Category Archives: car advice

2018 New England International Auto Show: Key takeaways

JOTD visited the New England International Auto show about a week ago and we wanted to share some of our impressions, takeaways, and general thoughts on the show itself and some of it’s more notable attendees.

The good:

Photo credit: MotorTrend

The Audi RS3 looks even better in person than it does in publications (certain wheels aside).  It has a presence beyond it’s size and it’s up there in the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” category with the older M5.  Bonus points to Audi for making in tall-person friendly!

 

The Genesis lineup had a strong presence there and the cars did not fail to deliver.  Interior fit and finish is very tight and overall material quality is excellent.  I’m not saying they are on-par with the S-Class (yet), but at a fraction of the price, they are most definitely worth a serious look.  We loved the look of the G80 Sport with the copper accents and aggressive wheels (pictured here), well done Hyun…errr…Genesis!

The new favorite of many automotive publications everywhere, the Kia Stinger, was there as well.  Once again, pictures simply don’t do it justice.  It looked great up on stage and not overly bedazzled as it might appear in pictures.  The lines are aggressive but not overly so and we think it will age well, but the verdict on that will, obviously, have to wait.

The Lexus LC500’s taillights are an incredible detail on an already drop-dead gorgeous car, see for yourself.

The bad:

While the new Ford Expedition does look the part of the big family-hauling, highway consuming behemoth with a handsome, masculine exterior, the interior was far from impressive.  For a $70k truck, we’d expect more than a sea of hard black plastic for a dashboard (with a comparatively miniscule infotainment screen) and a few more luxuries to accompany it.

Where were Mercedes Benz and BMW in all this?  Did they both decide to call in sick?

Thanks for reading!

 

Re-imagining classics, who is doing it well?

Nowadays, you have plenty of people out there breathing new life into old cars.  The process of starting from scratch with a decrepit old shell of a car and bringing it back to former glory is a long road filled with media blasting and more cursing than you thought possible.  What we’re seeing more of these days is shops and companies making a name for themselves producing NEW vehicles that are nearly identical to the vehicles of old that they are replicating.  Some start with an old shell, others manufacture new bodies, but these companies are putting together some very high-quality vehicles that are commanding some very high prices to match.  Here are some current leaders in this small world of factory “resto-mods” that we think you should pay attention to.

Singer:  What do you do if you want the modern conveniences of a new Porsche, but lust after the mechanical, analog feel of an older 911.  You get Singer, a California based shop that has completely changed the way people look at modifying classic cars.  Put simply, this is the old 911 re-imagined for the 21st century.  Every car is completely redone from frunk to whale-tail and the attention to detail is astounding.  Expect to pay a pretty penny for a car that fits you like a glove and will put a smile on your face like nothing else can.  It’s not chump change, but some would argue this is about as close to perfection as you can get.

Icon:  The Toyota FJ40 has long been an icon (icon…get it?) in the off-roading community.  The time-tested capability and reliability are second to none, and Icon has made a market for themselves building these older cruisers from scratch with modern amenities.  You can even outfit your 2 door Icon with a 4 on the floor and a Chevy 350 if you so please.  The craftsmanship that goes into turning one of the most rattle-filled (albeit rock-solid) trucks on the planet into something that you can tolerate driving on a daily basis is nothing short of incredible, and their pricing does reflect that.  They not only work on the tried-and-true Toyota, but also turn out some show-stopping Broncos.  But rest assured, if we had the budget, an Icon would be at the top of our list.

Eagle:  If classic British motoring is a passion of yours and you’ve got some money burning a hole in the pocket of your Barbour jacket, look no further than the Eagle E-Type.  Many argue that the Jaguar E-Type is the most beautiful car ever made (Enzo himself said that), and Eagle is hand building them as we speak (albeit in lower numbers than the original).  However, each E-Type produced by Eagle is 100% handmade in their factory to very exacting standards.  You can even custom build your own bespoke E-Type to your liking, does it get any better?  Hard to believe that the most beautiful car on the road could be reimagined at all, but the folks at Eagle have definitely pulled it off.

Factory Five/Superformance:  These two get lumped together often as producing some of the best replicas of the older American performance cars (Shelby Cobra, Daytona coupe etc.)  Factory Five has a strong support base and allows you to build the car EXACTLY how you want it.  If you are a backyard mechanic, however, your Cobra replica from Factory Five might not operate like a swiss watch.  If you opt for the spend-ier Superformance, you get a car that was 100% put together in a factory with high quality parts that were made to go together, but as a result, you are paying up for that privilege. Whichever of these two you select for you gas-guzzling fix, you are sure to get a car more than capable of leaving some rubber on the pavement.

If you are in a position, and looking, to purchase something that’s unique, classic and modern all rolled up into one beautiful piece of sheet metal, look no further than these artists keeping classic cars alive.

Performance bargain spotlight: Audi RS4

What do you get when you take an average AWD family sedan and inject it with 8 cylinders that scream to a glorious redline of 8250 rpm?  The answer, folks, is the Audi RS4.  Long coveted by enthusiasts looking for subtle speed, the RS4 was the fastest variant of the B7 A4 platform and is no longer available in the states.  We had the opportunity to glimpse one for sale out towards western Massachusetts, and it did not disappoint. 

With an original MSRP of over $80,000, this particular example from 2008 is finished in the ever-popular Daytona Gray with just a hair over 75k miles.  From the outset, it is clear this was a well-maintained car.  Service receipts are plentiful, and creaks and rattles are basically non-existent.  There are a few very minor blemishes on the car, but only ones you’ll spot if you’re really looking for them.  But then again, vehicles like this were never meant to be center stage at a concours d’elegance, these cars were meant to be driven. 

The interior shows some wear consistent with a nearly 10-year-old car, but there’s nothing that a little bit of TLC couldn’t fix.  The white interior sets off the gray exterior nicely and could look almost brand new with a good leather treatment.  

The car is located at Right Way Auto Sales in Southborough, MA and is listed at a very fair $29,995.  Considering the level of refinement, gobs of power, and overall desirability of the RS4, the price is quite appealing.  Here’s to hoping it finds a new home where the new owner will appreciate it for the wolf in sheep’s clothing that it is.    

A Brief Thought on Electric Vehicles

Auto enthusiasts and non-gearheads alike are wondering when the electric vehicle will become more mainstream.  Tesla’s successful shattering of the “uncool” stigma that plagued EVs and hybrids of the past has many new startups trying to follow suit (yes, we’re talking about you, Faraday), and this has people wondering; what is standing in the way of electric cars taking over?

Well for one, there’s the lack of proper infrastructure.  Many people are still married to the idea that they can simply jump into the car and drive wherever they like, limited only by the size of their bladders and frequency of gas stations along the way.  The often innate desire to be able to drive across the country at the drop of a hat can be found deep in the recesses of their repressed wanderlust, and that very notion being limited is what hurts electric vehicles sales no matter how little it actually matters to the workaday commuter.  The idea that once the needle hits “E”, there is no way to power back up in 5 minutes (unless you have carefully crafted your route around available charging stations) is a tough pill to swallow.

Batteries come to mind as another limitation.  Their size, weight, and general lack of performance hinder what are otherwise very technologically advanced vehicles.  Advances in battery technology to the point where they can last longer, weigh less, and offer up more overall performance will be needed to move more EVs from dealership lots and get the general population on board with accepting these vehicles as a viable alternative to traditional fossil fuel vehicles.

Until charging stations or battery swap locations are more actively subsidized and built at a more rapid pace to match the ambitions of major manufacturers, the majority of consumers will still pick the regular, fossil fuel burning auto over the futuristic EV as their primary mode of transport.

What are your thoughts on electric vehicles?

Driving Instruction and Why It Needs to Change

As someone who learned to drive at a very young age on private property, parking lots, and various driveways, I feel very strongly about the benefits of getting familiar with how a car operates just as soon as you can touch the pedals.  There is no replacement for seat time and an experienced kid behind the wheel is much safer than one that doesn’t know how to handle a car.

Now the problem today is that most drivers (young and old alike) do not know how to handle a car in the worst case scenarios simply because they’ve never been put into those situations. Driver education focuses on preventing drivers from getting themselves into dangerous situations, and that’s important, but the fact of the matter is that sometimes things happen and when they do, no amount of preventative education will help.

It is under these conditions in which a driver would benefit from a training program that focuses on car control in extreme circumstances.  A program that allows a driver to experience a car skidding out and losing traction or the pulse of the brake pedal as the ABS kicks in should be a required class to get your license, to drive on the road in which you are responsible for your car, your safety and that of your passengers, and by extension, the lives of other drivers on the road.

We are letting new drivers off easy with the almost laughably lax requirements to get a learner’s permit/license.  30 hours of classroom instruction, 12 hours of behind the wheel instruction, and 6 hours of in-car observation (in MA) is all fine and dandy, but where is the instruction around how to avoid a snowbank when your brakes lock up and your car won’t turn?  Where is the instruction on what do to if the back end of the car starts sliding out on you?  The old adage of “hope for the best but prepare for the worst” has never rung truer.  We want young drivers on the road who are competent at handling potentially dangerous situations because they have experienced them before (in a controlled environment of course).

We need to start taking young driver education more seriously and prepare them for dangerous situations so that they can react appropriately and possibly keep themselves out of trouble.

The Subaru Impreza: Why 2017 is a big year

As much as we New Englanders love our AWD Subaru chariots to get us to/from wherever we need to go no matter what the conditions, the word phrase “refined ride” isn’t exactly part of their brand vocabulary.  Utilitarian is just one  word that comes to mind when describing an older Forester or bare bones Impreza, and it seems Subaru was listening to consumers as is evident in the newly redesigned Impreza.

Photo Credit: Consumer Reports

For 2017, Subaru has announced to the AWD faithful that their new Impreza (based on an all-new, shareable platform) will be quieter, ride better, and be an all-around more comfortable vehicle.  Sure, they’ve been saying that for a little while and with the exception of the Outback or Legacy, their vehicles have remained relatively “tinny”.  However, this is now a completely different ball game.

Photo credit: Consumer Reports

At first glance, not much appears to have changed.  The updates to the exterior are there (but subtle) and while the interior does benefit from some choice upgrades like a nice big touch screen and soft-touch materials, it isn’t a completely different vehicle, and for good reason.

Photo Credit: Subaru

The biggest changes become apparent when you get it out on the road.  Noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) levels have been reduced significantly and overall the cabin feels much more solid than past generations.  Steering response is great and the vehicle feels much more planted on the road, all adding to the image of a vehicle that really can “do it all” and be reasonably priced.  All of a sudden, you realize that Subaru took all of the successful aspects of the old Impreza, and simply refined it to the point where it functions as a much more comfortable vehicle without losing the Subaru character that people love.

Photo Credit: Motor Trend

As a whole, the new Impreza has certainly upped it’s game.  As pricing stays relatively flat, it will likely now appeal to buyers looking for the functionality of an AWD hatchback but want a little bit more refinement than hat was previously available at Subaru.  This new platform will be shared with other vehicles in the lineup so we look forward to driving the CrossTrek and Forester, among others.  Time will tell if this is what Subaru was going for, but we’re predicting that this can only mean good things for the unofficial car manufacturer of New England.

Best Bug-Out vehicles

While I think most of us can agree that the zombie apocalypse isn’t going to happen next week, that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to dream about building up or buying a vehicle as the ultimate bug-out, go-anywhere-and-survive type of transportation.  So, without further ado, here is a list of the top vehicles that will keep you out of harm’s way in the most extreme (if not altogether unlikely) of scenarios.

 

1)      Avtoros Shaman:  You probably haven’t heard about this low-volume, Russian-made beast but that doesn’t mean it won’t put most anything to shame off the pavement. 8 wheel drive, 8 wheel steering, amphibious capabilities, and seating for 7 of your closest friends/family, what’s not to like?  Throw a mattress and a few packets of Quaker oatmeal in the back and you’re good to go. 

 

2)      Hagglund BV206:  Ever wanted to own a mini-tank but just didn’t pull the trigger because, well, it didn’t have a trailer?  Your search has ended.  The Hagglund was built for the sole purpose of going absolutely anywhere on the planet with all of the necessities to survive the harshest environs, including Antarctica.

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3)      M35 2.5 ton cargo truck: Affectionately called the “deuce and a half” this military grade truck is a go-anywhere 6X6 that is fairly readily available.  Though its top speed is nothing spectacular, it will run on pretty much anything and laugh in the face of small road obstacles.  Throw a camper on the back and you’ve got yourself a pretty bulletproof truck.    

 

4)      Earth Roamer XV-LT:  If the zombie apocalypse forces you into the great outdoors, the Earth Romer is the vehicle to have.  Based on the Ford F550 platform, these cab-over expedition duty campers are designed to keep you comfortable wherever the path may lead you. 

 

5)      The “Kira” Expedition RV:  Brian Ferren of Applied Minds has built the ultimate go anywhere vehicle.  Designed to tackle terrain with the most powerful technology this planet has to offer, (not to mention a turbo-diesel motorcycle for light reconnaissance) you’d be able to head to the most remote reaches of the planet with ease (and a hot shower).

 

6)      The “Burlak”: Once again, the Russians deliver a monster of a truck capable of toppling mountains with a punch of the skinny pedal.  From the guys who brought you the Sherp (a smaller version of this, essentially) this vehicle has the space to take you and your family of 4 anywhere in relative comfort. 

 

7)      Russian “Vityaz” or DT-30PM: This is a just a fancy way of saying a tank with another tank as a trailer.  This “articulating tracked vehicle” or ATV is basically two tanks strapped together with a payload of 10 tons.  Popular in the then USSR, these vehicles saw military and civilian action all over the world gaining access to remote areas where nothing else could dream of going.

 

8)      Arctic Trucks Toyota Hilux AT44 6X6: One of the slightly more civilized and attainable vehicles of this bunch, the transformed Hilux has already performed admirably on Top Gear’s Arctic special (albeit in a slightly different form).  Toyota build quality with Icelandic arctic ingenuity and know-how, doubtful there’s a better cold weather combo out there. 

 

So when you’re preparing for the end of days, be sure to save up for some suitable transportation because these aren’t going to be cheap (or easy to find).  Drool away preppers, your vehicle has arrived! 

The legend lives on: The 2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

The Toyota Land Cruiser name has always been synonymous with go-anywhere capability but only in the 1990’s did it begin to garner some respect as a luxury vehicle as well.  Well this trend continues with this mid-model refresh for 2016, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a more capable luxury vehicle than this uber-posh off-roader.

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For 2016, the front fascia of the Land Cruiser gets a refresh, the most prominent new feature being the quad-projector LED headlights that light up the night like the 4th of July.  The revised grill has been accused of being too Highlander-esque but there’s no mistaking this for the Toyota cross-over with much less machismo.  From the A-pillars forward, we have all new sheet metal and the taillights get a slightly refreshed look, but overall, there aren’t very many significant changes to the exterior of the Land Cruiser for 2016, unless of course you count the multiple little “Land Cruiser” embellishments on the headlights and bottom of the rear doors.

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Inside is where you’ll notice the biggest changes.  2016 brings in a new era of gadgetry with a 9” touch screen shoe-horned into the center console.  In keeping with the Land Cruiser tradition, every feature is standard equipment, meaning you get Bluetooth, navigation, heated/cooled seats, 2 rear entertainment screens and a plethora of other luxury bits to keep you and your riders happy.  Quality materials are still used everywhere, and the new steering wheel not only looks and feels great, but also heats up for those cold winter days.  Legroom and headroom are still ample in both front and rear seats, but you do feel like you are in a bit of a cockpit with this latest generation having all manner of knobs and buttons very close to the driver.  Worth noting is that any surface, button or knob that gets used frequently exudes true quality.  The aforementioned knobs feel like solid metal, the switches most commonly used are like a well-oiled bolt-action rifle, simply perfection.  Additionally, the seats are very comfortable and would serve anyone well on long family expeditions.  Overall, a very nice place to be, especially with this author’s favorite, the optional Terra (brown) leather.

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Safety is still a Toyota priority and the Land Cruiser is no exception.  As standard equipment, you’ll find blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warnings, and radar guided cruise control that can brake the vehicle in case the driver isn’t paying attention.  Not only is this vehicle a great cross-country hauler, but these features add a new level of safety that comes standard. 

On the road, the Land Cruiser still feels as solid as ever.  Speed bumps simply flatten out in fear, potholes and road imperfections are coerced into submission, there is really no better riding full-size SUV on the planet.  Road noise is minimal with the huge amount of sound deadening used, and the only drawback to this latest Land Cruiser is the visibility.  With the newly designed hood that is about the same size as a soccer field, forward visibility is reduced a bit.  The same 5.7L V8 comes back unchanged for 2016 as it still puts out a hefty yet buttery smooth 381hp and 401 lb/ft of torque, but don’t expect this monster to win any drag races as it tips the scales at 5765 lbs, not exactly light.  The new 8 speed transmission does its best to help in these cases, but you’d be hard pressed to notice a difference from the last gearbox other than that it seems to shift a bit more frequently and perhaps it does so q bit more quickly and smoothly.  Overall it still has great manners on or off the road, but long distance drivers especially will appreciate just how stress-free piloting one of these behemoths has become.

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At roughly $85k, there’s no denying that this is not an inexpensive vehicle, but when you crunch the numbers on just how long these legends last with so few repairs required, things start to add up.  If you want the ultimate vehicle in luxury, capability, and reliability, look no further than the Toyota Land Cruiser.

10 good cars for under $10K you can buy NOW

The title says it all really…

http://www.carfax.com/vehicles/2T1KU40E49C007553-used-2009-toyota-matrix–malden

Toyota Matrix:  A great little economy car with a lot of miles left to go at only 73K miles!  Great on gas too, a good bargain at this price.

http://www.carfax.com/vehicles/JM1BL1SG4A1227266-used-2010-mazda-mazda3-i-sport–malden

Mazda 3:  Another great affordable car, but this one has a nice interior that feels much more expensive than it actually is, hats off to Mazda for making a great little all-around car.

http://www.carfax.com/vehicles/JTMBK32V365002513-used-2006-toyota-rav4-sport–brockton

Toyota Rav4:  If you need a bit more space but don’t need a full-size SUV, a Rav4 is a excellent choice that will last for years to come.  Don’t spend up on a new one when this one has plenty of life left!

http://www.carfax.com/vehicles/JTHBA30G045005498-used-2004-lexus-es-330–shrewsbury

Lexus ES330:  For those who want luxury on a budget, it is hard to beat a used Lexus ES.  With great service records and low mileage for the year, this is a great find that will run smoothly for years to come

http://www.carfax.com/vehicles/1FTYR10D18PA84754-used-2008-ford-ranger–north-hampton

Ford Ranger:  If you don’t want to pay the premium for a Tacoma, a Ranger is a great option for a small utility pickup.

http://www.carfax.com/vehicles/1GKEK13Z12R328904-used-2002-gmc-yukon–storrs-mansfield

GMC Yukon:  This is a full-size family hauler that could be negotiated down a bit.  Solid SUV with a traditional body-on-frame construction that’ll run for years to come, a family truckster on a budget!

http://www.carfax.com/vehicles/JTJHA31U040049429-used-2004-lexus-rx-330–manchester

Lexus RX: the quintessential crossover SUV with all the luxury you could ever need.  A bargain for under 10k and a car that will keep you floating over the pavement for many more miles.

http://www.carfax.com/vehicles/JN1AZ0CP1CT021707-used-2012-nissan-leaf–dedham

Nissan Leaf:  If you want to go green on a budget, this ultra-low mileage Leaf will get you there with cash to spare.  All electric means a limited range before you need a charge, but this would be a great second car or dedicated commuter vehicle.

http://www.carfax.com/vehicles/JTEBT14RX58027385-used-2005-toyota-4runner-sr5–haverhill

Toyota 4Runner V8:  The V8 will run forever, tow anything, and never break on you,  need we say more?

http://www.carfax.com/vehicles/5TBBT44144S455584-used-2004-toyota-tundra-sr5–auburn

Toyota Tundra:  A full-size work truck on a budget, V8 that will last forever, what more could one ask for?

 

Hybrids: What makes them different and how to they work?

Many people have heard the term hybrid thrown around a lot but don’t really understand how a modern day hybrid works.  The most obvious benefit of a hybrid is the incredible gas mileage, but what is going on behind the scenes to make them sip that gas rather than guzzle it?  We’ll try to explain these very complex systems here, but in the interest of our own sanity and because of the limits of our technical knowledge, we’ll keep this on the simpler side. 

There are several different forms of hybrid drivetrains, the most common one being both an electric motor and a gas motor powering the wheels, acting in conjunction with one another, called a parallel hybrid.   This is beneficial because you have the benefit of the torque of the electric motor in addition to the added power of the gasoline engine when you need it.  In most cases, the gas engine is activated when you put your foot down to accelerate quickly. 

A second popular configuration is called the series hybrid.  What makes the layout different is that instead of having both the gas and electric motors connected to the driven wheels, the series hybrid only has the electric motors connected to the wheels while the gas engine is there only to generate power for the electric motors through a generator, converter, and battery.  This setup is popular because the gas engine can be a lot smaller and more efficient because it no longer has to do the work of helping to drive the wheels.

These are, in one form or another, the most common types of hybrid drivetrains present in vehicles today.  For example, the Toyota Prius, which is one of the best-selling hybrids on the road, utilizes a highly refined parallel drivetrain called a power-split hybrid which allows the engine to be connected to the wheels electrically or mechanically at any given point.  There are different configurations of each of these systems, differing in the way the engine is utilized and how often the electric and gas motors are used, but the basic technology remains the same across many platforms regardless of manufacturer. 

With a true hybrid, there are generally three different ways that the car can be powered.  As one would expect, there is full electric mode which means the car or truck is being driven by the electric motors alone.  There is a limited range with this mode, as with gas cars, because the battery can only last so long before it needs a recharge. 

A gas only mode is exactly what it sounds like, a mode where only the gas engine is utilized.  This is generally happening when more power is needed perhaps with more aggressive driving or when the vehicle is loaded up with passengers and gear but the driver still wants to cruise at a reasonable highway speed.

Finally, a true hybrid will have the ability to combine both power sources at any given time to complement each’s strengths and weaknesses.  For example, cars with smaller 4 cylinder engines may find themselves lacking in power in the lower RPM’s of the rev range.  An electric motor, in this case, would prove particularly useful in aiding the engine from a stand-still with a heavy load, thus reducing the strain on the engine.      

This should cover the more common, conventional hybrids on the road today.  True to their innovative nature, automotive manufacturers are constantly at work coming up with new, more efficient ways to get cars down the road so don’t be surprised if there are different options out there in short order.  However, the same basic principles will apply so if you are looking for an efficient mode of transportation without committing to going full electric just yet, a hybrid may be the car for you!