A few months ago, I was driving an Audi S4 wagon through beautiful South Africa. But those riches didn't last long.
For two days, I strapped myself into seven terrible cars that were too unsafe and shoddy to ever be sold here. I visited dealerships under the guise of a prospective buyer, and wasn't at all prepared for what these low-tier car brands had to offer.
I drove cars without working speedometers, talked with salesmen too lazy to lift a finger and almost downed a beer in the showroom with some very happy sales guys on a Friday afternoon. I had to love and laugh at the country's lackadaisical work ethic, at least compared to the nonstop work work work mentality of the U.S. I could really fit in.
Have a look at my detailed report for Car and Driver magazine -- and you'll soon see that even the worst cars have their good qualities.
Winter's never over in northern Sweden, and that simple fact makes this sparsely populated region a worldwide destination for automotive engineers. For durability testing, tiny towns like Arjeplog offer them year-round, pummeling cold, just the sort of recipe McLaren needs to finish its upcoming P1 supercar, of which just 375 will be made.
We've already seen the car unmasked at the Geneva Auto Show in March, so unless there's some radical design change, we're not sure why McLaren continues to cover it like a zebra. Here, somewhere further north on a frozen lake in the Arctic Circle, McLaren test drivers slid the P1 -- with a hybrid powertrain in excess of 900 horsepower -- on slick powder.
Despite what looks like a fun time, I can tell you I wouldn't trade places with those drivers, at least not in Sweden. A year ago in February, on assignment for Car and Driver, I had my fingers nearly pried off by the 10-degree chill -- and that was in the country's southerly parts. So unless this P1 is hopping the next flight to Dubai, I'll gladly enjoy the video below from Boston.
Mark your digital calendars: The cheapest, tiniest and most roofless electric car on sale is coming to Boston on May 13.
Three years ago, the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive came here as limited-production European prototype and was offered to a handful of Boston-area residents and businesses on a pricey four-year lease. When I drove one in 2010, the acceleration and measly 60-mph top speed were a painful chore.
Smart has wised up. The new ForTwo ED promises real-world performance -- and at $25,000 before tax credits, the best price among all new electric cars. When equipped with a soft top, this short two-seater can also claim title as the only electric convertible on the market.
As Massachusetts is one of 14 "CARB" states -- those which follow the stricter emissions laws of the California Air Resources Board, designed to promote electric vehicles -- we'll see this little ForTwo months before the rest of the country, said Terry Wei, Smart's U.S. marketing manager.
"We cannot build them fast enough," she said.FULL ENTRY
How Red Bull manages to plaster its primary colors on everything from a Formula One racing team to supersonic human skydiving is an incredible marketing exercise. Especially for a company that crafts an exceptionally disgusting yellow beverage that speeds your heart rate and doesn't break down, even when you've thrown it up the next morning after drinking "Jager bombs" or whatever awful mess college kids are drinking these days.
Red Bull isn't the Coca-Cola company, which is revered and loved around the world for its iconic taste and shapely bottles. But somehow, it too can afford to sponsor everything. Every month, Red Bull is burning its cash on extreme sports and outrageous stunts, and unlike the drink, the results are usually awesome.
On Friday, Red Bull closed a section of Mount Snow in West Dover, Vt., and set loose a 900-horsepower pickup truck both up and down a 30-degree black diamond trail. This is a jacked-up, dirt buggy-style race truck plucked from the TORC series (The Off-Road Championship, a small U.S.-based competition in the mud and sand). All Red Bull needed was to slap on some giant snow tires with half-inch long spikes, set up a few jumps and queue up the cameras.
It's a little terrifying considering driver Ricky Johnson has to tilt the truck in mid-air to avoid the ski lift poles. And unlike movie chase scenes, Johnson was certainly not doing 25 mph and made to appear like 75 mph in post-production. He probably hit 75. Uphill.
The video below says it all. Just don't drink Red Bull.FULL ENTRY
John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England and the "Car Doctor" columnist for The Boston Globe, Providence Journal, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and AAA Horizons. A certified mechanic, Paul tests dozens of new cars each year and also hosts a radio show on AM 950.
Thank goodness we were chosen.
By the month's end, you'll be able to lease a Honda Fit EV, the electrified version of the popular subcompact hatchback, at three dealers in the Boston metro area. Honda has selected just six areas on the entire East Coast to carry its little plug-in, including New York City and the Hartford and Fairfield areas of Connecticut.
Other than a closed front grill with a chrome strip, smaller wheels and some new gauges, the Fit EV is nearly indistinguishable from its miserly gasoline counterpart. The only noticeable change is the missing "Magic Seat," the rear cushions that fold up and let the owner carry obscenely tall things in a tiny car. In its place is a 20-kilowatt-hour battery mounted underneath. You'll need to borrow another car to deliver those big house plants from Home Depot.
I drove the Fit EV in California last summer during a Honda-sponsored press event and came away impressed with the acceleration, quietness and eager handling. Honda even invited me to race it on an autocross course -- that's how much fun this car is to drive.FULL ENTRY
With Boston about to be buried under Blizzard Nemo last Friday, Greg Baracchi needed to act fast. So he fired up his rare Italian supercar, and drove.
In the still hours before Gov. Deval Patrick declared a statewide driving ban, Baracchi was cruising the city's empty streets in his 2009 Alfa Romeo 8C, the snow melting off its fiery red paint and low-slung, hand-built body.
You might expect Baracchi to have slid into a lamppost and written off a $200,000 car -- the 8C has rear-wheel-drive and a ferociously-revving engine -- but he did no such thing. With snow tires and proper respect, the 8C is quite the docile stormtrooper, as his video above shows.FULL ENTRY
David Rosenberg is a manager and co-founder of Prime Motor Group, a collection of 14 car dealers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. He started working in the car business with his father, Ira Rosenberg -- who started the Ira Motor Group and the first Hyundai dealer in Massachusetts -- since he was 10 years old.
Herb Chambers, a self-made billionaire who grew up in Dorchester and built an empire of 50 car dealers, joins Boston.com on Wednesday, Feb. 13. Ask him about new cars, his impressive car collection (he owns a McLaren F1), and anything else.
Quietly, at its small offices in West Springfield and research labs in San Antonio, Scuderi is building a completely new internal combustion engine it hopes will power everything from cars to portable generators.
The Globe ran a detailed overview on the company in September 2011. Scuderi has been testing a new engine design for more than a decade that it claims will lower emissions and fuel consumption while adding more power in a smaller package. Company engineers even went so far to design an air hybrid system, whereby a compressed air tank could be directly attached to the engine's intake. The promise: Superior fuel economy from a lighter, cheaper hybrid system that eschews heavy, expensive batteries.
This might seem a bit far-fetched, if not impossible for mainstream automakers to accept, had not Peugeot-Citroen introduced its own air hybrid system that will arrive in 2016. Automakers, clamped by emissions laws that tighten every year and faced with a market wary of expensive electric cars, need to advance the traditional engine.
That's where Scuderi could come rushing in.
Residents in our western suburbs are suffering from an endemic problem: Too many Range Rovers that can't be told apart.
Imagine taking your 11-mpg Range Rover Sport to the Chestnut Hill mall, only to lose it next to a row of other Range Rover Sports. Or picture weaving in rush hour traffic along Route 9 with your clear, towering view of the road, and then some other Range Rover cuts in front of you, blocking everything. Suddenly, your mind blanks. You can't tell if that's your wife's Range Rover, or whether the Range Rover you're driving is the one you borrowed from your teenage son.
This is not any way to live.
You won't see the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee at the New England International Auto Show. It was here for a few hours during the Thursday media preview, and then Chrysler shipped it back to Detroit where it debuted Tuesday at the North American International Auto Show. The black 2013 model, at right, is on display.
We love the Grand Cherokee so much that the New England Motor Press Association awarded it -- twice -- as its official Winter Vehicle of New England. This refreshed model makes a lot of improvements that make the Mercedes ML-Class (which shares its basic chassis) appear very overpriced.
Beyond new dressings at the front and rear -- including body-colored grill surrounds, more chrome, and LED accent lighting on the loaded Overland Summit pictured above -- is a big Jeep that's very serious on saving fuel. That has never happened in the company's history.
Nine times out of ten, car furniture will ruin a room.
Not this time. This slate pool table fashioned like a flattened Ford Mustang has me wishing I had a basement. Is it overwrought? Too tacky? Maybe so. But like the fishnet leg lamp from "A Christmas Story," it's just perfect. That's why it's officially licensed by Ford.
At the New England International Auto Show, you can walk over to the Ford stand and play a round on this 1965 replica, which comes equipped with original wheels, working lights and the full assortment of factory chrome trim pieces. It's the actual width and height of the genuine car, almost as if a real Mustang was packed in the dry cycle and squished and chopped by hand.
As you sit and complain about how cold it's gotten, wondering when the next snowfall will arrive and how much it will wreck your commute, I could not care less.
It's not that I don't care about you, even though I don't know you. We're fellow New Englanders, after all. I'm just in a much warmer, happier place.
Above is Cape Town's Kalk Bay from atop the hills that surround the turquoise seas below. You could be driving on these roads, some of the windiest and most thrilling roads in all of Africa, and indeed, the world. You could be tackling elevation changes and watching the earth curve nearly 270 degrees at the Cape of Good Hope.
All I had was a tinny Nissan Versa, but hey, great roads are great roads no matter what you're driving.
Pack your bags and get on the 20-hour flight. Everyone speaks English. You can eat fresh fruits and vegetables. You won't complain anymore. Just get here -- and grab the best-handling car you can.
The supercharged six-cylinder engine is velvety smooth and full of torque, the quattro all-wheel-drive keeps the the chassis stable and safe at high limits, and both 6-speed manual and 7-speed dual-clutch gearboxes are flawless. Combine that with decent fuel economy (18 city/28 highway) and a crisply tailored, high-quality design in and out, decent room, great steering ... gosh, the only things I don't like about the S4 are the tricky HVAC knobs and silly radio controls. Give me the rest.
Or rather, give me the station wagon. Drop 19-inch rims off the hot-and-heavy RS5 coupe and paint it Ferrari red. God almighty Father, give it to me.
Since I can't order an S4 like that in America, I had to drive one in South Africa some 9,000 miles away. (That's not why I came here, of course, but it ended up being a good bonus.)FULL ENTRY
Despite a Superior Court judge denying an injunction against Tesla Motors, the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association says it will not drop its month-old lawsuit against the electric automaker.
At issue is Tesla's small store in the Natick Mall. Well before it opened next to Victoria's Secret in late September, MSADA and its national arm, the National Automobile Dealers Association, had threatened to sue Tesla for running company-owned dealerships, rather than using independently-owned franchises. Massachusetts law, for example, outright bans automakers from owning their own dealerships.
MSADA and NADA both contend that Tesla is deliberately skirting dealership franchise laws, which require dealerships to hold special licenses and guarantee repair work for the cars they sell, among other rules. Tesla, by opening showrooms in shopping malls and other traditional retail areas, says it is merely doing what Apple has done. Since the company doesn't have the production capacity to stock any of its 22 U.S. stores with inventory, customers can only get on a wait list. They can't buy a Tesla on the spot and drive off like at a regular dealership.
None of that has satisfied the dealer associations. In mid-October, MSADA filed suit against Tesla for illegal trade practices. The Natick store backed off, refusing customers reservations or test drives like at some of its other stores.
As marketing campaigns go, we're not sure why Zipcar is halving its rental prices on Election Day, but hey -- if you can get around town faster and cheaper than the T, we'll take it.
Zipcar customers can rent hybrids, the company's cheapest rate, for $4 per hour anytime Tuesday from 5 a.m. through 9 p.m., right about when the polls close. It's worth noting that a round-trip T fare, minus all the waiting, now costs $5. When you factor in the superpower of legally parking in Boston's wide-open commercial zones (Zipcars all have commercial plates), the day gets even sweeter. Of course, if the T's cash tiller is broken -- not uncommon on most Green Line trains -- you ride for free and beat Zipcar hands down.
All of Zipcar's models are available at half price during the same times, including its big Econoline vans (now $7.88) and luxury cars like the Audi A3 ($6.75). Full-day rentals are not included. As another downside, Zipcar customers must first pay up to $60 per year to use the service, although many discounts are available that knock the price down to as little as $15.
However, we should say this: If you absolutely need a car to get to a polling center, then your town probably doesn't offer Zipcar in the first place.
We've already been wowed by the 2013 Nissan Altima, which has been thoroughly redesigned as a more comfortable, stylish, and fuel-efficient midsize sedan. Bill Griffith found the Altima's 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine to be more than adequate, and on Seattle highways last week, I couldn't agree more. It's quiet, quick, and all-around competent.
That said, wouldn't the new Altima be fantastic with a 400-horsepower V-8?
Nissan's Australian division agrees. They've skipped past the V-6 and built a race-spec Altima V-8 for the Australian V-8 Supercars series, the first time in two decades that a non-American car has entered the competitive field of rear-wheel-drive, four-door V-8 sedans. It's very much the Australian version of NASCAR, except Supercars race cars can actually be identified as stock. Until now, only the Holden ClubSport and Ford Falcon sedans -- both of which can be purchased in Australia with massive V-8 engines -- have been in the mix.
Nissan hopes to make a big splash -- much in the way Toyota did when it entered an American-dominated NASCAR in 2007 -- especially when the race series arrives to the brand-new Circuit of the Americas course in Austin, Texas next May.
We just wish Nissan's ultimate family sledgehammer was a production Altima. What kind of praise must we spew to make that happen?
In a friendly corporate gesture to victims of Hurricane Sandy, Chevrolet said it would donate 50 pickup trucks and vans to the American Red Cross to help with relief efforts.
Consider it a donation worth at least $1.25 million, or roughly $25,000 per Silverado pickup and Express van. That's on top of an earlier $250,000 donation that General Motors made to the Red Cross prior to the storm. All of the vehicles will be pulled off dealer lots to speed delivery.
Viewed as a marketing effort, GM's donation may not put anyone in the mood to buy a Chevy -- or any car, for that matter. New and used car sales are expected to face a noticeable drop this month and into November as storm cleanup continues and billions in potential damages mount.
As of Tuesday evening, 8.2 million people across the Northeast were without power, with New York City and New Jersey residents left without any mass transit. Many parts of the region's shoreline remains under water, and 39 people have died.
Had I entered accounting or some other traditional office career, I'd have rented an exotic car right after my 25th birthday. I'd have blown a thousand or two to drive a Ferrari or a Porsche for a few days, and then weep when it went away.
Instead, I became an automotive journalist, in which I sometimes see astronomically expensive cars dropped off at my feet, for free, each week. Now I will never rent a Porsche or a Ferrari because I've already had them, minus the price of gas, without any rental fees, security deposits, mileage restrictions, or annoying insurance requirements. Because of this, many people hate me.
For everyone else, renting has been the only option -- and it hasn't been a great deal.FULL ENTRY
In one of those "just because" moments, a motorboat in the shape of a Mini Cooper convertible will patrol the Charles River during this weekend's Head of the Charles Regatta.
At first glance, the boat appears to be a real Mini supported by an invisible barge, as the tires just skim the water's surface. A closer inspection reveals the truth: the entire body is a fiberglass mockup, complete with real tires, wheels, headlamps, and other factory parts. Real or not, rowing coaches would agree it's far more stylish than their own motor boats, but they don't need a Mini to bark at their athletes during practice.
Instead of the Mini's zippy four-cylinder engines -- some of which produce more than 200 horsepower, all this Mini has is a dinky 6-horsepower outboard. Speed won't matter, however, as the Mini boat only needs to ferry safety officials alongside hundreds of rowing teams. The Regatta typically attracts more than 9,000 teams and 300,000 spectators lining the three-mile route from the Boston University Boathouse to Christian Herter Park (heading west right after the river curves left).
In April, Mini grafted the bow of a DUKW-style vessel on the front of a blue Cooper hatch, dubbing its creation the "Yachtsman." This concept, which was "endorsed" by the Royal Navy, had a pirate flag and eye patch stuffed in the glovebox, an exhaust snorkel, and a "shark-resistant undercoating." "Simply downshift, grab a life vest, and let the Mini Yachtsman take care of the rest," the company said.
Just wait what these folks dream up for the next April Fool's day.
It might be getting cooler, but the season for open-air car shows is not over. Summer tires, convertibles, exotics, classics -- all of them should be out until the first snowflake hits. At least that's how I see it.
Here's a list of upcoming car shows in October (and only in October). If you have information on more, send me an email at clifford.atiyeh [at] globe dot com. Or, go to calendar.boston.com and add your car show to our site.
Cars & Coffee - Saturday, Oct. 13, 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. (with guest Wayne Carini from "Chasing Classic Cars"
VW Day/Transporterfest – Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Tutto Lite – Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Cars and Coffee - Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Extinct Car Day – Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Studebaker Day - Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Patriot Energy Charity Car Show - Saturday, Oct. 6 in Burlington
British Legends Weekend - Friday, Oct. 5 to Sunday, Oct. 7 in Falmouth
Amvets Post 147 Car Show - Sunday, Oct. 7 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Haverhill
BearskinNeck.net's Annual Fall Classic Car Show and Cruise Day - Sunday, Oct. 7 from 10 a.m. to at least 4 p.m. in Rockport
(Dominic Casserly for Boston Magazine)
Over the summer, I drove 2,138 miles on some of New England's greatest roads, hitting every state except Rhode Island.
I can't recall a more perfect summer on four wheels, and if you pick up the latest issue of Boston Magazine, you'll have a brilliant reason to get away next weekend as the leaves reach their peak spectrum of fall color.
Have a look, break out the maps, and get driving (and eating...there's plenty of time for that, too, along these routes).
Over the summer, I'd grown tired of the produce at my local Whole Foods. I wanted even fresher vegetables and fruit, but without having to trek to Haymarket or wait an entire week for the Allston Farmer's Market, open just hours at a time.
Allandale Farms in Brookline, the last working farm in the Boston metro area, is now my go-to shop for most everything delicious in season. First, it was the blood-red tomatoes. Then, the crisp, sweet cucumbers and squash. Now, it's the half-dozen varieties of apples I don't ever see at Whole Foods.
Allandale is open all week, has ample parking, and sits just 15 pretty minutes away from my home. Last week, I drove there in a 2013 Aston Martin V8 Vantage, a rare British sports car that makes the similar-looking Jaguar XK feel as common as farm equipment.
Thing is, it's not as fast as it looks. That could be good, since if I owned one, I'd be less likely to wreck it than if I had a Jaguar XKR-S, which has another 130 horsepower above the 420 found in the Aston's 4.7-liter V8. It's manly little car, too, with a heavy, spring-loaded racing clutch, heavy steering, a chunky shifter, and a stiff suspension. It's a workout to drive this car smoothly. And when you do, that XKR-S, for the same price, can beat your tail at a stop light. I'm not sure I'm OK with that.
Aston Martin offers a quicker fix: the 510-horsepower V12 Vantage. But that's even more expensive, and it's undoubtedly heavier and likely less nimble. For veggie runs, the V8 Vantage is all anyone really needs.
Check back later for a full review in the Sunday Globe.
Whether or not you're able to buy an $80,000 car makes no difference on how well you can hammer it in a parking lot.
Starting Friday, Jaguar will bring all of its sedans and coupes to Gillette Stadium, set up an autocross course, and let anyone over 21 years old smoke the tires (sorry, kids). It's part of Jaguar's "Alive" driving tour, which heads to 18 cities across the U.S. in an effort to sway people from the more popular German and Japanese competition.
The XF, XJ, and the limited XKR-S -- the most powerful Jaguar ever made -- will be on hand alongside professional racing instructors. A skid pad, acceleration and braking tests, and opportunities to crank stereos and order massages in the XJ's leather seats should provide easy entertainment for several hours.
They're here all weekend from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information is at Jaguar's site here. And be smart about the fine print -- do you really want to own an $80,000 car if you do something dumb?
About Boston Overdrive
|Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
|Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
|John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
|Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
|Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
|George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee