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DuoBlog: Denise McCluggage and John Paul Gonzales on the 2013 Buick Encore

2013 Buick EncoreAnother “He Said, She Said” blather about a new car. Denise McCluggage and John Paul Gonzales take on the small Buick crossover. For more extended conventional reviews check out AutoWeek, Automobile Magazine or Edmunds.

Denise McCluggage, enjoying lunch.Denise McCluggage: My quick early impression: endearing little machine. Right size and demeanor for a city like Santa Fe with its altitude (7000 feet plus and minus) and often bad or snowy roads. The Encore is easy to get in and out of. Maneuverable. Easy to see out of. Versatile in use. Appropriately quick steering. Impressively tight turning circle for 4WD. (An option.) Proper city manners, like the A-pillar and mirrors doesn’t hide a herd of first graders at intersections like so many SUVs and crossovers do. For me the Encore is cocky enough to know it deserves applause and I comply. How do you see it JP?

JP Gonzales, enjoying lunch.John Paul Gonzales: I felt that the Encore was a charming vehicle. I’m generally not one for crossovers because they seem to be compromised some way or another, but the Encore felt much more like a small SUV than any sort of SUV crossed over with a car that I’ve ever driven. It’s comfortable, has surprisingly well-balanced road manners, and is looks like something I’d be happy to be seen in.

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DuoBlog: Denise McCluggage and John Paul Gonzales in Car Conversation.

Today: The 2013 Lexus ES 350

D-McC: Years ago when I was a sports reporter for The New York Herald Tribune my specialties were motorsports and skiing, but I was assigned to other stuff from golf to kids’ yacht racing, And dog shows. Though I was amused that canine beauty contests were on the sports page.

One day after the Best-in-Show was chosen we reporters gathered around the judge – pens ready to record a quotable quote to enliven our stories—I got one I’ve never forgotten. The rather lumpy women, frowning with the seriousness of her job, explained her choice with “I could not fault the Peke today.”

Loved it. That became one of my go-to sayings whether apt or not. And, does it fit today. Lexus does not leap to my mind as my kind of car but – certainly JP, I could not fault the ES 350 today. How about you?

JP: You know, it really depends on the context you place the car. The car, like a dog, is innocent and faultless in a vacuum. I think it’s just like in one of those dog shows where one can parade them around on the green carpet, poke here and prod there, and find not a fault with the dog’s perfect coat and obedient demeanor. That’s the dog in a vacuum. But if you want to talk about the dog in the context of “is it good playing with children” or “does parading it around at the dog park attract conversation” then we can really start to get at what the dog means to us—and if there’s fault. (But for the record, I’m not really a fan of normative statements anyway).

You can have a pretty car and find plenty of fault in it, or you can have a plain-jane appliance vehicle that does everything you could possibly want it to do depending on how it’s used. I’ll go on record as saying that the ES350 is pretty much the most fault-less car you can possibly buy for the money today. It does everything you want it do, with no fuss, in comfort and brand-recognition style. After all, “it’s a Lexus!” Look, leather seats, premium sound, this navigation system, and Ooh! A “sport/economy” selector that just might indicate this car has some personality. If I had my clipboard and checklist, I’d tick off these points, frumpily frown, and say “I could not fault the Lex today.”

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Car ReviewsNew CarsUSA

Tesla Gets Testy ... Again. Why not?

Some thoughts on electric cars (EV), Extended Range Electric Vehicles, Hybrids, etc. Rather than pretend coherence I’ll bullet some general observations. Order doesn’t count. Nor relevance.

But first a recurring theme noted. Elon Musk, head honcho of Tesla is clearly a jerk. He complains, sues, threatens, whines (and whines) unless everything — particularly “tests” of his cars – goes exactly as the script in his head goes. Car tests, above all on a TV show (note the word “show” — indicating entertainment, not a scientific investigation), and in a newspaper are not to be looked upon as “tests.” Newspapers are not set up with fifth wheel contraptions or ways of monitoring repeatable processes.

These are not tests so much as “impressions.” Different writers approach the task differently.  John M. Broder, who drew the assignment from the New York Times to drive the Tesla S from Washington DC to Boston to check out the bragged-on range of a Tesla S and, in conjunction with supposedly appropriate spots on route where the all-electric vehicle could get re-juiced.

These spots were stupidly called “superchargers” thus lending evidence to my assertion that Elon Musk is a jerk. “Supercharger” is a word with a definite meaning in the car world having nothing to do with stationary filling-stations for an EV. The word is taken, Jerk. Find another for your lovely looking Tesla S that cannot do what many cars can do with ease, which is get from Washington to Boston on a sub-freezing day without being driven preternaturally slowly, or without adequate heat, or without the need to have the stops to feed one’s face dictated by what is being driven. (The car should enhance the trip, not dictate its circumstances.)

I rather think that John Broder was more interested in practicing his ability to write amusing, snide and clever copy about his experiences (one could legitimately hope for misadventure because that’s funnier) than in listening to the instructions from Tesla spokespersons, which if reported correctly were misleading and inadequate — not an unexpected quality of performance to anyone having to explain to a sentient human being in the 21st century how to drive a car from Washington to Boston.

Why all this is demonstrative of the jerk-ness of Elon Musk is that the entire operation is a mistimed, misplaced and WTF scenario. A few thoughts relevant to the matter: batteries lose a great deal of their usefulness as batteries when the weather is cold. Cold is a not an unusual characteristic of a winter day in the mid-Atlantic states.

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Car ReviewsNew CarsTravelUSA

Danica and the Pole. [Updated ... And how about the race?]

She did very well indeed. Like everyone she felt out the new car, particularly for the first half of the race. Was alert to opportunities but sensibly conservative to her reaction to them. The lead offered itself and she claimed her place in history. (Janet Guthrie had led the 500 but under a yellow.) Perhaps Danica’s “rookiness” showed most in the pits but she made no mistakes—just maybe didn’t elbow hard enough coming out. Tony will tell her. It’s difficult out of that first pit to go from a dead stop to the speed you need to compete with cars approaching with momentum.)

So what happened that last lap? She earned third – had it at the white flag. Then the reason I don’t like Daytona and Talladega much is “circumstances” put their whimsical cat’s paw into it.

The cars in the lower lane got that last fraction of closeness and suddenly the hook-up went really operational. The same foot on the same pedal at the same pressure now meant a leap forward. That’s brilliance? No that’s circumstances. Were Dale jr. and Mark Martin suddenly more clever? Were the drivers in Danica’s lane suddenly inept? Why are they going backwards? The Daytona Circumstances!

And Little E, NASCAR’s favorite child of good-luck/bad-luck, takes a happenstance second. And Danica a perplexing 8th. But she took it well. Puzzled, annoyed just shy of damned-mad and her competitiveness unfazed. A new record for a woman is nice but not enough because that is not what it’s about.

Just remember, racing at the super-speedways has that coin-toss thing built in. (Consider: Jeff Gordon – in it all day—ended up 20th.

Back to my normally-scheduled post ...

So a woman driver, a punch line in jokes since the first carriage chugged down the road without a horse pulling it, turned in a faster time than anyone else that day thus winning the pole position in NASCAR’s biggest race of the year. Perversely, one that opens the season rather than closes it. She becomes the first woman ever to do that. Out of the scant handful, one might point out, who have been allowed to try.

Ah, let us search for deep meaning in this; everyone else seems to have.

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Three ReVieWs of VWs.

Three different models from Volkswagen have of late found their ways into my clutches (pun slightly intended) and here are my thoughts on them ranging in order from “No Thanks” through “Meh” to abject avidity with serious consideration of midnight re-painting, altered VIN numbers and batting-eyed denial that the car had ever graced my driveway. “Someone disappeared it.”

Then following those opinions a quick explanation of why VW is going to eat the noon meals of oh-so-many competitors.

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Car ReviewsNew Cars

Wrong Pedal? I Wonder Why ...

Women drivers—specifically really young ones and really old ones—are more likely than other drivers to cause collisions by putting a foot wrong. Or so says a recent report from The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The study found that women—more specifically 20- and 76-year olds—were disproportionately likely to tromp on the accelerator when they aimed for the brake. Thus crashing, most often in parking lots. 

The report seemed almost apologetic, like they expected to get yelled out for politically incorrectness. But I nod in easy belief for many reasons. First the young women: my evidence is anecdotal but I give good anecdote so trust me. Girls are better students than boys. They also tend to have confidence in what they learn. They’ve been attentive in driver’s-ed and, bless their naïve little hearts, are positive they now know How to Drive.

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Fiat Delivers a slap in the face.

[Published on The Detroit Bureau]

Doug, a friend and regular at Santa Fe’s Tuesday Car Table, test drove a Fiat 500 Cabriolet that I had for a week and loved it. But considering our city’s 7000-feet altitude decided a turbo was indicated. He’d wait for the Abarth. He told Fred Vang, another Car Table regular, to order one for him. That’s what Fred does, connects people and cars.

As a Personal Car Consultant he helps clients decide what new car best suits their needs and does all the wheeling-dealing and sees that they get the best deal delivered ding-free and clean to their door.

Fred is fond of telling clients: “You seem to know what you want but do me a favor: dance with a couple more before you get married.”

In this case since Doug had driven a number of alternatives, the dancing was Fred running numbers, checking with many sources for prices on three cars, all with Doug’s options. The three: Mini Cooper S, VW Golf GTI and the Fiat Abarth.

Fred compiled the numbers on a grid and presented them to Doug with a detailed explanation. Doug said it was like “a slap in the face” like in the Fiat Abarth ad featuring the leggy model Catrinel Menghia, dressed in red and black. And that’s why Doug arrived at our monthly Car Table driving a new VW Golf GTI.


Car ReviewsNew CarsUSA

Review: 2012 Fisker Karma

2012 Fisker Karma, reviewed by Denise McCluggage.Car design is more subjective than car performance. Zero to 60 has a stop-watch time; braking has a distance; even cornering has measurable specifics. But design, though it has its canons, is more open to personal partialities. What appeals to me in the design of a car is a certainty of bearing and manner. Something expressing confidence that falls short of arrogance but wears its assurance like a favorite no-name watch.

Anyone conversant with automotive design would expect a car with the name “Fisker” on it to display the required aplomb. And indeed the Fisker Karma, a four-door four-place grand touring car has the calm effrontery to disrupt conversations mid- sentence, to snap a neck or two. Its presence is not immediately definable. I like that. And the design expends no effort to be ingratiating. It’s simply there. At a still point. The rest is up to you.

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Car ReviewsNew CarsUSA

On “Bricks” and Hand Pumps: Musings on New Technology

[Published on The Detroit Bureau]

Tesla’s battery problems provide a much-needed warning.

New technologies — or new developments in old technologies – require their users to click out of their half-asleep automatic response and be consciously aware of the best way to deal with this new stuff. When the new patterns of response are tweaked to the most appropriate actions then it’s safe to revert to robot mode.

From long ago I recall my country cousins on the family homestead had a hand pump on their kitchen sink. The town-kid in me thought this “new” thing was the cat’s pajamas. But then it was updated to mundane faucets much like we had. Star-shaped with “C” and “H” in the center.

The old hand pump simply stopped its intermittent gushing when whoever was pumping stopped pumping. And when the faucets were first installed I remember my cousins had to sometimes turn back to the sink to turn them off. But not for long. The new twist-off behavior quickly replaced the pump technology in their automation map.

So leap decades ahead and ask Prius owners how many left their new car “on” all night when they first got it. Count the sheepish looks and not the hands. Shows you not everyone had Windows and were thus trained by Bill Gates to push “Start” to shut something off.

Now it seems that any owner of Tesla’s lovely little Lotus-derived Roadster, which is dependent entirely on lithium-ion batteries for its motive force, need to examine their automatic responses to a vehicle’s needs or suffer some egregiously costly consequences.

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Car ReviewsNew Cars

2012 Hyundai Veloster

2012 Hyundai VelosterI’ll get directly to the point: I don’t like this car.

Judging from the ads for it (which I also don’t like) the Veloster (I don’t like that name either) is meant for the youth market. (And I’m not keen on that to stretch my crochets about as far as they’ll go.  The intention of the Veloster to appeal to young buyers accounts for its lack of cohesive purpose. In my experience today’s younger buyers are more interested in extreme “stylin’“ than in style and in gadgetry that caters to their obsession with texting and talking (if they must), constant music feeding directly to the inner ear and other forms of acute distraction from actual driving.

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