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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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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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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

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.


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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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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

Whatchamacallits on Wheels

We were talking about car names.
“I don’t like cars with ‘V’ names.” Me speaking: Generalizing on a crotchety prejudice.
“You don’t like ‘Viper’?”
“Viper’s different. It’s a real word applied to a car. It’s the made-up ‘V’ names I don’t like, or ones that sound made up. Like Volvo. But for that matter I don’t really like Viper much either.”

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Car ReviewsNew CarsEuropeUSA

Bob Lutz and the New World Order.

[Published on The Detroit Bureau]

Anyone reading or most certainly writing about cars is delighted that Bob Lutz hasn’t gone gently into that good afternoon of retirement after all. Consultant to GM renewed. (Insultant to all deserving of it, if the Lutzian manner hasn’t changed.) Bob was always the go-to guy if a deadline loomed and no lively quotes sprang from a reporter’s notes.

Bob continues to swerve off course when it comes to what is officially OK to talk about. Wow, truly inside info beyond the press release. And he is sure to talk about it in more colorful terms that most. He’s always a car guy; he’s always his own guy. I join the gang that’s glad he’ll be around.

That said I take the opportunity to disagree with what he said in an interview with a German writer. (I read what only was translated into English not being bilingual as Bob is.)

Bob told the German journalist that the top three car companies in the world were now GM, the Volkswagen group, and the Hyundai group. Read more >>

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Review: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, as reviewed on DeniseMcCluggage.comFirst, last and in between: If you’re looking at hybrids this hybrid must be on your look-at list. Must.

Now some details. The Korean car maker did not take an easy way to offering electric assist to a gasoline engine and thus earn the right to scribble ‘hybrid’ on the handsome flanks of its midsize award winner. No way. Lots of engineering savvy, innovation and collaboration between stylists and engineers have produced what I think is even a better looking Sonata and one that claims it can score 36-40 mpg.

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Car ReviewsNew Cars

Toyota and the Trials of Job

[Published on The Detroit Bureau

Held captive by disbelief we watched on TV that improbable tsunami, dark with disturbed sand, textured with the detritus of people’s lives ranging from children’s plastic sandals to grown-ups’ cars. How could this be? An uncontrollable King Kong nightmare flinging recognizable everyday things across a mundane landscape.

Our brains struggled to wrench some sense from the sight of seaside warehouses and absurdly colored plastic tubs, equally freed of normality, floating off together in a frothing soup in which cars bobbed like Halloween apples. Cars! And inexorably the invading wave rolled ever higher, up concrete stairs step by step where observers certain of their safe perch, were suddenly faced by a frothing mastiff broken free of its chain.

Disbelief. Theirs and ours. How often did we go back to our computers to view it again, stilled stunned.

But did we have any idea how it would disturb the way cars are bought and sold in our own neighborhoods?

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The Nicest Car I Ever Had.

[Published on The Detroit Bureau

“I think this is the nicest car you ever had,” my mother said to me from the passenger’s seat. Her eyes, still a snapping dark brown in her late 80s, choked off my emergent laugh though that’s the response the remark deserved.

After all we were not in my Porsche, my Alfa, my Lancia, my Ferrari – cars I had owned serially over a few decades. We were not even in the MG-TC in which she had shared an at-limit dart up Mt. Diablo — clinging tightly and smiling broadly though precariously exposed to traffic in this right-hand drive roller skate.

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Making Fuel Economy Numbers Add Up.

[Published on The Detroit Bureau

Numbers have a specificity that is irresistible to our embattled minds. That’s why cops give you a ticket for 87 mph in a 75 mph zone and not to someone else for “unimaginably idiotic attempts to maneuver an automobile in the presence of others.” The mildly observant might well see more of the latter but a radar gun communicates in numbers and not judgments.

The absence of judgment when it comes to dealing in numbers is also commonly evident in the fascination with such statistics as 0-60 times and miles-per-gallon.

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SO, here I go ...

I always have opinions, sometimes even insights. I find as the train picks up speed and the ties click by ever faster that more and more opinions keep elbowing their way into my ken. My once-a-month 500-600 word column in AutoWeek (a.k.a. A/W) isn’t space enough to express them. And thoughts, like a cutting bed of flowers, respond best to being clipped, bundled and shared.
Anyway I certainly hope so because my intention is to keep all the odd vases of this website filled with whatever I clip from that garden. End of metaphor. No wait – one more: likely some will be weeds but you are all capable of forgiving and coming back again armed with hope.
And some of my McBlogs I hope will contain some insights that will set heads nodding and replies clicking. That’s what keeps the word processor processing.
Mostly I’ll write about cars, those I like a lot and a few I can’t understand at all. (There’s a piece here about some cars I’ve driven lately – brief notes on brief encounters. Those quick takes will sometimes be followed up with more extended impressions. And impressions will be what they are. “New car reviews” with details of 0-60 and gear ratios and others technical matters are plentiful on the Internet. I have written some myself. And they’re easy to find. What you’ll find here is something not widely available—my personal take on what it’s like to drive these cars, which ones speak to me and which one’s put a question mark  in the balloon over my head. Not everyone gives a rodent’s posterior about “my take.” Nor do I expect them to put on their favorites list. But you? I’d be right pleased if you did.   

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Your car has a built-in disaster trap, but you’re so used to it you’re probably not even aware of its danger.

Think brake pedal and accelerator. If an engineer today came up with the idea that two controls governing opposite outcomes would be placed inches apart and be operated by the same foot performing the same pushing motion he would be forthwith stripped of his pocket protector and directed back to the drawing board. Nincompoop.

Think brake, accelerator and the driver’s right foot.

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[Published on The Detroit Bureau

When you next go out on the street that’s what you’re going to see. Blue. Bright blue cars and pick-up trucks. (I do like a blue truck.) You are going to see them because I started noticing more of that particular blue – not navy, not baby, but blue like mouthwash is blue; blue like my Alfa Giulietta that I tossed around Europe circa 1958 was blue.

Classic CarsNew CarsEuropeTravelUSA

On Connecting with Transits.

[Published on The Detroit Bureau

Odd though it may seem, I am smitten with the Ford Transit Connect.

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GM, the Volt, and what I really want.

[Published on The Detroit Bureau

The General has done so many things with a ham-fist and a diverted eye that it’s easy to pick on anything America’s automotive giant does. But the Volt is not one of General Motor’s clumsy enterprises. Repeat; not.

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The website of The First Lady of Racing, Denise McCluggage.

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