliable transporter of children and things, all over the country. When Honda releases the next-generation Odyssey, I will regard it longingly.

While I may now be open to minivan mockery, and perhaps a vanity plate reading “sprawl” might be apropos, but I don’t care what you think. That Honda Odyssey enables my family to get from point A to point B in comfort, and it enables us to explore the country. I love that car.

The WNY Lineup

4 Jun

The Tim Hortons line in Clarence 6/4/10

Toll Boothery

2 Jun

I never get to see stuff like this. Instead, I usually get stuck behind a tourist in a rental who is confounded by, and thus stops interminably in the EZ-Pass only lane.

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Lexus GX460

14 Apr

I agree with Consumer Reports that you shouldn’t buy the Lexus GX460 SUV, which is a swankier version of Toyota’s 4Runner. But I think you shouldn’t buy it because it’s a stupid poseur truck. It serves no purpose whatsoever except to show off to the neighbors.

It may have failed a Consumer Reports emergency avoidance test, but it long ago failed the WNYMedia douchebag avoidance test.

For the money – $52,000 – you can get a beautiful luxury sedan that won’t tip over during emergency maneuvers due to its lower center of gravity, and most come with AWD nowadays. Try the BMW 5-series, a loaded 3-series, an Audi A6, Infiniti M35, or even the Lexus GS350. If you’re buying domestic, try the Cadillac STS or DTS, or a loaded CTS. I’m also quite impressed by the brand-new Buick 2010 Lacrosse, which I think has the nicest exterior and interior of any American car right now, and comes damn close to competing with the Germans and Japanese.

You’re welcome.

Geneva Auto Salon 2010

2 Mar

I didn’t attend the Detroit, Chicago, Buffalo, or Toronto auto shows this season mostly because it’s a rebuilding year for all of the automakers, and there wasn’t very much out there that was particularly interesting to me. Ford and GM are transitioning into completely new vehicles in the wake of the carpocalypse, and Chrysler is literally months away from a completely new, Fiat-influenced lineup of vehicles.

But the Geneva Auto Show is going on now, and Autoblog appears to have taken an earlier flight out than Jalopnik. (Autoblog is Tweeting here. Jalopnik is Tweeting here).

So far, we have an Audi A1 electric concept that out-Volts the Chevy Volt, getting 124 effective MPG. We also have a lot of dead sexy supercars, including this one from Koeniggsegg (0-60 in 3.1s), the Porsche 918 hybrid concept (0-60 in 3.2s), a Lotus Evora hybrid concept, and even the Citroen Revolte, which is also similar to the Chevy Volt.

The Porsche 918 is a plug-in hybrid that gets a hot 78 MPG.

For regular people, check out the new Mazda5, and the weird Nissan Juke.

Check it.

Traffic Control in North Korea

2 Mar

The question here is, how did someone get a modified Mini Cooper S into North Korea?

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RIP Hummer

26 Feb

I think this Family Guy clip accurately captures my opinion of Hummer and Hummeristas. (language NSFW)

The Lowly Cab

9 Feb

In New York City, cabs are an integral part of the public transportation system. While privately owned and operated, cab medallions are tightly regulated and worth their weight in diamonds.

The problem is that since the demise of Marathon Checker, there has been no uniform New York taxicab on the road. The 1991-era Chevy Caprice was as popular as it was ugly, but since then it’s been a hodgepodge of various sedans, Ford Escapes, Toyota Siennas, and others that take a beating and rack up the miles.

In London, which also depends on cabs, there is a brilliant uniformity. The cabs are diesels, so they run forever and are fuel-efficient, they are roomy, and they are built to be cabs and nothing but cabs.

Ford has unveiled a Transit Connect done up like a New York City cab, and it looks pretty sweet. It’s roomy, custom-built for passenger comfort, and fuel-efficient. The little Turkish-built European-style cargo van is built to be abused, and this one is built to run on compressed natural gas, which is efficient and burns cleaner. They are going to sell this thing.

I like it. Good job, Ford.

Along the Kabul Gorge

8 Feb

While the Times doesn’t have the Paterson kitten-drowning story yet, it does have this cool piece about a mountain pass in Afghanistan. Happy Motoring!

Detroit NAIAS

12 Jan

The Detroit Auto Show (aka North American International Auto Show, aka NAIAS) is open for press previews and reveals now, and like every year I forgot to put in for media credentials so I can attend the show without the crowds, and watch cars get unveiled, etc.

Instead, if I go, it’ll be on a day off to avoid weekend crowds, and I’ll see stuff that’s been sitting out for 2 weeks.

What is there to see?

How about Ferraris alongside Dodges and Chryslers, thanks to the Fiat-Chrysler alliance. Jalopnik mocks the “tunnel of fail” you need to walk through before you get to the Ferrari 599XX.

The Honda CRX – that 80s era hot hatch that ran better than a GTI – now resembles a Honda Insight and suddenly isn’t so cool anymore. Also, it’s called a CR-Z. And it’s a hybrid. That means it gets 122 sad little HP and only 33 MPG.

The Toyota FT-CH is like a baby Prius that hasn’t yet opened its eyes.

Chrysler, now owned by Fiat (which also owns Lancia and Ferrari), rebadged a Lancia Delta and it looks sorta cool.

Volkswagen starts building cars in Chattanooga soon, and here’s a look at what they’ll produce. A larger Jetta that’s slated to compete better with the Honda Accord. This coupe gives you a hint at what that will look like:

Finally, we in the US will get the new Ford Focus, as will Europe. The 2012 Focus will look and drive much better than the 1999-era fleet / budget car we have now, which Ford has re-cladded a few times.

More later.