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How to Drive. What to Drive. Where to Drive. Miscellany.

Six Succinctly.

Swift, succinct reviews of: 2011 Toyota Avalon, 2011 Mazda2, 2011 Kia Optima, Lexus CT200h, 2011 BMW 335d, Bugatti Veyron.

If you expect the Toyota Avalon to be just a larger Camry prepare to be pleasantly surprised. For one thing there’s an understated elegance about it. No “wow” factor but none intended. Clean-lined and pleasing it pulled my eye back toward it when I left it parked. Aha, there’s a there there. On the road it is responsive to demands. It performs well with emphasis on smooth and accomplished.

Nice to steer, to park, to roll merrily along. Comfortable, roomy, straight-forward. I would put the Avalon on a short list for any sedan seeker who prefers expectations met rather than drama. And value-for-dollar is easy to come by. Toyota dealers, hurting from reduced sales and recent bad press are really dealing.

2011 MAZDA2
Smaller than the Mazda3 it also has more impish appeal — more zippedity to its zoom-zoom. The accent is clearly on nimble rather than fast but it finds its way through traffic just fine and puts a smile on your face while doing it. I like to smile while driving if there is cause. A Mazda version of Ford’s Fiesta which was Europe’s Car of the Year it is thus favored by those who know small and economical well and expect fun and refinement in the recipe. Looks perky as Peggy without being cutesy. Mazda’s family theme is performance and this little gem will put its hat on the sidewalk and tap up a show for you.

Kia Optima.You know its acclaimed cousin the Hyundai Sonata. Same platform. But as smart-looking as that mid-size sedan is I prefer the Optima. Maybe less immediate zap between the eyes (though you have to whistle at those wheels) I suspect the Optima will wear time around its shoulders well, like a rich stole. I simply prefer Kia’s less effortful approach to design. Lasting appeal is rarely flashy at first encounter.

The Optima moves right out, too.  And in the modern vein with a four-cylinder turbo engine with gasoline directly injected into the cylinders (that’s what GDi means.) Such technology is the newly popular approach to improve with the same wave of the wand both power and gas mileage (34 mpg highway). Handling seems sportier than the Sonata and the going is fine although rough payment puzzles it a bit.

Some traits of note: regular gas; six-speed automatic (manual available); sporting eagerness;  274 HP, 257 “torques”; fun to play with. Never had a Kia on your must-see list? Start with this one (there’ll be others).

The knock is that now Lexus has a Prius. But this tightly designed luxury hatch has a European sport look that is highly appealing. Comfortable, smooth-riding and handsome inside as well. I liked the promise of this hybrid Lexus and headed eagerly for some winding roads said to be outside New Orleans (a better place to introduce a boat perhaps.)

When the road actually began to bend a bit – just a bit – I unwound the car slightly, and hoped to see some hint of the Lexus IS F perhaps. But I was sorely disappointed to discover that the CT200h plowed like a John Deere, as the saying goes.

Clearly, it is not to be driven with any gumption at all else it goes all frumpy on you. Just tour mindlessly and all is well. Truth, after all: it is a Prius with a Lexus nameplate. (Actually I remember the Prius as more sporting.)

2011 BMW 335d
Unlike many of my motoring journalist colleagues I am not a knee-jerk BMW swooner. But pardon me as I faint dead away over this particular three-series BMW. It’s that small “d” that does it. What I like best in any car is Torque and Range. My liking them so much dresses them in capital letters. Remember: Torque and Range. Torque is the power that shoots you away from a light, or up a ramp, or past the trucks on a two-lane road. Torque is every-day, real-life power. Range is what 36 mpg on the highway will get you. That’s keeping you free of fuel pumps for some 500 miles in this BMW. Blessed freedom. Match that you soulless hybrids.

Cars with a “d” for diesel excel in Torque and Range. And this BMW diesel does it all so admirably, so cleanly, so sounding-great-while-doing that I have to call it a Beam-er. I know, that’s a term reserved for the company’s motorcycles (a.k.a. Beemer), but “beam” is what I did every second spent in this car enjoying the 3-liter, clatter-free, clean-running, twin-turbo inline six. (Horsepower, if you must know: 265. But “torques”: 425!)

This BMW is as sweet as three Little Debbie cakes smooshed up with chocolate sauce and marshmallows. No, sweeter. And good for you. That ready torque, coming in low and holding a line as flat as an aircraft carrier. Sweet. That torque squirts you through those open-then-closed holes in traffic … beam, beam. All so easily, so smoothly, so pleasingly. Yes, the gas version of the 335 is faster at the top end, and being lighter maybe better in a slalom. But are we skiing or driving here? Anyway factual numbers have no place in emotional discussions; this is pure feeling. And thus the diesel — around $44,000 — is worth the extra thou or so up front. (Anyway, diesels hold their price better, as if you’d actually sell this.)

Just try this car. Then let me know if you bought it in blue.

If the tax break saved you a couple of million as it was meant to do here’s how you can stimulate the economy, as a good-and-rich good citizen you’re expected to do: shun IPOs and bonds and buy something that a working person had to work on — though I suspect those that built the Veyron were not union members but elves in Alpine caves with tools woven of laser light and stalactites (those are the hanging ones, aren’t they?)

Bugatti Veyron.

Look, the Bugatti Veyron is a lovely, smooth, twitch-free, light-years-beyond-capable piece of blessed machinery. It is a soulful, beautiful at rest or at speed, well-mannered car that moves through time and space like an ethereal creature clad in the oxymoronic garb of gossamer metals that glow red-blue in the knowledge they can move at a rate of — is it 263 miles per hour? Just To Do It.  Because — like singing songs only dogs can hear — it really has no human benefit. Except you can write blogs about it or slip into dinner conversations the fact that you drove a two million dollar car that can go that fast on a circle built just so a select few with the same discretionary two million dollars can drive it that fast. So you could tell someone over dinner. Or write about it.

Money is a mysterious and lethal instrument. But the car, like a child caught up in a fetid custody battle, is innocent in it all and waif-like and wide-eyed. Apart from its ego-driven conception and reality and purpose this car sits in the world real and happily functional. And stunning and appealing and accomplished and I loved driving it on New Mexico roads watching blued mountains shrink rapidly in the mirror. Not extremely fast and for only a breath or two. But I realized quickly that I knew this car better and more deeply than others who had driven it even longer and faster. I knew this because I sensed mutuality. We knew each other and thus I did not have to go any faster or any farther to know more. I grasped the hand of the waif and smiled at, never mind how, wonderful things can emerge from distorted causality.

And then they released the Veyron SuperSport – 1200 hp to 1001. Can you top this yet again?

Men are cosmically funny (both ha-ha and peculiar). Maybe especially if your mother was a Porsche so you are too a Porsche except your name is not. Not the name on the car and the legend. What effect can that have? Particularly when you are brilliant and innovative. I muse about such things. I would like to discuss them with Ferdinand Piëch one day. I will tell him I knew his uncle, Ferry Porsche. Also brilliant but quite different. What is the dynamic here?

So “my” Veyron, a charming waif of a car is no longer what it was built to be: the fastest production car on earth. Alas, outdone by a sibling. Never mind, I love you.    

02/02/11 • 03:45 AM • What to Drive • (2) Comments


Denise, you write so well that I am perpetually re-stunned that you aren’t a zillionaire with a stockpile of Pulitzers under your chemise.  Think maybe you should consider a PR person.  Meanwhile, if I were still buying cars I would try most of these six just based on your enticing descriptions, but I’m fairly sure the Bugatti salesman would give me the bum’s rush before I got much more than a halfway decent look at the beast.  S’all right; I couldn’t sit up in it anyhow…or get back out if I did get shimmed and jimmied into it.


Posted by John Strother on 04/07/11 at 07:49 AM

335D comment. I was looking for more MPG in a nice ride and specced out one in red/beige.  I think it was the first of the diesels my dealership delivered.  The range and MPG delivered was as you have said - as much as 37 mpg on the road and an overall average, city/road of 30 mpg.  And the acceleration, with all that torques was a huge bonus.  Fantastic!  But I was never comfortable in the car, just a bit too small for my frame and the center console was intrusive on my bum right knee.  And then at about 11,000 miles an annoying thrum sound came on the scene at about 60 mph and held thru 80 mph, the range of most of my road driving.  (About 75% of my driving is highway.)  The dealership tried everything to help but it finally came down to the run-flat tires - even though alignment and balance were correct.  I don’t have the 335D anymore.

Posted by Joe Herson on 05/18/11 at 08:02 AM


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