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2018 Infiniti QX80


We've waited with baited breath for the all-new, break-through full-size SUV from Infiniti. A Concept Prototype at the New York Auto Show this year showed a cutting-edge, imposing vehicle, with a few features we knew wouldn't make it, like video cameras instead of side-view mirrors.

Infiniti QX80 Monograph Concept

Then, after the traditional Fall new model introductions passed and the QX80 didn't show, we figured that it was so special it would take a little longer for Infiniti to get it squared away. However, that wasn't the case.

When the QX80 finally appeared in the steel, it looked awfully familiar, but not because of the prototype we were shown this April. Strangely enough, when reading the specifications and equipment sheets, the 2018 model matched the 2017 to the tenth of an inch. Wheelbase, overall length, front track, rear track, width, height, are all exactly the same.

Production Model 2018 Infiniti QX80

Production Model 2018 Infiniti QX80

At first, I thought this was a mistake and someone had accidentally forwarded us last year's data, but after a careful reading of the press release that went with it, it seems as if it were correct: the 2018 QX80 was the 2017 QX80 with a new grill insert and a few other cosmetic changes. This is done all the time in the industry, it's called a "cosmetic refresh" or "facelift." But, when its done, the hoopla of a separate party at a major auto show and a press release so full of superlatives that it reads as if written by a freshman English major using a 20-sided die and a thesaurus.

The only difference in any of the specifications is a 1-percent reduction in turning diameter and a 3-percent difference in steering ratio. Even listed curb weight is identical to the pound.

Reading the press release made it obvious this was the same SUV, not because it said so, or even because a careful read showed no changes to the specs or equipment, but simply because a semantic removal of all adjectives left me with a blank sheet of paper. Seriously: "Our designers raised the visual height of our iconic ‘double-arch’ grille and signature headlamps, striking an unrivalled (SIC) on-road premium tonality." If the engineers and designers had spent 1% of the effort on this vehicle as the person who wrote the press release, it not only would have had video cameras for the side view, but the freaking thing would have floated 40-feet above the road noiselessly while burning nothing but tap water and emitting a slight scent of raspberries.

Anyway, we don't have a road test or driving impressions of the top SUV from Infiniti, but Car and Driver tested a QX54 in September 2010. That should work.


Driving a Maserati Ghibli in LA


Or, How We Tore Around Like Idiots Without Spending TOO Much Money!


Nice car


 We started online, looking at car rentals for our time at the LA Auto Show, where I stumbled upon a peer to peer car rental app: TURO. While comparing Enterprise and Budget ($199/day for a Grand Cherokee) I saw I could rent a Maserati Ghibli for less on TURO.

As if paying less than the cost of a Grand Cherokee weren’t enough, TURO, The P-2-P Car rental service we were using, has their own valet that brought the car to us. We picked up the Ghibli at 5:00 PM in a nearby hotel parking lot. That is, we would have, but the owner was caught in traffic. This would be a sign of things to com.

When the valet did arrive, he handled scanning my driver’s license and inspected the car. The valet’s overall demeanor was very friendly and used his phone to take pictures of the scratches on one side and the bad road rash on one of the wheels. After we fielded some questions for the owner on the best luxury car to buy, rent for a few years, and then resell, not a Maserati if you were wondering, we took off for our hotel.

First impressions: The navigation system didn’t work. Punching in the name of our hotel resulted in a spinning hourglass that stayed on unchanging. Trying by POI gets us a list that doesn’t include our hotel, probably because we were too far away and needed a navigation system to find it. Google Maps to the rescue! My sidekick pulled up our hotel in Google Maps and we began driving there, with the hourglass still spinning on the navigation screen.

Second Impressions: Loud. Fast. Great handling. Nice seats. We shot through traffic, at least as much as one can at 5:30 PM in LA traffic going from the airport to downtown. Its great fun to stomp the gas, twist the wheel, and shoot into an adjacent lane that allows me a few hundred feet of movement. (I strongly disagree with this statement. -My Sidekick) Sometimes a lane is inexplicably empty for several hundred yards and I must snarl down it as quickly as I can only to find out why it was empty and be forced to jump back into the other lane having gained on my destination.

Third impression: This car has more turbo lag than a mid-eighties Chrysler turbo automatic. At one traffic light I floor it… three seconds after I ooze away from the intersection, the Maserati growls, barks and lunges forward like a mastiff that’s just smelled the mailman on the next block. I try pressing the “S” Button which issues a “Sport Mode” message in the center of the gauge cluster and seems to improve the lag marginally, but now the car bucks, lunges and stays in a lower gear most of the time. I eventually get very good at flooring it about two seconds before I need maximum acceleration, unfortunately this doesn’t work with stoplights and I really don’t want to torque brake somebody else’s car. It does, however, make for incredibly amusing corners. As I floored it to go around and the car docilely turns in and then fishtails slightly on the exit as the engine finally surges to life. This trick just did not get old.

The next day, after taking the Maserati a couple of miles from the hotel to the convention center to register for the LA Auto Show (see 2016 LA Auto Show), my sidekick and I decided (I decided nothing! -Sidekick) that we should take a longer drive and get the feel of LA and the Ghibli on the open road. After briefly determining that if the Maserati Nav system knew where Pacific Coast Highway was, it wasn’t going to tell us, My Sidekick looked it up on his phone and we started to head in the direction.

We closed in on the PCH, using mostly surface streets, when I decided we should gas up. Luck was with us and we paid less than $3.00/gallon for premium. Three modern niceties we often overlook made it simpler to refuel: a glance at the gas gauge revealed an arrow pointing to the passenger side of the car, so I maneuvered to place the Maserati to the left of a free pump. The Ghibli’s locking fuel door automatically unlocked when we unlocked the car. Finally, the Ghibli is cap-less, so I just had to insert the nozzle and start pumping.

Full of 93-octane, we spun out of the station, headed towards PCH. Ever been on the PCH on a weekday at 6:00 PM? Yeah, loads of traffic. Not creeping, bumper-to-bumper traffic, but congested, tight, “we aren’t seeing what this Maserati can really do” traffic. By now I’ve gotten the turbo lag subconsciously compensated for in my brain, so I give it a good old CarChat try: pointing, squeezing, anticipating holes in traffic, staying in a right-turn-only lane until the last second, trying to drive a car with an on-off switch throttle smoothly and evenly.

Another shortcoming (for regular people) rears up: this car is as stereotypically Italian as a swarthy man carrying a sack of garlic bulbs. There is very poor rear visibility and almost no side visibility. The automatic dimming mirrors are either stuck in “dim” or their surface is just too dark after Sunset in Southern California. I compensate the only way I can: changing lanes with the gas pedal. Instead of looking or signaling, I just floored it for 2 1/2 seconds then change lanes. This amused me to no end, although my sidekick looked ill the majority of the time. This worked quite well as I avoided wrecking it the entire 4 days we got to drive it. I did however pick up a toll violation somehow. (With their cameras, changing undecipherable lane markings, and ambiguous signage, it is almost impossible to figure out if you’re violating something in California.) The TURO owner sends me a bill for the violation a couple of weeks after we get back.

 Ghibli at McDonalds

Overall, the Ghibli is great fun. As a daily driver it would probably become tiresome. As a head-turner in Southern California it is a complete flop, but I imagine a Ferrari wouldn’t raise many eyebrows, either. Overall, I'd give it a C+.


2017 Audi A4 preview

2017 A4

news-2017-audi-a4-l-14 The A4 has been the anchor of the Audi USA lineup since it replaced the Audi 80 in 1994. Moving furthermore upmarket, the A4 still uses the MLB architecture it shares with the A5-A8 and even the Porsche Macan. This architecture supports a longitudinal (versus transverse) mounted engine and front or all-wheel drive, separating it from the A3 which shares the MQB Volkswagen architecture with the Golf. The new A4 sits on a new chassis with a slightly longer wheelbase and overall length but 100 pounds lighter. Early reports of a very efficient 0.23 Cd coefficient of drag were exaggerated: the Cd is a still respectable 0.27. Perhaps the larger American license plate frame? The engine is an improved 2.0 turbo, the same 252-horsepower double overhead cam four-cylinder as the new A6. It is now linked exclusively to a seven-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox, also from the A6. Gone are the three different transmissions of the previous generation (8-speed automatic, 6-speed manual and CVT), meaning a three-pedal option is off the table. Quattro all-wheel drive is still available. Automatic engine start/stop is now part of the 2.0T and should improve city fuel mileage. Performance will increase substantially, because along with dragging 100 pounds less weight the A4 2.0T (presently the only variant) is up 32 horsepower, borrowing the A6's 252-horsepower 2.0 turbocharged 4-cylinder. With substantially larger brakes performance should be much better all around. Only the tires get smaller, but the lighter weight, longer wheelbase and wider track should compensate for it. Sadly, the turning diameter grows to a somewhat un-compact 38.1 feet, almost half a foot wider. On the technology front, the new A4 adds as standard a collision warning and automated braking system called "Audi pre sense® city." Pre sense basic, also standard includes electronically tightening front seatbelts and a system to close the windows, sunroof and move the driver and front passenger seats to a better position in the event an imminent collision is detected. If you dodge the bullet, everything returns to normal. (No, it doesn't present you with a pair of clean underwear; maybe next year.) Lane Departure Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control are offered as options on A4 Prestige. Both systems will actively help you stay in your lane using the electro-mechanical steering assist. Blind spot warning (Audi Side Assist) returns as an option, but with the added feature of pushing you back into your lane if something is in your way. A new top view camera system is standard on the A4 Prestige. The Parking System Plus now also includes front sonar sensors to complement the rear ones. A new SOS telematics system is now optional, which can call emergency services if it detects a collision or if you press a switch. Heated steering wheel, heated rear seats and ventilated front seats are newly available features for 2017. Overall the quality, look and feel of the materials on the new A4 is top-notch, and along with Audi's very significant gains in reliability measures it should be a reliable, long-lasting vehicle. Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 10.46.22 AM


2016 Lotus Evora 400

2016 Lotus Evora 400

[caption id="attachment_3039" align="aligncenter" width="980"]2016 Lotus Evora 400 Lotus Evora 400 at St. Louis Motorcars

We don't get a lot of Lotus (not Lotuses or Loti) over here in the States. Although we once got the Elise and Exige, U.S. safety regulations sent these diminutive almost-race cars back across the pond. Even the large grand touring Lotus, the Evora was chased out after 2014 due to the expiration of its advanced airbag waiver with the NHTSA. The new Lotus Evora 400 is back in the United States. After a one model year absence in 2015, the Evora has returned, with modern airbags and more horsepower. The "400" in "Evora 400" stands for 400 horsepower, up from the 276 of the previous base model and 345 of the supercharged Evora S. The Evora 400 is available with a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic with paddle shifting. The engine is still a bullet-proof 3.5 Toyota V6, ecstatic it will not have to live under the hood of a Highlander or Sienna. Instead it gets a honking big supercharger bolted to its intake tract with a water-to-air intercooler and an exhaust that sounds like it borrowed Volkswagen's emissions engineers during regulatory testing. Brakes are significantly beefier: 14.6 inches front and 13.8 inches front; venting and cross-drilling is standard front and rear. As Colin Chapman would have wanted, they simplified and added lightness. The Evora 400 weighs less than the previous Evora S, even with more horsepower, bigger brakes and wider tires. Lotuses, though a relative bargain for their performance, don't add "cheapness." The new Evora 400 starts at $89,900 American dollars.

2016 Lotus Evora 400 Interior Optional Alcantara® Interior

The exterior and interior receive various tweaks as well, with the changes to the interior being the most important. Right away when you enter, you'll notice you aren't wondering if you need to start taking Tai Chi classes at the senior center. The door sills have been made about two inches lower and narrower, making entry and exit much easier (still not like jumping in a Lincoln Town Car). Coupled with the manually tilting and telescoping wheel, comfort isn't much of a problem. Getting there might be: power seats, let alone memory seats aren't offered, and the control for changing the seat-back angle is a knob that has to be cranked a lot for each degree of change. Seat height is not adjustable. The rear seats are still for insurance purposes or groceries, only. The interior furnishings are much improved; the optional Alcantara® interior being especially handsome, including areas such as the dashboard and the non-grip areas of the steering wheel. Overall there are nice touches throughout, such as the brushed aluminum (please pronounce it "aluminium") shifter. 2016 Lotus Evora 400 Shifter Once you're in the car, you'll have better luck seeing behind you: a rear-view camera is now standard, as are rear sonar sensors to warn you if you're going to tear your bumpers off. (They were previously both options.) Controls are better in the new car, to name one specifically, the headlight control is now a simple, universally understood knob, versus the previous model's chromed buttons. Buttons that were scattered over the center console have been reorganized at the top of the center dashboard and are easier to reach. The trunk is still a tiny (5.7 cubic foot) cubby behind the engine compartment in the rear. The front section of the car does not open. 2016 Lotus Evora Engine Compartment Open


Not So Minivan

IMG_0291 (1) The stigma against minivans is unfounded. Are they uncool? I'll gladly join with plenty of happy soccer moms and ferry around six other friends at a time. Are they cumbersome? Well, according to those six friends in the back my braking skills could use some work so maybe it's okay I have to be intentional when slowing down. But as a college student, no anti-minivan propaganda could ever sway me after all the band equipment, furniture, and random "stuff" my faithful, if frumpy, steed has carried for me. Optimized-rsz_img_0244 My friend's art project, a massive chair made of cardboard, is one such random object I've been hauling around. Would it fit in a fancy two-door car? It doesn't; we tried when my friend attempted to take it back. IMG_0273 And about friends, you'll make a ton more when your six person band needs to get to practice together and everyone else owns two-seater trucks and cramped cars. Will you also be the first call when the question of transportation comes up? The small sample size of my life says yes, but you'll earn plenty of gentlemen points, and against the stereotype, gentlemen can own minivans, too. IMG_0261


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