GirlDriver, USA

GirlDriver, USA
Look! It's GirlDriver, USA.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cinderella Drives Mice to Ball In Luxury

My late husband, Jerry Flint, and I were chatting with his son, Doug about the cruelty of mouse traps. Glue them down and let them starve or snap their little bodies in half.  Yuk.  Doug sent us a couple of catch and release traps along with a supply of peanut butter crackers that his Virginia mice like, but we never got to use them together. 
My first night in the house alone, as if being alone wasn’t enough, I heard scratching noises in the ceiling.  I was sure the house was being occupied by gigantic rats.  I loaded a trap with crackers, threw it in the area where I’d heard noises and beat it back to the city.  When I got back the following week, two pair of little black eyes stared out at me from the box.  What to do?   
Being suddenly solo when you have been a partner for so many years is difficult on all fronts. Some you anticipate but trapping mice isn’t one them.  I put the three of us—all terrified-–into the back of a Cadillac CTS wagon, my test car for the week, and drove up to the town’s public park situated on a high hill overlooking the spectacular Hudson River.   I flipped open the traps with a garden tool that had a long handle and returned the creatures to the wild with an extra supply of peanut butter crackers.   
The next week I caught another one and transported it to the park in a Buick LaCrosse. As I escorted the mice to the rear seat of the coach, I thought, “Is this progress for mankind or for mice?”  Maybe both.  I was feeling compassion, not repulsion.  As for the mice they got a luxury ride to their idea of heaven. 
I thought about Gus and Jaq, the two mice who powered the pumpkin-turned-coach that took Cinderella to the ball.  In a great reversal, Cinderella was taking mice to the ball.   Jerry would have loved it.  And I'm sure the mice did too.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Here's a great resource:, the government’s official site for fuel economy information, has just released the new fuel economy estimates for 2012 model year vehicles. Please see the attached article for full details. The site has also published its list of “all-time” fuel economy top ten vehicles for model years 1984 to the present (go to and click the “EPA Rated - All Years” for details). What’s new this year is that half the vehicles on the all-time list are 2012 model year vehicles currently available for purchase. Older, low-tech vehicles are being replaced by newer, high-tech models.

Monday, October 3, 2011

GirlDriver, USA Wins Popularity Contest

You know you're hot when teenage boys stare at you in awe. I had their attention several days ago, driving the 2012 2LT Camaro Convertible, white with an orange stripe down its torso. It also looks foxy in silver (see photo). I had come from our auto writers big yearly event, which we call Test Days. The auto manufacturers bring their new cars, line them up along the road leading to the track, the keys in the ignitions. We auto writers are let us loose on them around the Monticello Race Track in New York. At dinner the night before track day, we celebrate a new model year with the automakers and the next morning we hit the track for a day of serious driving. The folks at GM gave me a Camaro to drive away. I left the track and hit the highway. Almost immediately, I was stopped by two pimple-faced cops--they couldn't have been more than 19. They had a little blockade set up. Whatever they were looking for I couldn't have fit the profile even remotely. And, I was on the nose with the posted speed. But I got stopped anyway. "I knew you'd stop me," I said. I mean they were so young, they wouldn't have had the guts to arrest me. Seriously. "What's with this car?," the tall one said. I explained my job, as they looked at me quizzically. I showed them around the car and then the short one said, "I'd like this car for the weekend." "Can't help you," I shrugged. But would my tune change if I were facing a $200 speeding ticket? Hmmmm, well, no. It's not my car, remember. I did allow a car nut friend to take it out for a spin. A spin? We drove 100 miles. Top down, gray sky, cool breeze, September--there are moments when you just say, Hey, this convertible, horsepower, muscle thing? It's alright. The thing about the Camaro? It's pure Detroit. No accents. Detroit steel--no question about it. Jerry and I were driving a muscle car once and, looking misty-eyed, he said, "It's like driving yesterday." The rear drive Camaro come with a 3.6 liter, V6 engine paired with a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission. The tame model puts out 312 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque. Anyone who is interested in this vehicle wants its 0-60 credentials. The Camaro, according to the guys who test for this, is 5.7 seconds. It gets faster with the ZL1 that delivers 550 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque. Remember those 19-year-old cops? GM calls the interior color Inferno Orange. I call it red. Anyway, its paired with the white exterior interrupted by the orange paint strip. You won't go unnoticed. Gas mileage, at 18 city/29 highway, isn't bad for a muscle car . My vehicle as equipped including destination charge was $38,530. This was with the RS package that includes high intensity headlamps with an LED halo ring, 20" aluminum wheels, the 6-speed automatic transmission with tap shift and remote vehicle start and the orange stripe down the center of the vehicle. The rear view mirror had a back up camera in it--very cool to see it in the rear view mirror. And the car had head-up display. I wish more cars had it. It's so much easier to keep your eyes on the road. The Camaro was very well equipped--you want for nothing. Nice job, GM. I would have a hard time deciding between this and the Mustang Boss, which I drove a few weeks ago out in Detroit. I guess I'd just have to have both of them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mazda RX8 Grand Touring--Be Mine

Have you ever had this experience? A tone invades the cabin of your car. It's coming from the engine but it sounds like a choir of aliens. But, wait! It t is so integral to your existence you become one with the universe? No? Well, then, I guess you have not heard the engine of a Mazda RX8. That is a sound that makes you whole. I step into the Mazda RX8. The car is flawless. It's roomy in the cabin. The seats are very comfortable on a couple of long rides--and, to boot, they are heated. I did get all my stuff into the trunk though it was a bit of a squeeze. I let a friend drive it and he was so taken with the car, he convinced himself that it was a family car. "No," I heard him say, "this could be a family car." That's how bad this car gets to you. It is rear wheel drive, equipped with a 1.3 liter Rotary engine that doles out 232 horsepower and 159 lb.-ft. of torque. The engine is paired with a 6-speed manual transmission, and power assist 4-wheel ventilated disc brakes. My car was tarted up with a sparkling red called Velocity Red MC that complimented the 18-inch aluminum wheels quite nicely. There was only one choice for the interior color of this car--black leather. I would not term this vehicle a family car, but it has suicide doors and those two back seats will fit adults okay. Anyway, if you're the owner of this car, you're really not going to worry that much about the comfort of back seat passengers. I like the way the eyebrow headlamps work within the fluid design of the car, but at night in the country on those deer-infested roads, I yearned for more light to spot them. It's just fun to have an open moon roof in a car like RX-8 on a beautiful night. The only thing that I didn't care for is that gas mileage isn't great--16 city/22 highway and since it requires premium fuel and I could not stop driving the car, I spent a few pesos on gasoline over the weekend. My vehicle was a 2011 and as optioned it cost $33,055 including destination. I returned the car Sunday night, as I usually do, and I wept. I owned a Miata and when people ask me what my favorite vehicle is, I always say that Miata. With all its flaws--not that many--it was to me the car most in sync with my motor personality. I will add the RX8 to my conversations from here on out. What was Ford thinking when it divorced itself from Mazda? This company makes such great cars.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

2012 Camry Hybrid Cranking at a higher FE

I drove the 2011 Toyota Camry Hybrid for a week recently. I logged 641.6 comfortable miles and averaged 37.4 mpg. I was quite happy with the functions in the car and the mileage, (EPA rating is 31 city/35 highway, combined 33). Like all of us, I wince when I put those fill-ups on my credit card. But, the whole trip cost only around $65 in gas, not a big blip on the monthly statement.

The story gets better with the 2012 model. Much of the hybrid powertrain is new--including the engine. The new hybrid system has a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that delivers 200 horsepower. Toyota has also reduced the weight of the hybrid by 220 pounds. The improvements give you better fuel economy, fewer emissions and also faster acceleration--7.6 seconds from 0-60. Fuel economy jumps to 43 city/41 highway, the best mileage of any midsize sedan available today, with a range of 650 miles.

Along with improvements, the Camry Hybrid LE will cost less. Toyota has reduced the price $1,150 to an MSRP of $25,900. The premium Camry Hybrid XLE model is $800 less with an upgrade package at an MSRP of $27,400. As equipped, the 2011 vehicle I drove cost $29,420. The hybrids arrive at dealerships in November; the gas-powered Camrys arrive October 3rd.

The 2012 Camry, with three powertrains, including the hybrid was introduced on August 23. The Camry. which debuted in the U.S. in 1983, has been a big success story for Toyota. Globally the car has sold 15 million since its introduction. It has been the best selling midsize sedan for nine years running and 13 out of the last 14 years. The earthquake and tsunami, Toyota's unintended acceleration nightmare, as well as increased competition contributed to a 31 percent decline is Camry sales from its best sales year 2007. It is still the best selling mid-size sedan with total sales last year of 327,804.

Serious competition from competitors is one problem that isn't going to go away. Hyundai sells a Sonata hybrid. Volkswagen has a Passat hybrid coming in 2013. And these days, those two companies seem to be the ones to worry about. Toyota, which faced criticism for not making a bolder new design with the 2012, defends its evolutionary approach. Bob Carter, Carter Group Vice President and General Manager, Toyota Division was quoted saying, "Styling like the Sonata's is not a quick way to get to 400,000 sales."

Toyota's reputation has been battered over the last year. But I wonder how many of its competitors could have held up as well under the pressure. Years of steadfast reliability have helped the company. I would worry about the coming competition, not only from VW and Hyundai, but from other manufacturers like Kia, GM, Nissan and Honda. Still Toyota is a strong company. And the Camry, with so many loyal owners, will survive. It may not have the record sales of 2007, but it will be strong.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Andy Pilgrim Shows Parents "Driving Skills That Kill" in His New PSAs

I met Andy Pilgrim at the Oregon Raceway over a year ago. Andy has won 5 Championships and 61 races so far in his professional racing career, has also been in the role of a factory driver racing BMWs and Porsches. He has raced for GM in Corvettes, Pontiacs (remember Pontiac?) and Cadillacs and is currently part of the Cadillace team for SCCA Pro Racing with the CTS-V Coupe.

When I got to the Oregon Raceway, a new and technical course, I was tired from the day-before travel from the East Coast and that day's all-day drive. I drove the Volvo S60 on the track, did one lap and handed over my keys. I knew in my gut I shouldn't be out on the track, but I didn't want to give in. At dinner that night I confessed my self-disappointment to Andy that I couldn't burn some rubber. If I wasn't 100 percent, I shouldn't be out there, he told me and then confessed he doesn't go on the track when he's tired either. Well, that put my little trauma in perspective.

Driving is serious business not business as usual. Our attention should be on the road 100%. Andy has a foundation whose mission is to teach new drivers good driving skills. Young drivers, not surprisingly, learn a lot of their driving habits from parents--parents who put on make up, talk on the phone, get into heated discussions and succumb to other distractions while driving. Parents: your kids are watching.

Andy has just completed three PSAs that are available for download at his foundation website, They are designed to help parents. Check them out and drive carefully and attentively.

New Technology For Keeping Tires Inflated On Its Way

So many people don't know how much fuel economy they lose from under-inflated tires. Seriously, how many friends do you have who check their tires religiously?

But the estimates for a decrease in fuel economy run from 2.5 percent to 3.3 percent per mile for underinflated tires. A vehicle that gets 40 miles per gallon would get less than 39 miles per gallon at 3.3 percent. That translates to about 12 cents per gallon at today's prices.

But when you stop for gas, do you really feel like checking the PSI in your tires? Do you even think of it? Do you have time? It's one of those things that's so easy to put off.

Goodyear has a new technology under development that could help to make underinflated tires a thing of the past. It's working on something called Air Maintenance Technology (AMT). Miniaturized pumps, that will keep tires inflated to their correct PSI at all times, will be fully contained within the tires eliminating the need for external pumps and electronics. I once asked a GM engineer to name the worst technology in recent years and without hesitation she said, "the tire pressure monitoring system."

So presumably with Goodyear's AMT system, all those annoying warnings about your tire pressure that are both scary and inaccurate would go away. That alone is good news. But if we calculate the elimination of "low" tires relative to fuel savings, this could have a substantial impact on CO2.

No doubt these tires will be expensive, but would there be a case--like the argument that diesel eventually pays for the frontloaded cost by saving fuel and lasting longer--that you will make up the difference in fuel cost savings? We won't know until the technology is in the market.

Goodyear is speeding up its research in light of new government mandates for higher fuel economy. They don't say when the technology will be available. But the U.S. Department of Energy and the government of Luxembourg have given Goodyear grants to pursue the development.

Goodyear is also working, along with many other tire companies, on developing lower rolling resistance tires.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Can boxy be cool? 2011 Scion xB

I was feeling the need to connect to my inner twenty-something, which is buried beneath a few extra years, so I borrowed the Scion xB from Toyota. Certainly, this car, in a color named sizzling crimson (my people call it burgundy), intended to appeal to a younger generation, would dig into my psyche and pull out that wild and crazy girl I really am.

To be honest, I was expecting not to like it, but you know, this boxy little brat is kinda cute. In a boxy, little car kind of way.

It's got a 2.4 liter 4-cylinder engine that puts out 158 horsepower. Mine was paired with a 4-speed automatic transmission (a 5-speed manual is standard). With the technology built into the powertrain and transmission, the ride is satisfying and pugnacious, though it can be a little shy of go. Driving position is upright--something I've always found comfortable. All my stuff--a lot--packed neatly into the roomy interior, so there I was booking up the Taconic singing over a fair amount of road and wind noise, along to the XM Broadway channel, my constant companion.

The centrally placed gauges--speedo, fuel, tach--pop up out of the dash. I like the pop because it keeps your eyes closer to the road and eyes on the road is a major key to safe driving. The central location of the the gauges is not ideal. The large round heating and AC controls are joy to operate. The radio, less so, though it is not thoroughly mind boggling the way some are.

My vehicle, with premium sound and upgraded alloy wheels came in at $22,213 including destination charge. The base model is very well equipped for a small car and for the enthusiasts, there are hundreds of after market add ons. (The Scion is that kind of car--it has fans who want to add and add.) Fuel economy is listed at 22 city/28 highway, not the 30 or even 40 claimed by other small vehicles. I'm not sure why the fuel economy is so lackluster, but these days when the government is going for a corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) of 54.5 by 2025, this small car isn't doing us or Toyota any favors. (In car development years that's not a long time.)

To be brief, I did touch base with my inner twenty-something and over all I do recommend at least giving this burgundy brat a drive around if you are considering a new vehicle. You might think, uh-uh, at first glance, but look again. It comes in other colors, too.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

2012 Honda Civic EX

At $21,255, the 2012 Honda Civic 4-door EX is slightly more expensive than the Hyundai Elantra, which runs MSRP from $17,445 to $20,445. These two cars are being compared more as shoppers start to shed their notions about Hyundai being a cheap car. The Elantra is moving fast off the showroom floor, it's residual values are up and it did outsell the Civic in May and June of this year.

The enthusiasts are unhappy with the new Civic. They don't like the styling, feel that the interior has been cheapened both in materials, fit and finish. Some don't like the two-tiered instrument panel. I don't think the two-tiered instrument panel is the most elegant solution for an IP, but I do like the fact that I can check gas and mileage and keep my eyes closer to the road. Other welcome eyes-on-the-road features are the large knobs to operate the AC and heat. Also I didn't find operating the audio system daunting and distracting.

Critics feel that the ride and handling is bland compared to previous generation Civics (this vehicle is in its ninth iteration!), which were driven and driven and then turned over to young tuner guys and gals who added their favorite after market parts and made that Civic baby famous as a tuner car. I'm not one to measure every 100th of a second it takes from 0-60, but I love to drive. I had a fun, sporty, spirited ride on the Taconic Parkway twisties. I like this ride. The wheelbase is shorter than the previous gen and that helps with responsive handling.

We got decent gas mileage--averaging about 35.5. EPA estimates for the Civic are 28 city/39 highway, which is pretty close to the Elantra that is rated at 40. These improvements in mileage come from aerodynamic improvements and reductions in rolling resistance.

The Civic has a 1.8 liter, 4-cylinder engine that puts out 140 horsepower and 128 lb.-ft. of torque. My vehicle had a six-speed automatic.

Plenty of room--leg, body and cargo in this vehicle.

Everyone's complaining about the hard plastics and yes, Honda, they have to go.

According to Kelley Blue Book, one of the top websites where buyers do their research on cars they are thinking about buying, the Honda Civic is the number one researched sedan. But guess who's number 2? The Hyundai Elantra.

If you don't know what Hyundai is up to, you are so far behind. They are marching toward the top and you do want to look at their cars. Honda also faces some other stiff competition--the new Chevy Cruze, which is hotcakes right now, the Ford Focus and the Volkswagen GTI. I'd be nervous if I was in a race with these guys.

Still, this Civic be on my shopping list. Definitely.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Juke, Juke. Shoop, Shoop.

There's something about the Nissan Juke that makes me feel like an insect goddess with special powers. It has to be the combination of quirky design and the plucky powertrain. Do insects fly sideways? The fruit fly does for sure. And scientists have discovered that an insect, with its bulky body and delicate wings, stays airborne because its motor works the same way a piston engine works--once it's turned on it keeps running until you turn it off.

The Juke has very comfortable seats and it is very spirited on the road so we had a lot of fun trekking around in this car. My northern friends could consider buying it, because it has available AWD. Someone wants a little car like this 5-door hatchback but they need good winter traction for a steep driveway--this'll do it. It gets 27 miles per gallon city and 32 highway, not spectacular but decent.

The MSRP for the AWD that I had starts at $20,570 and goes to $22,880. The engine is a 1.6 liter, 4-cylinder turbo combined with a CVT automatic. A 6-speed manual is available.

There are some very nice styling details including trim that matches the exterior color (mine was Cayenne Red) and snappy looking cloth seats. There's an iPod input right near the driver.

I don't take the entire apartment with me when I travel, but I do have a suitcase, a work bag and about 4 bags for groceries. With the back seats up, I was hard put to fit all my stuff into the car.

The back seat has limited headroom. The styling is--well as I said--insect with special powers.

Monday, June 27, 2011

My Kind of World--Burnt Orange

Just returned from a 450 mile trip in the 2011 Honda Fit painted a favorite color of mine--burnt orange. The Fit is a roomy, comfortable small hatchback. The instrument panel has large dials, simple solutions to things like checking your gas mileage, which for me averaged an excellent 35.5. Fuel economy is rated at 27 city/ 33 highway. MSRP starts around $16,000. The cost of mine as equipped was $20,000, with a navigation system.

The auto press loves this car because it is spirited driver with a 117 hp, 1.5 Liter SOHC (single overhead cam), 16 valve IVTEC 4-cylinder engine paired with at 5-speed automatic. I have a very steep hill I use to test my cars and this little Fit climbed it admirably. The car has been getting high fives from Car and Driver for years ( ranks as one of its 10 best every year. I may not have been able to hear the radio as it climbed the hill, but a bit of a noisy engine is the trade-off.

The looks of the Fit, like the looks of the Scion xB, may be off-putting at first. It's wedgy and I'm never going to love wedgy as much as curvy. But once you have driven the car (fun!) and seen its versatile roomy interior, you might put it on a short list. Rear seats fold down to create a huge cargo space, but, get this, the rear bench seat also folds up so you can put stuff there too. Clever by half.

No question it's a terrific model and to boot, it's a Honda. There are others in this category that compete with its attributes--the Ford Fiesta and the Mazda 3 to name a few.

I did like the Fit. I might buy the Fit. I don't like its looks that much so I would have to go deeper into my research to be 100% sure. But, good? You bet.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Audi Rocket

Are you worried about your popularity? The surefire way to overcome your anxieties and become the most popular person in town overnight is to own an Audi A7.

Last weekend, the A7 was parked in my driveway. I had so many drop-ins I barely had time for lunch. And while it always sounds more professional to point out the imperfections of a test vehicle, I could not stop praising the car’s luscious design, its supercharged, explosive acceleration enabled by 310hp and 325 lb-ft. of torque, its smooth, precise handling, which caused me to develop a bad case of lane-changeitis.

Sign up at the A7 booth for fun to drive-- more than just fun, really––sensational. One friend is probably at his dealership now turning in his '03 Allroad. He has wisely started a savings account to help pay for the tickets he anticipates receiving once he is no longer earthbound.

The A7 I drove, the 2012 3.0 TFSI (Turbo Fuel Stratified Injection) Quattro Auto Tiptronic, TFSI allows fuel to be directly injected into the combustions chamber making it much more fuel efficient. My car had special Dakota Gray metallic paint, an eight-speed Tiptronic transmission and a $6,000 prestige package that included Audi navigation, Audi connect, front and rear parking sensors with a review camera, advanced key, 4-zone automatic climate control, front seat ventilation, Bose surround sound audio, HD radio, blind spot detection and more. The back seat was configured for two people and had an armrest with a tray for keys, cell phones, etc. With upgraded 20” wheels the package came to $68,630 including destination charge. As one friend said, “I could live in it.”

When I got home, the trunk would not open so I pulled down the pass-through in the back and then folded down the rear seats and got my stuff out of the trunk through the interior of the car. See no car is perfect and electronics have a way of being finicky. Audi is diagnosing that problem to see what went wrong.
Gas mileage is 18 MPG city and 28 MPG highway with a combined 22 MPG.

VW 2012 Passat Midsize Sedan

We drove two of the three versions of the 2012 Passat a few weeks ago, the TDI Clean Diesel, turbocharged 2.0 liter in-line 4-cylinder that delivers 140 horsepower and 236 lb.-ft. of torque and the 2.5 liter in-line 5-cylinder that has 170 horsepower and 177 lb-ft. of torque. All of the new Passat models are front-wheel drive with no all-wheel drive options. The midsize sedan market in America is front-wheel drive and VW is going to the heart of the market. Both the 5-cylinder and the TDI are available with either manual or automatic transmission. The third model, the V-6, comes only as an automatic.
The Passat is the only Clean Diesel offered in the segment and VW estimates that it will achieve 43-MPG highway and a range of nearly 800 miles. The very nicely contented vehicle tops out at about $33,000. At this price level, with that range, and all the options including heated front seats, a cool audio system, a VW interior, leather and wood trim, do I really want to entertain the idea of buying a $33,000 hybrid or a $40,000 electric?
VW emphasizes that its new Passat is built specifically for the American market. That probably accounts for the generous rear-seat legroom (if you transport leggy individuals, you will certainly appreciate the extra space.) It also accounts for what I experienced as a taming of the German handling. It was there all right—maneuverable, tight to the corners, fun to drive, but it felt just a tad less Autobahn to me. And VW has gone to bland on the color palette, tapping into America’s fear of color boldness--the most popular car color in America is white. I just don’t understand why it isn’t burnt orange.

Friday, June 10, 2011

VW's New Plant in Chattanooga

Despite all our problems, including an endless parade of deviant "foppervs" (my coin) like Anthony Weiner, we are still a great country.
Know how I know? I go see it quite a bit. Last week I was in Chattanooga, a place I’ve never been. Plunk in the middle of a former military facility where dynamite was once stored is a stunning new auto plant, built by Volkswagen.
If you look at the design and the flow of the plant, it is pure German engineering—stark, simple, efficient. Touring a modern auto plant, reveals how clean, automated and green manufacturing can be. In fact, Volkswagen views the Chattanooga plant as a benchmark against which other VW plants will be built.
Mostly Americans work there, local Chattanoogans, transplants from other manufacturers and some Germans. The plant, so far, has employed 1,800 people. As the line ramps up, more jobs will be filled. The employees go through testing and more testing and once hired, they attend the Volkswagen Academy, which teaches them to build cars according to VW standards. Right now they are building the 2012 Passat, the first vehicle to come off the Chattanooga line. There are about 60 cars a day coming off the line now but the goal is to produce up to 230 a day by the end of June and they are confident they will get there.
Coming from New York State, which is so anti-business you couldn’t build a toothpick factory, I never ceased to be amazed at what the Southern states have done to build their economies. Need to remediate wetlands? Sure, let’s get the environmental department together with the construction people with the Governor and not only remediate wetlands but add to them. No problem down south. In New York, we’d lose the business before we sat down and had a conversation about what’s possible. But don’t get me started on that.
More on the car in the next installment. But I will say that VW is on a roll. In May, they achieved their best market share since 1981—that was 30 years ago. They had their best May since 2002. They sold more than 30,000 vehicles for the first time since August of 2003.
Car companies go through up and down cycles. They just do. It’s part of the business. And VW is on an upswing.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Friend Faity turns 100

This is a big month for my friend Faity Tuttle who I caught up with at the family farm over Memorial Day weekend. She's turning 100. The festivities have begun. This coming weekend the historical society of Columbia County is hosting its annual benefit in her honor. Then at the end of June her friends and family party will be held at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where Faity has been a board member forever.

Faity has been a role model for me over the last 25 years. She takes everything in stride. She totally enjoys her life. She was still modeling and acting in her 90s. A few months ago her daughter-in-law, Michelle, a close friend, asked me if I could give her a ride back to the city. I said, "Michelle, I would do that anytime, you know that, but I can't put Faity into the Dodge Charger SRT 8. She's like, too old! OK, you come to her house with me and we'll pack her into the car or at least try."

When we arrived, Faity was standing outside her house with her bag. "Nice car!", says she as she hops into the passenger seat. Off we went down to the city, talking nonstop for 2.5 hours. The next day she was on the front page of The New York Times, in a story about people turning 100.

Faity, who acted with Humphrey Bogart in The Little Foxes on Broadway, is still razor sharp. She recently recalled the installation of the first traffic light in New York--at 42nd Street.

Here she is in the golf cart her son gave her for her 99th birthday with her friend Squeaky who was a well-know illustrator. When not carting around the farm, Faity still drive her Toyota Camry. And even after a couple of Vodka martinis, she handles herself well on the road. Oh to be like Faity when I get there.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Shared dinner with Ralph Jakobs, head of research and development for Volkswagen. He is located here in Chattanooga home to the first U.S. Volkswagen plant, which we will tour tomorrow.

The new Passat, which we also drive from Chattanooga to Nashville tomorrow, is being built here. There's been a lot of anticipation around the car and my colleague journalists and I are looking forward to getting into the cars.

Jakobs shared some pretty interesting information tonight. About 85% of the parts in the new Passat are sourced in America. Some also come from Mexico where VW used to build the New Beetle and some from Germany. But 85% American parts? That's amazing when you think how difficult it is to buy anything made here anymore.

I asked how many parts were sourced in China. "One," said Jakobs, "the sunvisor." Really? Only one part sourced in China? Wow.

More later on the plant and the vehicle.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Don't Saudi Men Have Anything Better To Do? A Saudi GirlDriver defies a fatwa

In Saudi Arabia, the U.S.'s favorite oil buddy, women are not allowed to drive. But Manal al Sharif, a 32-year-old Saudi woman took to the road last week, posted a video of her driving (, which the Saudis are trying to censor. She was detained briefly, but continues to organize via the web a protest that puts Saudi women behind the wheel en masse. The protest is scheduled to take place on June 17th in Saudi Arabia.

Apparently there is a campaign afoot among Saudi men to beat women who drive. But as with the Arab spring, it is unlikely that the women will be intimidated or stopped. Spread the word. Lend support.

Saudi women can't take public transportation because of the separation of men and women in the culture. That leaves them twiddling their thumbs unless they can afford a driver. Says Sharif, "It's too expensive. Many women can't afford it."

This may on the surface be about culture, but right underneath it's about control. Go Manal.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Beyond Slackers

It’s pretty hard to top a Slackers burger accompanied by sweet potato fries followed by a drive through Capitol Reef National Park. So we don’t try. It’s getting late and we are expected to be at the Gateway Resort Tuesday afternoon. We head for the interstate 70 north of Moab and Arches National Park and drive for three more hours until we reach the resort in Colorado, near Grand Junction. Our gas mileage throughout the trip has averaged between 24.4 and 24.9. Total miles: 917. The XC60 prices range from $33,500 with destination to over $42,000.
Volvo’s three XC models are not brand new. But they represent 50% of Volvo sales in America, so the point of asking journalists to drive these vehicles for a week is to give them a lifestyle positioning. I wonder if consumers care if a car is a brand new design or a mid life-cycle update—or if the companies push the impulse to buy a brand new model because they throw millions of marketing dollars at it and don’t give the older model any marketing support.
At this resort, Gateway, we are invited to participate in any of the outdoor (or be outdoorsy, if you want to spin it as lifestyle) activities that are offered. Phil and I have both chosen to go for a little clip clop atop a horse, so Wednesday morning we set out, me on Melody, a spirited little quarter horse and he on Splash, a big comfortable Percheron cross. Amy, our trail boss, is full of information about the geology, history and local color of our location so we learn about the first rancher families of Gateway and the rock formations that surround us in the canyon. Well into the ride, it starts to thunder. We can add another 20 minutes onto our ride or head back. Although I feel like a sissy, I’m suffering from day two of a heavy cold, it is freezing on the trail (it’s not rain, it’s sleet) so we head back and give our horses back to their pasture. We drive XC70 T6 with all-wheel drive and the 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder turbocharged engine with 300 horsepower and 325 lb.-ft. torque. It also comes with a 3.2-liter inline 6-cylinder engine with 240 horsepower and a ULEV emissions rating and a 230 horsepower with PZEV emissions rating. All-wheel drive with Instant TractionTM is optional on the 3.2.
The technology package on this car speaks to Volvo’s leadership in safety. It’s got Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Collision Warning with Auto Brake (CWAB), Distance Alert (DA) and Lane Departure Warning (LDW). In other words if you drop the ball and lose focus, its got your back. The XC70 prices range from around $33,500 to $39,000 with destination. Pretty good stuff.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Onward to Slackers Burgers and the gorgeous Capitol Reef National Park

We head south-southeast on Route 24, north of Koosharem—through Loa, Teasdale and into Torrey where we find Slackers Burger Joint just in time for lunch. Slackers is listed in Utah magazine’s 75 Best Places for a Burger. We stop for lunch puzzling over the fact that Utah magazine has found 75 great burger joints. There are almost 3 million people in Utah but really, how many “great” burger joints can there be? Even if Utah magazine was padding the story a little, they found an absolute gem of a restaurant, family owned, where I ordered one of the top 75 best burgers I’ve ever tasted. The bread to beef ratio was perfect. Pickles, mayo, lettuce, tomato—the works. With sweet potato fries, it was a great meal within a snazzy roadside joint environment. I checked out the kitchen—it was spotless. Slackers is also the culinary gateway to a park I had never heard of before we drove into it, Capitol Reef National Park. Cliffs, arches, twisting canyons and spires rank this park as the biggest surprise of the trip. I've never read about it, never heard anyone mention it or write about it in an article and all I can say is, go there.
We are spending long hours driving on this trip. The XC60 is true to its Volvo heritage and that includes comfortable, well-bolstered seats. The 12 hour/six hour drives are a real test of how important good seats are to comfort and endurance on a long trip. The other noticeable feature is that there is plenty of visibility all around. So many cars today don’t have good visibility out the rear window because of what is called “the high belt line.” The high belt line narrows the measurements of the side and rear windows. The XC60 has all the competence that the Swedes build into their vehicles. But, the XC60 is more than competent and sensible; it is a joy to drive.

Volvo Team Panguitch

We name our driving team the Panguitches after a town of the same name along our route. The name captures us and it rhymes with sangwich, as in “I think I’ll make myself a sangwich.” Panguitch is a Paiute word, natives who lived in the area when the white settlers came.

We go north from Bryce, passing Panguitch, on Route 89, a good secondary road. At Koosharem, we are stopped in our tracks by an old sign painted on the side of a building advertising No Rip Overalls. It’s a mercantile store with two gas pumps. We stop to photograph and fill up. Gas is running $3.69-$3.89 a gallon. At those prices, we're rollin'.

We step into Grass Valley Mercantile Store and back in time. We didn’t have to pay first to pump gas at the out of date pumps and we tell the owner how surprising that is to us city folk. “There’re only two roads out of here,” he says, and we all got guns.”

Bryce Canyon

The great lodge

After big rustler breakfast grub at Bryce Canyon Lodge, one of the great national park lodges built in the 1920s, we walk towards the ridge of the canyon. There it is, a hoodoo magical kingdom, part Disney, part geology. The mythical inhabitants, the warring factions, the lovely daughter of the king endangered by a scoundrel all yours to imagine. If you don’t see the magical kingdom angle, study the history of these rocks called Claron formations, which got going about 200 million years ago. Do both. At an altitude of 8,500 feet, a short hike from Sunrise Point down into the hoodoos takes one’s breath away physically and psychically. Frequent stops are required to get it back. A cold is taking hold too, making me woozy––as if the magnificent rock formation colors soft off-whites to deep brick aren’t enough to make one’s head spin.

Phil Reed. Possible head spin.

Mythical canyon.

After climbing around the hoodoos for a short while we drive toward our next destination, Gateway CO.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Who does this?

Yesterday morning, May 16, Volvo handed us keys to a new XC60 and said, “Be at the Gateway Resort near Grand Junction, CO in two days. Have a nice trip.”
Other than that, Phil Reed from and I were on our own. Volvo management tried to entice us to spend tonight in Vegas, but but around 11:30 we blew past a city we both find—well, unnecessary. We were headed for the Lodge inside Bryce National Canyon National Park where we could sing Do, do, that hoodoo that you do to me. Hoodoo, for the uninitiated is a pinnacle of odd-shaped rock left standing by the forces of erosion. Second definition—to cast a spell and these rock formations have an upper hand there. In their sweep, their grandeur is imposing fascination.
I still get a kick out of signs written in giant letters that say EAT, especially when they are on top of buildings that are smaller than the sign, but we were happy to see the first leg of the trip disappear and melt into the natural beauty that is why we chose our route
Volvo has termed this the XC adventure—we’ll end up driving all three models—the XC60, XC70 and XC90--by the end of the trip. We get points for doing things they ask us to do so we headed first for the St. George Animal Shelter in St. George, Utah. We made it there around 5 just as they were closing. There was a rescued drama enacted on the spot when a young woman brought in a dog that had been hit by a car. I asked the shelter folks if I could see the dogs for rescue. The minute I walked in they all stopped barking and looked at me as if to say, Is today my lucky day? I photographed them but I did not rescue any of them. Each one posed and spoke not a woof. I have to say I wanted to pile them all in the XC60 and take them back to New York. We had some Chinese food and got back on the road.
Spending all day in a car—a good 11 hours straight—give you a very rounded picture of a vehicle. Volvo right-sized this vehicle. It’s perfect for four people who have a lot of stuff. Has the Swedish elegance and the safety. More later on Bryce Canyon and today’s drive.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mazda CX-9 Sport (Available in Touring & Grand Touring too)

The handling of this lovely crossover was the most surprising. That, and the fact that several car nuts fell hard for it. I gave a friend a ride home Saturday night and other than commenting on my it's-late-and-law-enforcement-has-gone-home, slightly over-confident driving style, he was so impressed with the ride and the appointments in the interior. I couldn't get my friend John to stop examining the interior. He was smitten. Isabelle drove back to New York with me. She loved how comfortable it is.

Seven passenger, fully appointed, 36 month, 36,000 mile warranty, power lift gate. I'd spring for the $2,265 moonroof package after seeing that moon on Saturday night. Probably would skip the navigation system. I think they're going away. Everyone's got everything on their phones now.

Really tight steering, fabulous pick up (Torque baby), handled beautifully in my twisty route. And there was room for my big purse.

Engine: 3.7-liter V6 with 273 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque.
Drive Train: Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional on all trims. A six-speed automatic is the only available transmission.
Color and styling: Dolphin Gray Mica exterior, sand interior. Oooooo, nice. See photos. It looks like a crossover.

Comparos: Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse

MSRP $34,535, as equipped $39,800. Fuel 16 City, 22 Highway

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Scary Driving Scenario for Parents--Prom Night!

Once the family photos are taken and the corsages are pinned, parents must watch their son or daughter get behind the wheel for one of the biggest nights of their teen life. This is a night of nerves--the kids are anxious about their dates and parents worry about the potential for disaster on a night when teen tribal instincts swell.

Parents should not feel helpless. They play the most significant role in development of their child as a safe driver. In a survey commissioned by Ford and conducted by Kelton research, more than three quarters of the tweens and teens surveyed, said they relied heavily on their parents advice when they start driving and look to their parents as role models. The lesson here is that parents/adults have to be better drivers than they think they are. Why? Because they are being watched by the next generation of drivers.

Ninety-five percent of parents surveyed believe they are safe drivers. While 95% of young people rated their parents as generally safe drivers about 82% of teens report parents have been careless while driving. Eighty percent said they’ve seen their parents engaged in one or another of the following: eating, reading, texting, grooming or talking on the phone.

So, parents, it is time to face yourself in the mirror and ask yourself how good you really are.

Monday, April 18, 2011

VW Unveils Beetle

VW wants to sell a lot of Beetles, not just in America but in China and Europe. How many? I bet they're looking at a 50,000 here in the U.S. "We don't disclose the numbers," says Ranier Michel, Vice President of Product Marketing and Strategy, but it is very important to our volume growth plan."

Beetle is a 2-door hatchback. It is longer, lower and wider than the New Beetle, which was introduced in 1998. I thought the interior room was fine and there's good trunk space--a 4-5 bagger.

The new design loses its cartoonishness, conjuring the classic Beetle that America fell in love with in the 1960s. Michel believes that the new model will connect back to the classic Beetle. "I don't think there will be any confusion with the previous model. That model was good for its time and it was very successful, but this model is for now." Michel notes big opportunities for customization, lots of accessories, adjustable ambient lighting in car's interior, a Fender sound system, sporty fashion-y paint colors as things that people want today.

The front hood is longer, the windshield has been moved back is at a steeper angle. The rear of the vehicle replicates the lines of the original car but it has--without overreaching--a bold and modern feel. The driving position has been moved forward, the interior has cues from the old Beetle like the glove box integrated into the dash as well as a glove box below, the three round gauges for speedometer, tachometer and fuel in the instrument panel have big numbers and a welcome simplicity. In the turbo there are three additional gauges in the center for oil pressure, turbo and stop watch. The dash has color or a carbon look that gives it a quality feel. We did not see any mouse brown interiors in the show cars and I expect that VW will make all the interiors with a snappy, high-quality feel. The trim color on the interior will match the exterior paint--cool.

Think sporty and cool. You can get 19" wheels if you want.

On Sale and Pricing
Pricing hasn't been announced. I'm guessing in the $17,000-$18,000 range. It'll be on sale September/October. It will be built in Mexico. VW will sell this around the globe--lots of potential in Europe and China.

Beetle (it's official name, no article before it) will have three engines: 2.5L gasoline five cylinder, 2.0L TDI Clean Diesel, and 2.0L TSI Turbocharged engine. The 2.5L will come with a 5-speed transmission and an optional 6. The Clean Diesel and Turbo will come standard with a six-speed manual. An options is VW's 6-speed dual clutch transmission.

Fuel economy:
The four cylinder 2.0L TDI Clean Diesel engine produces 140 hp and 236 lb.-ft of torque. It meets all U.S. emission limits and offers manufacturer estimates of 40 mpg highway, 29 mpg city, and 33 mpg combined.

Two 2.5L five cylinder engine models. With 5-speed manual transmission,
estimates are 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. With a 6-speed automatic 22 mpg city, 29 mpg highway. The five cylinder engine produces 170 hp and 177 lb.-ft of torque.

The 2.0L, the sportiest model offered has 200 hp, 207 lb.-ft of torque and an estimated 30 mpg highway.

Intelligent Crash Response System, which initiates automatic safety protection in some types of collisions — the electrical supply to the fuel pump is shut off, the doors unlock and the hazard lights switch on. Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is standard, as are driver and front passenger airbags and Side Curtain Protection® airbags in front and rear.

It's a 2-door, limiting the access to the back seat, though once back there it's roomy. VW is dealing with quality problems. Their scores are coming back up. Jonathan Browning, VW president of North America says they are being diligently worked on, but it takes time to get quality back. VW has a great, professional serious focused team. I'm betting on them.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

New York Auto Show 2011

Officially, the press days of the New York auto show start on Wednesday with the opening breakfast at Javits. But manufacturers are so pumped about their new products, that introductions start tomorrow at 9 a.m.

The unveilings kick off with an introduction to the Beetle. That's not the old Beetle, or the New Beetle, but the new New Beetle, which will just be called The Beetle. I'm excited to see it. We've seen the profile from the side. It looks longer than the New Beetle so I assume it will have more space inside and greater dimension. But more on that tomorrow.

On Tuesday, the NADA holds their conference with some looks at the U.S. economy as it relates to the automotive world. We'll hear what is happening with market share among the competing companies and the competing segments. Tuesday evening there are about 10 press conference/gatherings all around the same time. Suzuki, Nissan, Audi, Lexus, Porsche and Ford all have news to share.

Wednesday, the press conferences start and will continue into Thursday. Looking forward to this show because despite how the industry keeps getting slammed, it is a business that is always inventing and changing and trying new things. And it doesn't get much credit for the innovation. It gets a lot of criticism, much of it deserved, but much of it undeserved.