Tag Archives: Mazda

Review – 2011 Mazdaspeed3: The Happy Hot Hatch

Sequels are always difficult. Take for instance the first generation Mazdaspeed3. That car had quite a following. When it came time to replace it with a second generation model, there had to be some talk around the water cooler as to how fans would react to the update.

I spent a week with the 2011 Mazdaspeed3 to find out if the smile really does make the car happier, and if they did anything about the torque steer? I guess the main question is, did the second generation Mazdaspeed3 lose any of the charm that made the first one so lovable? Read More…

Review – 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback ES: The Shark Of Hatchbacks

When I told my friends that I was reviewing a Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback ES, many responded with, “wait, Mitsubishi is still in business?” See that right there that is a problem. No car company wants to have that question asked by consumers.

The Lancer is Mitsubishi’s foray into the compact car segment. The question is, is it competitive or is there a reason many consumers don’t know Mitsubishi still sells cars in the United States?

The front of the Lancer Sportback ES features Mitsubishi’s current design language, which has a sharp and forward slanting grille. It looks as if the front clip is about to eat you. My girlfriend thinks it looks like a shark and I can see that resemblance. The sides have a strong crease that run from the front fenders to the rear fenders and there is some slight sculpting is down by the rocker panels. The rear has a very steep slope to the glass and this cuts into the cargo room slightly. An integrated rear spoiler extends to the rear roofline and gives the rear glass a little cover during rain and snow storms. The optional 15″ alloy wheels look decent but have large tires that fill out the wheel wheels. Side repeaters for the turn signals are a nice touch in this class. Overall, I like the exterior for its uniqueness. It doesn’t look like any other compact car on the road.

The interior is a little more of a let down. A few years ago this interior would have been standard fare, but now the competition has upped its game. The plastic on the dash is all hard and somewhat cheap looking. The switches and knobs all feel fine, and the HVAC controls have a nice solid click to them on each interval. The cloth seats do feature a unique pattern, though the bottom bolsters are farther apart then I would like.

The radio display is red and inset into the dash slightly. This looks fine, but in sunlight the entire display gets washed out. The auxiliary inputs use red and white pigtails instead of the normal auxiliary input jack. That is somewhat annoying if you do not have the right cables. Once you have the correct cables it gets more confusing, you must hold the MP3/CD button on the radio for 2+ seconds to switch to the auxiliary input. I’m creative, but even I had to go to the owners manual to figure that one out.

The steering wheel has a voice command button along with hang up and answer buttons for the Bluetooth. The only issue is, this particular Sportback didn’t have Bluetooth. It seems all Sportbacks are pre-wired for Bluetooth and have the buttons. So, if you do not select the option for it, you will be stuck looking at the buttons every time you drive the car. Just a reminder that you kind of skimped on the options. Not exactly sure why they are there but hey, they are.

I wanted to comment on the seating position; it was more rally car than compact car. With an adjustment for up/down, forward/back/and a back adjustment, it was easy to find a comfortable driving position. The steering wheel did tilt but does not telescope.

The engine is a 2.0-liter MIVEC inline 4-cylinder that pumps out 148 horsepower and 145 pound feet to the front wheels. The power is put down through either a five speed manual or Sportronic CVT automatic. The Sportback I had featured the Sportronic CVT, which I will say wasn’t as bad as I initially expected it to be. Personally, I am not the biggest fan of CVTs due to their rubber band nature, but this one seemed to mimic a six-speed automatic fairly well. Only when really pushing the engine did it start to have a rubber band feel. The Sportback was actually fun to drive, when going around a corner it felt more like a rally car than a typical compact car. While the two higher trim levels are definitely sportier, this base Sportback was able to throw a smirk or two on my face.

Aside from the interior material quality and radio display, I do have one major gripe. The price of the Sportback ES seems reasonable, until you realize what you can now get for that same kind of money. Starting at $17,775 with a manual transmission and no options, this is not exactly a cheap compact car. The model I was in had the CVT and alloy wheel options bringing the total to $18,955. The EPA mileage ratings are 25/32 mpg, while I averaged 23.5 mpg in the city and 27.6 on the highway. Not exactly class leading on the gas mileage either.

So what did we end up with? A compact hatchback that has some sharp styling and sport driving characteristics. That sounds like a somewhat unique combination. With vehicles like this, it really isn’t a surprise to me that my friends didn’t know Mitsubishi was still around. This is a unique and almost niche vehicle. Your top priorities can’t be fuel economy or interior material quality. It also isn’t the best value based solely on price, especially when compared to a Mazda3, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, or a myriad of other compact car options. No, to buy this car means you want to be different and stand out from the crowd. With a fun to drive factor that is surprising and a fair bit of utility, this shark is in crowded waters but deserves a fair shake if you want to stand out from the compact car crowd.

Full Disclosure – The review vehicle was provided by Mitsubishi

2010 LA Auto Show: The Good, The Bad, The WTF

Mazda Shinari Concept

I had hoped to get this post out last week, but for those that followed my adventures at the LA Auto Show, I was running on four hours of sleep and many cans of Monster Energy drinks. Hence why this post is coming to you a little bit late.

The LA Auto Show is the kick off to the auto show season. Some say it sets the tone for the following auto shows. This year held a ton of promise as the auto industry gets back on to its feet and companies start churning out new product.

Infiniti Essence Concept

Highlights of the show ranged from Mazda Shinari concept car to new Ford Focus sedan and hatchback. Heck I was even excited to see the new Nissan Quest minivan. Yes, you read that correctly. I was excited to see  a new minivan. Hey, in my defense, the teaser shots they leaked out were quite compelling, and I was not let down. The new Quest is quite stunning in my opinion. It was a pleasant surprise to see the Infiniti Essence concept that made its debut a while back. The car is as stunning now as it was when it made its debut.

I was also looking forward to finally seeing the new Dodge Charger in person. Sitting in the new Charger and feeling the materials, I was pleasantly surprised. While not all is fixed, this is a huge leap in the right direction. I look forward to getting to spend more time with that vehicle along with the rest of the revamped Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep line-up.

2011 Dodge Charger

2011 Toyota Corolla

The bad ranged from the “refreshed” Toyota Corolla to the “OMG they built that thing,” Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet. The Toyota Corolla is more of a shock and awe. The fact that you can now only get it with a four speed automatic or five speed manual blows my mind. Let me repeat that, four speed automatic. You know, like from the 90’s and early 2000’s. This calls for a “lets party like it’s 1999” statement. Just shameful. Oh and they dropped the more powerful of the two engines. I’d be remiss if I forgot to mention the fact that you can no longer get leather on any Corolla.

2011 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet

Moving along the bad portion of our trip down LA Auto Show lane we reach the “OMG they built that thing” section. We have heard rumors for years about a convertible Nissan Murano. Many outlets have comissioned drawings based upon insider knowledge. Well the time has finally come and Nissan took the sheet off the duckling. Is it ugly? Well, based on the gasp from the crowd, I am not entirely sure. I think the gasp from the crowd was a combination of, again, “OMG they built that thing,” and also a sticker shock when the price was announced at $46,390. I’m sorry, did you just have a slight heart attack? Because I am pretty sure the press at the Nissan press conference did as well. It was made slightly better when I learned later from a PR rep that the price is for the one trim model, which is a LE trim. This will come fully loaded with pretty much no options. Still, that is a pretty penny for this odd duckling.

Overall I would say the tone for the show was upbeat. The industry is clearly fighting to make its way back. Without question a nice foothold has been given, with sales up and profits finally being made, things are looking a little brighter. Here’s looking forward to seeing what is unveiled in Detroit in January.

Cars & Café – September 4, 2010

Another month has come and gone which means it is time for yet again another Cars & Café.  Unfortunately this month the Saturday happened to fall on the holiday weekend known as Labor Day.  Most people in Minnesota that have a cabin know Labor Day weekend as a work weekend and I fall into that category.  As I was cleaning up boats, many auto enthusiasts in Minneapolis were gathering for coffee and doughnuts.  Oh and there were cars as well.

The weather was gorgeous (where as last month is was *ahem* crappy) and the cars flowed in.  Luckily for us my friends Ross and Alex Bellus both were in attendance reporting back.

The good is a long list this month.  The Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Super Snake made an appearance again as did the Aston Martin DB7 Vantage.  The Bentley Continental SuperSport made an appearance along with three Porsche GT3 RS’s.  These are all super but the Mazda Miata with a LS3 V8 shoved in it, well that really takes a special place in my heart.  The amount of awesomeness that oozes from that is off the charts.

I’m told little to no head scratching vehicles made an appearance, so I will just have to take the word that there were few.  I did hear about a VW Golf that had digital camouflage (what!?).  Also, the above VW something or another that was chopped and had a small bed welded on on the back made an appearance.  Oh and that VW something or another had full hydraulics in the front which the owner lowered down once parking.  Also a BMW had a very unique sound system in the trunk that payed homage to BMW’s M division.

From the Super Seven to the Yenko Camaro, the cars were all there and the weather cooperated.  Many thank’s to Ross and Alex Bellus for providing the photo’s.  Until next month when the enthusiasts gather again for a cup of coffee and doughnuts, oh and the cars.

Photography- Alex Bellus and Ross

Review – 2011 Ford Fiesta: A Win For America

Anyone that has been on the internet lately has probably heard of the Fiesta Movement.  The car’s unique marketing has definitely stirred interest into a vehicle that has not been in the American market for quite a while.  This small vehicle is a hit in Europe and many Americans have been requesting the vehicle.  With the car finally here, the question is how much was lost in translation?  Is the American Fiesta as good as the European version?

Exterior

The exterior has not changed much from the European model.  Gone are the normal fog lights and projector headlights.  Instead, you have LED light pipes where the fog lights would normally go.  The sedan version of the Fiesta also wears a chrome three bar grille instead of painted insert.  The hatch back does not have the chrome three bar grille rather it sports a painted insert that is closer to the European models look.  I think they are the same size and you could swap the painted insert in place of the chrome three bar setup if you wanted to.  Personally, I like the look of the painted insert better.  From the front fender to the rear quarter panel, a strong character line runs down the side of the car.  While the headlights are up swept and unique, the tail lights wrap around the sides and are a basic non-offensive oval shape.  The overall sedan is better looking then I thought it would be.  Much better then the comparable Toyota Yaris.

Interior

The interior of the Fiesta is really close to the European counterpart.  The gauges look very European while the radio controls are supposed to remind you of a cell phone.  While I am not sure of that, there are definitely a lot of buttons in a tiny space.  I found it easy to operate and the interface was clean.  The small 4-inch display glowed red and was easy to read in all lighting conditions.  The Microsoft SYNC system operated as advertised, and was really quite handy.  One thing that is different from the European model is the climate control.  No automatic climate control is offered, though it was extremely warm while the Fiesta was here and it always kept the interior nice and chilly.  The seats were comfortable, with adequate side bolstering. I did find the seat bottoms a bit flat when driving on a road trip.  The graining on all plastics was very nice and the seat fabric felt like great quality material.  With a soft touch pad for the top half of the dash, if it doesn’t feel quality it certainly looks the part.  Rear seat legroom is somewhat short, but if you are under six feet tall you will be OK.  I am not sure an adult would enjoy a road trip back there, but it is doable.  The steering wheel was the perfect size and the electric power steering had great feedback and on-center feel.  At night the Fiesta I was in had “mood lighting” with seven different color options.  My girlfriend settled on a color resembling teal for the week.  If you find it distracting the lighting, can be turned off.  Overall the interior is a huge win.  Everything from ergonomics to style, the Fiesta fits the bill and then some.

Powertrain

The Fiesta comes standard with a 1.6 liter four cylinder engine pushing out 120 horsepower and 112 pound feet to the front wheels.  That power goes through the standard five-speed manual or optional six-speed dual clutch dubbed PowerShift.  Off the line ,the Fiesta is no rocket.  In fact, it almost seems a little sluggish.  Once you get revs a little higher the car starts to feel faster then it really is.  Driving the car I always seemed to have a stupid grin on my face, even though I was not going that fast.  The Fiesta I had was equipped with the five-speed manual.  Personally, I liked the gearbox.  It was fun with clean shifts.  Though on the highway I will admit at times I longed for a sixth gear.  Not because of engine drone or anything like that (engine and wind noise was in check), but because the car probably would have gotten better mileage.  The five speed manual is rated at 29/38 while the six speed dual clutch is rated at 30/40 (with SFE package, 20/38 without SFE package).  I averaged 29.9 mpg in the city during the week, which was good considering I was definitely not trying to get the best mileage.  On the highway I managed to average only 34.5 mpg.  It is worth noting I had the cruise control set at 77 mph on the highway trip.  I can only assume going slower and or having another gear would have significantly increased that average.

So how much of the car was lost in translation?  Frankly, not a ton.  In fact some of the technical changes when coming across the pond made the car better.  For instance, the addition of knee airbags gave the people up front more leg room.  The car is a blast to drive and many people commented on how fun the car was.  Everyone seemed to the like it.  An Audi A6 owner commented on how great the car looked, both outside and inside.  This car is a huge value and a win for America.  If you look at the direct competition such as the Toyota Yaris, the Fiesta almost puts it to shame.  The Fiesta SE I had was somewhat optioned with the Rapid Spec 203A package (nowhere near loaded) and had a sticker price of $15,990.  That is without a question a value.  I definitely would take the Fiesta over the Toyota Yaris.  The Honda Fit has many tricks of its own, so it really depends on what your uses will be.  With the Mazda2 coming, the Fiesta has a ton of competition in this segment.  In the end, it has the goods to fight off the competition.

Photography- Alex Bellus

Full Disclosure- The review vehicle was provided by Ford

First Drive – 2011 Chevrolet Cruze: Bringing Good Vibrations?

Chevrolet Cavalier and Cobalt, both cars that well……you know that song Good Vibrations?  What is the opposite of that song?  That is what comes to mind.  There isn’t exactly a stellar legacy left by those nameplates.  Saying Chevrolet has not been competitive in the compact car segment in a while would be telling it to you straight.

Chevrolet recognizes this and is looking to not only be competitive in the segment, but they say class-leading with the new 2011 Cruze.  Have they over-promised again, or do we finally have good vibrations?

The Cruze has been trotted out at plenty of auto shows last season, so we know the basics.  The base car (LS) will come with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder, while the rest of the line up (LT1, Eco, LT2, LTZ) will come with a 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder.  This will be the volume engine.

The 1.4-liter turbo puts out an estimated 138 horsepower and 148 pound feet of torque.  The base engine and Eco models will come with a six-speed manual standard.  A six-speed automatic is optional on the LS and Eco, and standard (being only option currently available) on the other models.  I’ve heard that a six-speed manual will be available with the 1.4 liter turbo later on.

They are expecting the Eco model to earn an EPA rating of 40 mpg on the highway.  I am not sure if you have been paying attention, but that is a really really good number, and a class leading figure.  The real question is whether the car will really get 40 mpg in real world driving.

In the Cruze it was easy to find a comfortable driving position with the tilt/telescoping steering wheel. The dash design is unique.

Flowing across the dash is a swath of the same cloth material found on the seats. On LTZ cars with leather seating, leatherette replaces the swath of cloth on the dash. The design is fresh and somewhat consistent with newer Chevrolet’s.

I found there to be plenty of room inside, with an airy feel inside the cabin.  One thing I found annoying was the center armrest between the front seats.  The arm rest slides fore and aft, but when in the forward position it does not lock.  It should have more tension.  When two people rest their arms on the arm rest, the slider can slide back, which becomes quite annoying.

What we did not know before was how the Cruze drove.  I was going into this with an open mind, but I have driven both a Cavalier and a Cobalt.  Neither impressed me for the segment.  In the Cruze, you turn the key and slam the gas – the 1.4 liter turbo hits max torque at a mere 1,850 rpm.

From a stop the Cruze is decent off the line, but by about 10 mph the turbo has spooled up and you are off.  The power is more than adequate for driving around town, and there is no worries about making a pass on the highway.  However, this is not a sports car, and isn’t meant to be.  The electric steering is very light at parking lot speeds (almost too light?) but it firms up a little once under way.

We were let loose in the “back country” where there was quite a few hills. In those circumstances, I found that the six-speed automatic was not always hunting and seeking top gear immediately like other six-speeds.  Much of this can be attributed to the torque from the 1.4-liter turbo engine.  Since torque is so readily available, constant shifting is not necessary.  Without question, the powertrain makes a strong statement.

The Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla were on hand to do back-to-back comparison drives with the Cruze.  The first thing you notice is that the Cruze is more spacious then the Civic. In the Civic, I felt so close to the driver’s door and cramped side-to-side compared to the Cruze.  The reason for this is because the Cruze is both wider and longer then its competitors.

The materials in the Civic interior were very mixed. Some pieces were nice and soft touch, while others were cheap and unattractive looking.  The Civic’s transmission also seemed to hunt more when driving on the hills, and the engine was noticeably less powerful (less torque).

The Corolla’s interior is – well, almost a joke- and it drives like an appliance with a missing Kenmore sticker.  The Cruze is much more enjoyable to drive then the Corolla.  The suspension feels more controlled and almost European (especially with the 18-inch wheels).

Chevrolet sees the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra as key competitors.  They recognize that both the Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra are about to be redesigned or refreshed.  For that reason, they did not have those two vehicles on hand for comparison.

Worth noting is the pricing.  The Cruze starts at $16,995. That is over $1,000 more then the Mazda3 and current Honda Civic.

Honda has a new Civic coming towards the end of next year, along with the Volkswagen Jetta, with a base price that is also about $1,000 less then the Cruze.  The Cruze is one of the most expensive vehicles in this segment.

The Cruze’s on hand were all pre-production vehicles.  Thus, the fit and finish was not 100%, however the exteriors were nearly flawless.  On the interior, I did find the cowl covering the gauge cluster was not flush with the piece of plastic it connected to.

Also, the center console had a little cubby in front of the shifter that seemed to have a large gap in between the panel it sat with.  Again these were pre-production vehicles, so we’ll see if these two small gripes are corrected in production vehicles. Of note is that Chevrolet only had Cruze’s on hand with the 1.4 liter turbo, not the base 1.8 liter. They were also LTZ  or LT models – no Eco or LS models were available.

So back to the original question, does this car deliver on the promise of a good compact sedan? Chevrolet makes the claim that the Cruze brings midsize sedan amenities and quietness to the compact car segment.  I truly believe that claim is justified.

The car is definitely competitive with the current competition. With the new Focus and Elantra on the way though, is it enough?  For once, the main problem is not the car – it will be getting people in the car.  The current perception in the segment is not good for Chevrolet, so they will need to get butts in seats. Good marketing will be essential for the Cruze to succeed.  For now though, the new Cruze brings good vibrations to the compact car segment.

Full Disclosure – My travel and accommodations were provided by General Motors

*UPDATED* License Plate Fail – Confused Mazda5

My friend was recently traveling in Iowa and stumbled upon this very confused Mazda5.  You see apparently the owner thinks it is a Mazda6.  Maybe the owner just wishes it was a Mazda6.  I am not quite sure the reasoning behind this but I thought it was a picture worth sharing.

Update- Someone reminded me that in Iowa the license plate stays with the owner not the vehicle.  Somehow I forgot this minor detail even though I attended college in Iowa.  Regardless this is just silly and now the person who most likely owned a Mazda6 before this Mazda5 now has a goofy license plate.


MAMA Spring Rally Wrap Up

After taking time to digest everything I wanted to share some experiences from the MAMA spring rally.  MAMA is the Midwest Automotive Media Association,  a non-profit group that brings automotive journalists and public relations people together. A quick recap: the spring rally was a two day event spanning a Wednesday and Thursday.

Getting right into it, we were first unleashed onto the track at Road America Raceway on Wednesday morning after a quick breakfast and safety seminar.  During breakfast the various manufactures in attendance gave quick speeches about what they had brought with them for the rally.

Once we were unleashed we had choices; cars were lined up and each car had a sticker on the windshield stating either “road” or “track”.  If a car had a track sticker we were allowed to take it on either the public roads or the track.  Cars with road stickers were not permitted on the track.

Some things to note about the day: we were asked to keep stability control on at all times in the cars.  They were trying to avoid people over-reaching their abilities and wanted to minimize any damage or injury that might occur and while this most likely hindered some people’s lap times and severely hindered some autocross times, it was fine because part no major incidents occurred.

I focused much of my attention on the track in the early morning.  I drove everything from the Mazda RX8, Audi S4 and Mercedes Benz C63 to the Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T R-Spec.  I instantly found the Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0t R-Spec underwhelming.  I was not in love with the manual, it felt slightly mushy and the shifts were not clean and crisp.  The engine needed to stay high in the revs to keep going around the course.  When I asked the Hyundai rep about this he admitted that this was too much track for the car and went on to state that the car is better in shorter track scenarios.  I can easily believe that.

The new 2010 Audi S4 was just tackled the track.  I set all the settings to dynamic mode and took off.  I loved the six speed manual transmission in that car.  Through the corners, the car felt much more neutral then the last generation with the heavy V8, though I will admit I do miss the V8 exhaust from the previous generation S4.  The car pulled itself through the corners pushing power to different wheels with the sport differential in the rear.

I did not take the time to properly set up the Mercedes Benz C63 or the E63 before hitting the track and this hindered some of the fun.  I did not tinker with all the settings, thus the car was not to my liking.  The paddles did not seem to do what I wanted them to do, the steering was not how I predicted through the corners, and the E63 was just simply hard to place in the corners.  You really need to play with the settings to get these cars to your liking and I did not take the time.

For the road portion I took out the upcoming Suzuki Kizashi Sport with the CVT transmission.  The paddles responded nicely and overall, the car was very nice.  The slightly more aggressive exterior body kit is welcomed and the larger wheels and tires looked great.  This was no barn burner but it went well enough.

The Rolls Royce Ghost was another trip all together, hitting near illegal speeds in no time. The interior of the new Rolls Royce Ghost is just plush.  Everything is made of quality materials.  I determined if I can ever afford a house with carpet as nice as the floor mats in the Ghost, I have made it.  The umbrellas in the doors have ventilation ducts that dry them, giving the ability to put away the umbrellas wet (coming in quite handy when Jeeves picks you up at the gallery opening).  Speaking of Jeeves, this car is much smaller then the Phantom (though still quite large) and many owners may prefer drive it themselves instead of having a chauffeur.  Sorry Jeeves, you’ll be taking the other car.

I also took the new Ford F150 Raptor with the 6.2 liter V8 out on the roads.  This big truck finally seems to have the much needed motivation to move like it should.

You know what they say, it’s not a party until a tree falls on an Aston Martin Rapide.  If nothing else, many people will remember this from the 2010 MAMA spring rally.  Upon getting back to our hotels (tired and stinky from being in the sun all day) it started to downpour and I mean a torrential downpour.  Within minutes of the rain hitting, hail rolled through.  The chunks of hail were about the size of a pea.  Of course, my thoughts quickly rolled to the millions of dollars worth of cars sitting outside of the hotel and the track.  Once the storm passed, I walked to dinner.  As I was walking everyone was heading to the parking lot.  I asked why and they only could utter something about a tree and the Aston Martin.  Uh oh, that is not good.  To my (and everyone else’s) horror, a pine tree had fallen on the Aston Martin Rapide.  We lifted the tree off as they backed the car out from under it.  Upon closer inspection, the passenger side mirror was gone, the hood was dented, the windshield broken and the worst part was that wood had gone through the windshield and into the dashboard, more then likely ruining the dashboard. Not good.

Thursday morning we had an autocross course set up next to the track.  The Ford Fiesta was a ton of fun due to its handling.  The new 2011 Ford Mustang V6 was much better then I anticipated.  The Mercedes Benz C63 was a beast though the E63 was a boat through the course, mainly due to it’s size.  Its power was what pushed it through.

The rest of the morning was spent off roading in everything from Range Rovers to the Ford F150 Raptor 6.2.  The Raptor 6.2 was my first vehicle I took off road and its size made it a handful.  The course was somewhat tight in some areas and I had to back up to make some corners.  The truck handled everything like the beast that it is.  After going through the course in the Raptor, I decided to go for something a bit smaller.  The new 2010 Range Rover Sport was next up and this thing was ridiculously nice.  Something crazy to note is that the Range Rover Sport was also labeled Wednesday as a track car.  This vehicle was put through its paces both on the track and off road.  Not many vehicles can be pushed through the track one morning and then stuck onto an off road trail the next.  I was curious as to how the stock 20 inch wheels and tires would handle the off road portion seeing as they had been used on the track the morning before.  To my surprise, the Range Rover Sport (I should not have been surprised) was an off road machine, shrugging off everything I threw at it.  Driving the Range Rover next was a very cool experience.  The all digital gauge cluster is really useful.  Being able to change what is displayed based on what you are doing comes in handy when off road.

The entire experience gave me the opportunity to drive many different cars in varying situations throughout a two day period.  The track portion was a blast, as was everything else.  The people were friendly and inviting.  Sitting and having lunch with two gentlemen from Consumer Reports lead to quite an interesting conversation.  Everyone from freelancers to Cars.com writers were in attendance.  Overall it was a great first experience and I look forward to whatever the next MAMA rallies should bring.



Cars & Café – April 3, 2010

It has been four long months of winter wonderland but the sun has finally broken out and the snow is melted.  Another season of Cars & Café has come upon us and the first one of the season did not disappoint.  I was a little nervous as the weather predictions for Saturday were calling for rain, but that all changed last Friday.  I started to get hope as the prediction changed to a chilly 51 degrees and sunny.  I woke up early Saturday morning (late, I was supposed to get up at 6 but had a major alarm clock fail on my part.  I forgot to turn it on and woke up at 6:37 am) and looked outside to find the sun breaking cover.  Excited, I hopped in our 1990 300ZX and headed out to the AutoMotorPlex in Chanhassen.

Our 1990 300ZX

It was a chilly 42 degrees at 7:38 am when I rolled into the AutoMotorPlex.  Gates opened at 6:30 am and only a few tuned up Audi’s and a lonely (read awesome) BMW Z8 were there so far.  I parked in the Japanese parking area and started mingling.  Cars started pouring in around 8 am and it just never stopped.  The sun started warming things up and we reached a nice 57 degrees.  It turned into a huge turnout with couples, families and enthusiasts alike, all coming together with the passion of automobiles.

Some of the more notable (read interesting) rides included a first generation Scion XB that was white with plain steel wheels.  What made it really interesting was it was lowered, had the windows tinted, and had strips of LED lights taped (yes, taped with black duct tape) directly above the headlights.  Parked next to that was a Nissan 240SX with a broken up body kit that was held on with zip ties.  Yes, you read that right zip ties.  The 240SX was painted green with John Deer graphics.  The owner commented on how the zip ties break all the time and he replaces them constantly.

LS1 Shoved into a mid 80's Mazda RX7

All was not lost though because many really awesome cars where there as well.  There were more Corvettes from all different eras than I could count.  Some Corvettes were heavily modified some were plain stock though most were tasteful (save for a few).  A Volkswagen bus showed up and was in really good condition.  When a mid 80’s Mazda RX7 pulled in, I knew something interesting was under the hood mainly because of the sound coming out of it.  Upon further inspection the owner had shoved a LS1 engine under the hood with a custom exhaust system.  One of the most questioned cars was the original Mini Cooper but it was a stretch limo version.  The owner informed people it was originally owned by the Spice Girls and was actually signed by them on the rear.

Spice Girls Mini Cooper Limo

De Tomaso Pantera

The cars garnering the most attention were the Ford GT, Lamborghini Murcielago, De Tomaso Pantera and the Aston Martin(s).  A ton of American cars showed up and they even had their own (decent size) section.  Three Pontiac G8’s were in attendance all parked next to each other.  Two were GT’s and one was a GXP.  The GXP had a Holden badge on the rear and one GT had a custom hiding (flip down) front license plate.

The turnout was terrific. The weather held out and really ended up being beautiful.  I am not sure we could have asked for a better Cars & Café to kick off the season!  Here is looking forward to the first Saturday next month.