Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A distraction from your crappy holiday commute

This post almost turned into a rant about crappy drivers, traffic, and how awesome Top Gear is. But I held it back.

The roads are going to suck this week. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but Thanksgiving week is when the family packs into the minivan, and proceeds to Grandmas house, always in the left lane and way under the reasonable speed limit. This is when the travelers come out to do battle with the commuters.

How can you tell if you are stuck behind one of these people? A surefire way to know is if they slam on their brakes in the EZ pass lane, or you see someone blindly following their GPS into oncoming traffic. Do your best not to get behind ay minivan with stenciled stickers of the whole family plus the dog.

But I thought I was smart. This week, I did everything I could to avoid the roads. I had meetings scheduled in NYC on Monday and out on the Island on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then my Tuesday got moved, and now I’m stuck driving to Jersey today. It took me 2 hours to get in, but that’s probably nothing compared to what thwe ride home is going to be.  But at least its better then Wednesday.  I guess that’s karma teaching me not to meddle with my business schedule just to avoid driving.

But the post today is actually to distract me from all of this with some auto-erotica. I don’t understand the Nissan Juke, although I have been dying to drive one. A sporty, well handling compact car seems like a no brainer for commuting, assuming the MPG is up to snuff. But then the boys over at Nissan UK decided to stuff a 3.8 liter V6 from a GT-R into it. The result is pure beauty. Autoblog has been covering the build from day 1, and they have now posted some videos from Nissan on it. We can expect this will never be more than a project car, but its good to know that they care. Check out the video below of the complete build firing up, anturn up your volume around the 1:00 minute mark to hear some Christmas music come early.

Via Nissan via Autoblog.

Video courtesy Nissan


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The way to San Jose…In a 2011 Dodge Avenger

 Last week, I was out in Northern California, and drove throughout San Francisco and down to San Jose in a rental car. After landing at 9 pm at SFO, and spending 45 minutes on the airport shuttle, I picked up my rental car from Avis, a 2011 Dodge Avenger with 12k miles on the clock.  I must admit I was hesitant given the storied past of the Avenger platform. The first one was on the Neon chassis, and was actually a quite aggressive car, but is a rare find. The second generation soiled the Dodge name with uninspired design and poor reliability. This is why this third version is a complete redesign, on the architecture of the Chrysler 200 / Fiat had me hopeful.


So now I’m cruising down the 101 south, end enjoying the ride. The 2.4 liter four-banger is pretty decent with 1734 HP and 166 F/lbs torque.  It provides adequate horsepower and torque for most highway driving, but it certainly is not enough to get anyone in trouble. The engineers obviously spent a lot of time tuning the exhaust note to make it more aggressive and throaty than one would expect from a small motor. The car focuses a lot on striking a balance for the young driver, with Mazda-like performance characteristics, and driver comfort. The styling of the car is also aggressive, one might even call it a “Mini Charger”.


So the first thing I notice in the interior is the buttons. There aren’t too many, and the ones I do use frequently for driving are easily accessible. It takes me some time to get used to them, as they are the total opposite side from the Nissan I’m used to driving, but that’s a personal quirk. So the buttons on the steering wheel control the stereo - and oh that stereo…easily the best stereo I have ever seen on a car at this price point. The bass is heavy, it’s loud and its clear. I’m no audiophile, but I know decent sound when I hear it. It’s also easy to control the other aspects such as the satellite radio and USB port.


The other thing I really liked about the 2011 Avenger was how it drove. Again, you can tell who they tuned this target market for, to compete directly with the Mazda 6’s of the world and Nissan Altimas. The suspension is tight, just right for spirited driving. Body roll is minimized, and its actually quite fun throwing this thing onto on-ramps at high speed.  It’s actually kind of fun. It’s also very stable at high speed on the highway, and executes lane changes without any hesitation. It also surprised me with how thrifty the motor was in fuel consumption, with the needle barely moving.


But as with any car, there were some negatives too, many of those I chalk up to being a rental car. First of all, there was a squeak. It was one of those annoying squeaks that you probably wouldn’t notice unless someone pointed it out, but it was always there. And it was annoying. I’m pretty sure it was just a bearing in the HVAC fan needed some lubrication, but it was driving me nuts. Additionally, since I was in California, of course I spent some time in traffic. This is when I start noticing the transmission would drop violently with a shudder in stop and go traffic. I am hoping the poor car was just a victim of rental car abuse, but when cruising at about 10 mph, and taking your foot off the gas, the shudder was definitely noticeable.  My only other complaints were poor rear visibility and the knowledge that this car would be awesome with a V6 (R/T model coming soon)


Overall, it was a pretty decent experience. As equipped, the car I drove clocked in between $19-20K, which is a fair price for the car. This model is leaps and bounds over its unloved predecessor. I think this would be a great commuter car, and a great everyday ride. It’s comfortable, has great infotainment, and is fueled by a proven powerplant. While reliability is not verified yet, the Fiat platform it rides on has been around for a while. It’s a good alternative to a soul-less Corolla or even a Civic, especially if you prefer to buy American. The trim levels, from base to loaded, are called “Express”, “Mainstreet”, “LUX”, and “Heat”, and are priced between $19,200 and $23,800.

[caption id="attachment_478" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="The 2011 Avenger in Express trim"][/caption]


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Apparently, I missed the memo that it was random shit in the road week in Metro NY.

Commuting this week in Metro NY

I missed the memo, that its “random shit in the road” week. Had I known, I would have been more cautious. Usually I can avoid obstacles, with a high speed straddle, but not the chunk of drywall that flew up and hit me on the Queensboro Bridge, and not the shredded tractor trailer tire that got me on 287. But yesterday I got hit by a bumper, from what appeared to be a Scion TC. BUT I WASN’T EVEN MOVING. Seriously, the thing just flew from the oncoming lane into the front of my car while I was sitting in traffic.


But it’s a crazy week out there, and I don’t know what’s going on. Traffic has been brutal on every road, and drivers are insane this week. I watched numerous times as people are fighting on high speed merges, while at least twice a day someone drifts into my lane at high speeds.  A tanker truck accident also has part of the NJ turnpike Western spur closed down, as they have to repave it, because it melted.

Even though today will be lighter because its electioin day, there is some crazy construction to note right now and watch out for:

-GWB, lower level, inbound – they are working on the right hand side, Deegan bound of the GWB lower level. They cut part of a lane out of the hard left merge, which is snarling traffic, as people don’t really understand how to take a tight turn. Expect the upper level to be better.

-Throgs Neck Bridge South - take the Whitestone Queensbound. For the next two weeks, this is going to a be nightmare getting into the tolls, as they have all but 2 lanes closed and split due to construction. The problem is further compounded by only having two cash lanes on either side.