GirlDriver, USA

GirlDriver, USA
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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.