GirlDriver, USA

GirlDriver, USA
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Friday, December 13, 2013

VW's XL1--into the Future.

Scissor doors open.
I swear, scissor doors are like catnip to guys.  You wouldn't believe how much attention we got driving VW's XL1 in midtown on December 11th.  Men behind the wheels of their Maximas and Bimmers grinning from ear to ear; workmen jumping out of their trucks to ask about the car.  "How much is that car?,"  one asked.  "$145,000, but for you, $138,000," I quipped (and I hope it is not too egotistical to say I quipped).  My colleague had a bus driver stop his bus in the middle of the street, open the bus door and start asking questions about the car--while he was on his bus route with passengers in the bus!

The XL1 looks like a space ship that was inspired by a mango--in our case a bright white mango.(VW says it's a dolphin.)  The vehicle uses everything in the automotive design and engineering toolbox to get 261 miles out of it's battery/diesel powertrain.  Carbon fiber, no mirrors mounted to the doors--these are replaced by small cameras known as e-mirrors (digital outside mirrors) that send images to two displays inside the vehicle, rear wheels fully covered to prevent turbulence, while airflow around the wheelarches is optimized by small spoilers in front of and behind the wheels.  Polycarbonate side windows weigh about a third less than conventional windows.  This two-seater can drive up to 31 miles as a zero-emissions electric vehicle.

Patrick, who showed me around the car clutching a part made of carbon fiber described the car as a technological guidepost for VW's future.  Interesting then, that it has no Nav system (it uses a Garmin--again to save weight and probably money) and it has roll-up windows.   The XL1 weighs only 1753 pounds, has exceptional aerodynamics, and has a low center of gravity. That allows the XL1 to  cruise at  62 mph using  8.3 horsepower. In all-electric mode, the XL1 requires less than 0.1 kWh to cover more than 0.6 miles.

Take a class on graceful entry and exit before getting in the car.
This is the third generation of Volkswagen’s 1-liter car strategy.   The XL1’s plug-in hybrid system consists of a 48-hp two-cylinder TDI® Clean Diesel engine, a 27-hp electric motor, a seven-speed DSG® dual-clutch automatic transmission, and a lithium-ion battery.
The 5.5kWh lithium-ion battery supplies the electric motor with 220 volts of electrical energy. The electronics system manages the flow of high voltage energy to and from the battery or electric motor and converts direct current to alternating current. Battery regeneration occurs when the car is slowing down and when the car brakes, at which point the electric motor acts as a generator. The XL1’s 12-volt electrical system is supplied via a DC/DC converter and a small auxiliary battery.  The lithium-ion battery can be charged from a conventional household electric outlet.

As well as boosting the TDI engine under hard acceleration, the electric motor can also power the XL1 on its own for a distance of up to 31 miles. The driver can choose to drive the XL1 in pure electric mode, provided that the battery is sufficiently charged, by pressing a button on the instrument panel is pressed.
Restarting the TDI engine is a very smooth process. While driving, the electric motor’s rotor is sped up and is very quickly coupled to the clutch in a process known as “pulse starting”. This accelerates the diesel engine to the required speed and starts it, so the driver hardly notices the transition. In certain operating conditions, the load of the TDI engine can be shifted so that it operates at its most favorable efficiency level. The gears in the DSG transmission are also always selected with the aim of minimizing energy usage.

 It's a two-seater cabin with only one airbag (weight savings again)  The passenger's seat is as far back as it can go so that in case of an accident there would be no chance of hitting the dash or the windshield.  Still, it's a no-no in the U.S. so the car won't be sold here.  Here the XL1 is an idea --it shows the direction VW is headed technologically.  Just 250 XL1s will be produced at the Volkswagen factory in Osnabrück, Germany.

The XL1 utilizes lightweight and extremely strong molded, carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) construction for the monocoque, meaning the exterior skin provides the main structural support, all exterior body parts, and components such as the anti-roll bars. CFRP parts are as strong as comparable steel or aluminum parts, yet the exterior skin of the XL1 is just 0.05 inches thick.
  A total of 21.3 percent of the new XL1, or 373 lb, consists of CFRP.   Just 23.2 percent (406 lb) of the car being constructed from steel and iron.

In a collision, the extremely strong CFRP monocoque provides an impressive survival cell for the driver and passenger. This is achieved by intelligent design of load paths, including the use of sandwich structures in the monocoque, while the front and rear aluminum crush structures absorb a large share of energy in frontal and rear collisions. The CFRP doors have aluminum impact beams to absorb crash energy and the door frame also minimizes intrusions into the safety cell. A great deal of attention was also paid to extricating occupants in the event of a rollover collision: pyrotechnic separating screws are used to simplify opening of the doors, which ordinarily open upwards.
Compared to manufacturing CFRP in a pre-preg process, the RTM process is more economical—with lower costs at higher volumes—because it can be automated.  Lots of very interesting ideas here for the future.

Fun to drive.  Carbon brakes make noises reminiscent of dentist..
The XL1 uses scissor doors that are reminiscent of a high-end sports car’s. Because they are hinged low on the A-pillars and just above the windshield in the roof frame, they swivel upwards and slightly forwards as well. The doors also extend far into the roof. When they are opened, they create an exceptionally large amount of entry and exit space.  But because the car is low to the ground you better have carbon fiber knees and a sprightly back to enter and exit.  You also need to take a class on entering and exiting the car so that you look really cool instead of old.

Is it a mango or a dophin?  Send your votes.
The design takes an entirely new path at the rear, but the brand values of precision and quality are clearly evident. Four characteristics stand out: First, there is the dolphin body form that narrows towards the rear with highly defined trailing edges, for optimal aerodynamics. Second, there is the coupe-shaped roofline that doesn’t have a rear windshield. Merging into the roofline is the large rear trunklid/hood that covers the drive unit and4.2 cubic feet of luggage space. Third, the strip of red LEDs frames the rear section at the top and on the sides and incorporates the reversing lights, taillights, rear foglamps and brake lights. Fourth, a black diffuser exhibits a near seamless transition to the full underbody.

The car is also designed to reducing rolling resistance, with friction-optimized wheel bearings and drive shafts, as well as ultra-low rolling resistance Michelin tires, sized 115/80 up front and 145/55 R16 at the back. But all this efficiency isn’t at the expense of safety: the XL1 has an anti-lock braking system (ABS) and a stability control program (ESC).

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Taxi of Tomorrow is Here--Nissan's New York Cab

GirlDriver, USA drives her first cab
It's official.  The Nissan NV200 based taxi has arrived in New York (end of October, actually) but us journalists were given an opportunity to get behind the wheel on December 10.  I spoke with a driver Dimitrios Rizos, who had his Nissan cab at the press event.  Rizos has been driving for 25 years and his previous cab was a Crown Vic.  He drives about 12 hours a day.   He reports that he is really comfortable for his entire shift now, whereas before he experienced a lot of leg pain.  For my short drive I did note that the driver's seat is 6-way adjustable and features both recline and lumbar adjustments, even with a partition installed.  Nissan has even improved the airflow in the driver's seat using uniques material and stitching.  Rizos loves the high seating position, the visibility, and the comfort of the vehicle.  The Nissan taxi is powered by a 2.0L 4-cylinder powertrain and has a continuously variable transmission.  When I asked about fuel economy, Nissan said that the way in which the cabs were driven made in nearly impossible to guarantee any numbers.  Combine fuel economy is around 23 mpg but it will vary dramatically depending on who is driving.  And New Yorkers know all about that.  One thing we can all love is the taxis low-annoyance horn with exterior lights that indicate when the vehicle is honking.

The drivers and owners of this cab have a number of great new features that bring New York's aging fleet into the 21st Century.  Other conveniences and support for the drivers include a driver USB auxiliary audio input and charge port, standard navigation system with integrated rearview backup monitor, a Hearing Loop System for the hearing impaired, driver and passenger intercom system; and all necessary wiring and installation provisions for putting the cab's header and screens in place.

Our drive took us from Chelsea Piers to Sixth Avenue, up to 34th Street and a couple of other loops.  It was snowy/rainy so I could have picked up any number of fares.  I felt bad for people trying to hail my cab so I stopped or yelled out the window to say I was just test driving.  One woman said, "Oh that is so funny.  I thought you looked awfully well-dressed."  She was giggling all the way to the avenue to find a real cab.

Nissan, which was originally supposed to have an exclusive on the taxi of tomorrow is sharing the road now with Ford, Toyota and other car makers.  They have outfitted their commercial vehicle platform, known as NV200 to accommodate drivers, owners and customers.  "The Nissan Taxi has great features for customers," said Peter Bedrosian, Senior Manager for Product Development.  He pointed out several of the best features.  Among them is the big  transparent roof that gives riders stunning views of city sights and skyscrapers. Other new features include:
I Could Have Made a Few Bucks Today.  I didn't.
  • Ample room for four passengers of any size 
  • Room for four normal suitcases and more, although 80% of cab rides are single passenger with no luggage;
  • Sliding doors with entry step and grab handles, providing easy entry and exit; 
  • Opening side windows;
  • Independently controlled rear air conditioning;
  • Active Carbon-lined headliner to help neutralize interior odors;
  • Overhead reading lights for passengers and floor lighting to help locate belongings;
  • Mobile charging ports for passengers, including a 12-volt electrical outlet and two USB ports;
  • Breathable, antimicrobial, environment-friendly, durable and easy-to-clean seat fabric, simulating the look and feel of leather; and
  • Flat "no hump" passenger floor area for more comfortable ride.
Other notable NV200 taxi features focus on driver comfort, customer satisfaction and the environment: Sliding doors and door-opening warning lamps lessen the risk of pedestrians, cyclists and other motorists getting struck when doors open unexpectedly. In addition, the new cab is the first New York taxi to be crash-tested with taxi equipment installed, including the partition. The NV200 taxi also features front and rear-seat occupant curtain airbags, and seat-mounted airbags for the front row along with standard traction control and Vehicle Dynamic Control.
Nissan has also partnered with Braun Corp., the world leader in automotive mobility products, to develop, engineer and produce a creative wheelchair-accessible option for the NV200 taxi. Drawing on Braun's innovation and experience in the mobility industry, the mobility package will be available to all New York taxi medallion holders beginning in April 2014.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

GM's New CEO

Here's a story I wrote for on GM's new CEO, Mary Barra.  Competent, interested, a fixer and she knows the nitty gritty.  Congratulations to both GM and Barra.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Christoper Wool at the Guggenheim

Christopher Wool's work is self-explanatory.  He makes word paintings, gestural paintings.  A massive sculpture, placed outside the Guggenheim, takes you to his world of swirling, muted gesture painting.  Like other New York School painters he pours paint onto his canvases, rice paper, metal, other surfaces.  Hung abutting each other are a hundred photographs.  Again words.  He sees grays and blacks and light in the urban settings that he has captured with his camera.  As you go up levels, the paintings have color, get bigger, many patterns on patterns.  But there is something about this artist--the way in which he makes a painting--that has a lot of emotion to it.  You connect through form and through his use of grays, blacks, white and then Color!

The Guggenheim is brilliant at drawing families to exhibits.  Anyone can participate in activities that they have created  that bring kids and parents and adults into the work.  All of these activities can be found on the website

There's a multimedia app you can download that has three short films related to the exhibit.  The show opens October 25th and runs through January 22, 2014.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

City Cycling--Is The Boom Creating More Bangs?

An article from The New York Daily News:

Ford Escape SE 2014

This is going to be worth looking at if you are looking for a vehicle that costs under $30,000 and gets decent fuel economy--I got 25.5 combined and the EPA posted fuel economy is 23 city/32 highway/26A combined.
My escape was powered by 1.6-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged, direct injection Ecoboost engine paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission.  Wheels--17"-- added plenty of bling for this baby, which behaves like a fun little hauler with enough of the proverbial connectivity to please the millennials.
The 2014 Ford Escape in Ingot Silver Metallic (people get paid good money to come up with these names).  Who looks at these descriptions when they buy a car? And whoever repeats them?  My guess is no one.  

 The Escape now has a hands-free liftgate.  The liftgate opens with a gentle kicking motion under the center of the rear bumper which, activates, unlocks and raises the liftgate when the driver has the Escape key fob.  (However, I was told by someone at Ford a year ago, that it doesn't recognize Ugg boots as a foot and I can totally sympathize with that.)  The trunk lift is such a convenience--you're not jostling packages or digging your keys out of the bottom of a purse.    The same process closes the hatch.  The technology comes from videogames.  The Escape now comes with a Class II trailer tow package that allows it to trailer-tow up to 3,500 pounds.

EcoBoost engines are further enhanced with twin independent variable camshaft timing. Ti-VCT offers up to a 7 percent improvement in peak power and a 5 percent improvement in low-speed torque for better acceleration, passing and merging performance, as well as up to a 4.5 percent improvement in fuel economy versus engines not equipped with the technology.

 Ford's torque converter gives a nice smoothness to the ride.  It's Intelligent 4WD system uses software and sensors to analyze data from 25 external signals, including wheel speed, accelerator pedal position and steering wheel angle adding to the safety of the vehicle in challenging driving situations

The car has active park assist in case you can't park your car yourself--what is that about?
It also has SYNC with MyFord Touch the communications system that allows voice commands.  It has an available sensor-based BLIS® (Blind Spot Information System) with cross-traffic alert. BLIS displays an alert in the side mirror when a vehicle is detected entering a blind spot. Cross-traffic alert warns if traffic is detected approaching from the sides, such as when Escape is leaving a parking space in reverse.
Prices start at $22,700 plus $895 destination and delivery charges.  My vehicle, as equipped was $26,445 including destination and delivery.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Something Fishy Here

A story in The New York Daily News I wrote:

Diesel Sheds It's Dirty Image

 Here's my story on diesel in The New York Daily News:

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Mazda Miata of Kimonos

The Mazda Miata of kimonos

One morning I woke up to yet another website trying to get me to sign up for daily emails.  And just before I put it in the trash, I clicked on it and there was this headline:  This Kimono is the Mazda Miata of robes.  I bought it.  I mean who could resist?
I owned a 1992 Miata and when people ask me what my favorite car in the world is, I  say it still is my 1992 Miata, which ended up totaled but that's a story for another day.  And I still miss it.
Has the bathrobe satisfied my longings for my lost car? No.  But it was $20, it fits like a Snuggie but it doesn't turn you into a block-of blue-lard-weirdo––one who loses her dignity when company's not around and it is the . . . well, and that's the other thing that struck me.  Remember when the gold standard was Cadillac?
Highly prized products that were the nonpareil of whatever were called the "Cadillac of ________________".
Cadillac is finally making the right moves. Could they regain that status?  It's unlikely that Cadillac can regain the title, given the extremely high standards throughout the automotive industry.  But I'd put Cadillac's ATS up against any other performance car available today any day of the week.  It's a killer and I mean that in a very good way.
Hope I don't look too smug here.
This is, however, the first time I've ever seen anything called the Mazda Miata of . . ..  And since I love Miatas and have always loved Miatas I bought the robe.  And let me just say that it is a perfect analogy.  The robe fits my personality to a T.  It manages its flair by balancing it with pragmatism, it fits perfectly, the materials are good quality. There's only one thing wrong with it--the belt loops don't have any relationship to my waist.  My Miata had only one thing wrong with it––manual side mirrors.  The mirrors are automatic on later models.  I can't speak for the belt loops.
I deleted the shopping website even though it has the best copy I've ever read--better than J. Peterman.  I cut and paste the bathrobe copy here for your enjoyment.
Me in the Miata.

"The Kimono is the Mazda Miata of robes. Take that as you will.  Listen, we're not here to be overly judgmental. And we're not saying you don't look good in that zippy little kimono. We're just saying, maybe you shouldn't act so proud of it, because it gives off the wrong impression.
What you want people to think is, "That person is super fun and quirky!" Not "That person is clearly overcompensating for shortfalls in other parts of their life."
So next time you slip into that something-more-comfortable, here's what to do. Own it, but with a quiet confidence. Don't go strutting around with a smug look on your face, winking and shooting your finger guns at everyone who glances your way. Because people WILL make fun of you. And you'll be too wrapped up in your damaskness to even notice."  The website name is

And Miatas still rule.  I drove the 2013 MX5 around the Cape this summer top down.  What a blast.  Plus I gained so many points with the great nieces and nephews, it was, um, like, awesome.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Robert Motherwell Collages Guggenheim Museum

Opens September 27th.

I  went to the press preview of the exhibit at the Guggenheim of Robert Motherwell's early collages.  Susan Davidson, the curator of the exhibit spoke lovingly about this period in Motherwell's development as an artist.  She noted that in this period, which covers about a decade from 1941-1951, he was probably the most connected to the materials he used.  The materials include paper he bought on Canal Street--5 sheets for $1.50.  And one of the reporters asked what one of the works was bought for--$150.  Makes one wonder how to value the contributions of artists in our world.  Today that collage would be worth . . .  but what is the worth . . . it inspired me, so that is its worth to me.

Motherwell grew up on the West Coast, graduated from Stanford, went to graduate school at Harvard, and attended Columbia where Meyer Schapiro encouraged him to devote himself to painting instead of scholarship.  Motherwell was influenced by his time in Mexico, he he had his first solo show
at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century museum/gallery in 1944.  He lectured widely on abstract painting, and he founded and edited the Documents of Modern Art series.

 In 1948, he began to work with his celebrated Elegy to the Spanish Republic theme, which he continued to develop throughout his life.  Robert Motherwell died in Provincetown, Massachusetts on July 16, 1991.

Robert Motherwell: Early Collages
Venue: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York
Location: Annex Level 4
Dates: September 27, 2013–January 5, 2014

The First--and Possibly Only--Bacon Theatre Festival

Sometimes I do other things besides cars.  And the" thing" this week is The First--and Possibly Only--Bacon Theatre Festival.  I'm partnering with some of the coolest playwrights in New York and we've all written six-minute plays, musicals--and in the case of Kate McLeod and Rob Hartmann, an opera.  The festival is being hosted by Wes Klein, the genius behind The Baconery restaurant on Columbus Avenue between 104th and 105th.  Everything in the restaurant has bacon in it.  What's YOUR definition of paradise.  We're holding it at the Ding Dong Lounge, presided over by the incredibly cool (as in, if I had strived everyday to be that cool I couldn't get there) Adrianna Ault Nolan.  Then we have the playwrights  David Johnston, Athur Giron, DeLora Whitney, C. S. Hanson, Lucile Lichtblau, Byron Nilsson, Tzila Levy, Rob Hartmann, Rob Ackerman, Nick Myers, Christie Baugher and Kate McLeod.  The performances take place from 6:45-8:30.  There's bacon mac and cheese, a bacon dessert and wine.  Tickets are $25 and can be bought at

We have talent coming out of the woodwork for this.  Singers, actors, directors.  No choreography for this one:  it's a reading and the space is, let's just call it limited.  It is, by the way.  Get tickets if you want to be there.  Like today!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Acura TL SE--Such a Sophisticate!

Doesn't this 2013 Acura TL SE have a sleek shape? 
One of my followers was asking me the other day where the hell I've been.  It's a long story involving a renovated bathroom.  You don't want to know.  But everything's back on track and I'm back at the computer.

I went to the International Motor Sports Association's Test Days last week at the Monticello Raceway in Monticello, N.Y.  It was a crystal fall day and as I walked around looking at all the cars that the manufacturers bring to test days for us to drive, I was feeling out of touch with the Japanese luxury brands--Infiniti, Acura and Lexus.  So, along with some of those cars, I drove the Chevrolet Silverado and the Ford F150.  We don't often get to drive these models back to back.  It's enlightening.  I loved both of these trucks but each is its own thing--they feel very different when you drive them.  I have more insight into the truck loyalties that are so strong.

Anyway, it was a great day for us auto journalists.  And I got to drive away in a 2013 Acura TL SE (special edition).  Loved this 4-door sedan with a power moon roof.  It has the coolest 18"x 8.0" chrome look alloy wheels and all season tires.  They looked hot and really set off the paint job in what Acura calls crystal black--a sparkly granite gray--very contemporary.

The  280 horsepower, 3.5 liter V-6 engine paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission was not only responsive, it was quiet, elegant and smooth.  There was just enough growl from the sport-tuned exhaust system to disallow senior discounts.

Fuel economy is 20/city-29/hwy/23 combined, nothing to write home about, but I did fine with mileage.  I wasn't on big highways but I moved along on back roads.

Nice deep cabin is roomy, roomy, roomy.  Loved it.
The way Acura has designed the driver and passenger space with the curved instrument panel makes the front very roomy.  There's also plenty of room in the front and so much room in the trunk my weekly haul practically rattled around.  I tote a lot of stuff back and forth on weekends.

I didn't have navigation in the car and I pretty much stuck with my regular radio--the broadway channel on XM and NPR.  The sound out of the radio was great.  And I went back to my paper instructions, which worked perfectly.  Back roads and all.

Price for this lovely car in 2013 is $38,300.  The 2014s are probably in dealerships now.  Check this one out. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The 2013 Beetle TDI

The Convertible in Sixties Blue
“It’s a chic car,” my friend Roby said when I put her behind the wheel of the Beetle TDI. “What’s a chic car?, I asked a little disingenuously.  Volkswagen went to great lengths to make this new Beetle appealing to both men and women.  They went so far as to do away with the bud vase, one of the greatest iconic car accessories of all time. Plus, it’s diesel.”
The 2013 is bigger inside, and she, who is one long drink of water, fit very nicely in the car, head to toe.
Powered by a 2.0 liter, 140 horsepower 4-cylinder TDI turbocharged, clean diesel engine that delivers 236lb-ft of torque with a 6-speed automatic transmission and electro-mechanical power steering, the Beetle had smooth acceleration and plenty of it when prompted.
The car was painted Denim Blue, a hark back to the sixties with some tonal differences.  The 1961 VW I bought a year ago––to restore myself with the help of Roby’s son, Brooks, who knows his way around mechanics and will be my guru––is that sixties blue dappled with a bit of rust.
I drove more than 300 miles over a three-day period.  After several long stints, I emerged from the Beetle with an intact back and working legs. It’s a very comfortable car.  Fuel economy is 29 city/39 hwy/32 combined.  I was mostly doing highway driving so mileage was excellent.
The navigation system is pretty straightforward and easy to use, which is about the highest complement you can pay a Nav system these days.  It did refuse to let me input my home address in New York City, trying to make me go to some other Riverside Drive.  Quirks.  These Nav systems all have them.

I did search a couple of gas stations to find diesel.  I had no problems filling the tank and drove by one or two gas stations.
Operation of the radio is uncomplicated. It produces a very pleasing sound, which is provided by Fender, the famous guitar company.  The quiet cabin with Fender’s audio makes a great listening combo.  I’ve recently driven other small cars like the Honda Fit where the cabin noise was noticeable.
With only about $300 in options my vehicle cost $28,360 including destination charges. 
This car is  a complete redo of the “New Beetle”,  the model that brought the car back to America in 1997.  That car was right for its time. But the designers of the New Beetle didn’t want to reference the old Beetle.  This time, Volkswagen has brought design cues from the old Beetle into its new iteration.  They are subtle and the car couldn’t be more modern, but memories stir in the hearts of those of us who grew up loving the Beetle.  You’ll love this one too.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Heads-Up Display--Lordy, lordy

Dashboard Jesus
As my friend Larry Edsall said about this on Facebook, "Now that's a heads-up display."
A head-up display or heads-up display—also known as a HUD—in an automobile projects speed, traffic signs and other information as  transparent display on the windshield in front of the driver.  It allows the driver to keep their eyes on the road continuously without having to look down at the instrument panel  It's showing up on premium and luxury vehicles but should trickle down in the next few years.  I believe Cadillace was the first to put heads-up display in vehicles back in the 90s. There were problems with it that have been ironed out so it is back and I think a good technology.  The above has not been generated by a car company, but it's pretty clever.  The bobbing yellow daisy in the purple container finishes the look nicely, don't you think?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

How Many Boxes of Tile Can you Fit into a Fiat Abarth?

Fiat took this photo next to the barbed wire.  So urban!
I was prepared to get a huge kick out of the Fiat Abarth but not to recommend it.  I have been of the opinion that it is too small for U.S. transportation needs.  Families, no.  Outdoorsy couples, no.  Single young women, maybe.  Guys of any age and most occupations--probably not.  People in the design field who make enough money to own a car in an urban setting--yes.

They took this one too.  Graffiti baby.
I drove it for four days recently.

Because I'm a girl, I get to talk about the color or should I say the Rosso (red) paint job.  This color, I assure you, was not chosen in clinics the way color is chosen in some Midwest cities that will remain nameless.  This color has not been clipped from magazines and pasted up on a bulletin board in the design center and talked about endlessly among several designers and their bosses.  This color, and I am making this up but I believe it, was chosen by the lead designer who walked into the studio, looked through some color chips and said––gesturing flippantly with his arms––"that red, Rosso!"   That's how decisive the color is.  It's inspired.  And you get to stare at it a lot, because the dash is the same color as the exterior.

Driving the Abarth with its five speed automatic transmission mounted in the center stack, not on the floor was just a blast.   That placement of the shifter makes it very easy to handle.  At first the transmission seemed a little  jerky but once you get it's sporty groove you adjust to it --it's not seamless, it's sporty. The engine is turbocharged, a 1.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder that makes about 160 hp. Torque is 107 lb-ft at 2,500 rpm. It's turbocharged so you never feel "OMG it's so small I'm never going to merge."

And this one.  That has to be a Frank Ghery building.  Or at least influenced by Ghery.
The performance leather-trimmed, high-back bucket seats were nicely bolstered and quite comfortable but when I went to fold them it took a bit of yanking.  There's no push button on the front seats.  You have to pull up on a strap and you have to have that strap at the exact right angle or the seat back won't budge.

I was able to fit all my bags into the back by folding down the back seats.  When I ran out of other options it became clear that I would have to drive some wall tile down to New York City from upstate I was skeptical.  But wonder of wonders: I got six boxes of tile into the passenger side of the car.  It set off the seat belt alarm but with some jiggling (and giggling)  I was able to stop it from beeping.  And when your passenger is boxes of tile you can control the radio!

The car's an attention getter.  High fives are as numerous as insects on a windshield.  I was stopped a number of times when getting in and out of the car to talk about it.  One gentleman owned a vintage one and couldn't stop talking about it--seriously.

My Abarth cost $27,400.  It was assembled in Mexico and most of the content of the car is North American.  It has an Italian transmission so we can't attribute the cost to the exchange rate.  You pay for adorable.

The Abarth has airbags front, side and even a knee airbag.  It has an overall five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.   The Abarth is well-equipped with air conditioning, cruise control, remote keyless entry and Fiat even touts it's one step power windows--does any car stateside have roll down windows anymore? 

Base price is $22,000 so there's about $5,600 worth of add-ons and destination charges. It is child seat ready.   There is no navigation system in the car so you can option a Tom-Tom GPS for $600. 

Overall I found the car just a fun, fun ride.  I like small cars.  I like manuals.  I love to drive them.  And this one will stand out as memorable.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Boomer Bliss--We Finally Get to Woodstock

Get a load of this sleek profile in sparkle-city Burgundy.  You gotta love it.

Left to right: Mary, Michelle, Me.

John with puppets, Mary, Me with guitar.
So here's a little bit of my history.  The summer of Woodstock, my friend Mary and I were on tour in South America singing and dancing our way into the hearts of the Latin Americans under the aegis of the United States Information Agency.  USIA/USIS is a cultural exchange program.  The government sent entertainers like us around the world––often to trouble spots––to make friends for America.  I played the guitar, acted and sang--and apparently I played the tambourine since there are photos of me doing that. (I have a vague recollection of hitting my hip with the tambo, although I think Mary was on tambourine most of the time.) We did shows for universities, the general public and kids.  We had a whole menu of stuff we'd worked up for the tour––a magic trunk, colorful cards with pictures of animals and their names in two languages, whistles, hats, magic tricks––and we'd pull from our repertoire according to the makeup of our audience.  We'd learn a song from the country we were in and sing it along with show tunes and folk tunes--not exactly Woodstock but from a very young age I had modeled my folk-singing self after Baez.

Baez at 70-something.  So beautiful.

Bethel Woods
Indigo Girls

 Traveling to almost every country in South America over a period of six months, we had a grand, grand tour, incredible adventures, big audiences, but . . .  we missed Woodstock.  So Joan Baez was going to be at The Bethel Woods Art Center--a site in upstate New York that incorporates the field where the original Woodstock happened
I emailed  Mary and said let's––all these years later––go see Joan Baez and have our own private Woodstock.  She was in.  And we drove over two hours each way on Saturday night, June 22nd.  We stopped for pizza in Ellenville at Arianna's Pizzeria and Italian Cuisine.  Every bit as good as its slogan: excellence in fine Italian dining.  The pizza is really good and all the diners seemed to be enjoying their food.  Finally we got to Bethel Woods, a huge center with tons of food, immaculate bathrooms, a gorgeous shed that houses a wonderful stage.  (To put it mildly, this place in amazing.)  Baez, there with the Indigo Girls, was a brilliant combination of the old and the new for us.  The Indigo Girls were new to me although they have been around and are very popular. I have become a fan of their music and listen to it all the time.    The astonishing Baez voice, while it has gotten huskier and deeper, is still like fine crystal.  She's still political but not strident.  She has internalized her feelings about the world and one can just listen to her sing and want to join her in fixing what's wrong in the world.  She is more powerful now with her voice and her messages.

We drove the nearly five hours round trip.  And since it's 2013, our transport was no VW bus.  It was a Toyota Avalon.  The Avalon was Boomer-ready, outfitted with a terrific navigation system that got us to the concert on time, really comfortable seats, plenty of trunk and back seat space.  And what really made the car stand out was the sparkly burgundy paint job.  Everyone commented on the paint.  The car is stylish enough to turn heads but it doesn't overreach trying to be hip.  We were perfectly positioned in the Avalon for the audience that showed up for this concert.  Some had missed the original Woodstock.  Some had been there and were back for the nostalgia.  We might have been mistaken for a Lesbian couple.  Who cares.  

My  Sizzling Crimson Mica Avalon Ltd. was powered by a 3.5 liter 268 horsepower V-6 engine combined with a 6-speed, electronic transmission with paddle shifters.  Our Avalon got pretty good mileage--21 city, 31 highway, 24 combined.  The cost with about $2,000 worth of options was $42,570 including delivery.  I couldn't have been happier cruising along in the Avalon.  I didn't miss traveling in a VW bus one bit.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Pathfinder SL 2013

Honey, we have to go back.  We forgot the sleeping bags.
You can call it a minivan.  But because it's 4x4 you can also call it an SUV.  Mostly you can call it a hauler.  I don't have kids and I am paring down on "stuff", but I do haul six or seven bags to upstate and then back down to the City––like every week.  It sounds crazy, I know, but I've got the gym bag and work stuff and food and a suitcase.  So I appreciate the availability of access and storage in a vehicle.  Sure, the minivan lacks sex appeal.  And I know women who feel a little bit oppressed by having to drive a minivan because it lacks sex appeal and I totally sympathize with that.  But at the start of the day, in the middle of the day, during that 4 o'clock slump when you have to pick up the kids, get stuff at the grocery store, drop off the dry cleaning, pick up the dry cleaning isn't it rewarding to have a vehicle that is more of an assistant than a paradigm of sensuality?  I know nary a harried woman who would disagree.

The Nissan Pathfinder SL is a well-appointed, 7-passenger seat van with leather seats and a Latch and Glide system that lets you move seats up and back easily.  The seat split in the rear is 60/40.  It's refined interior won it a place on WardsAutoWorld's ten best interiors for 2013.  It also made Kelley Blue Book's Ten Best Family Cars list (

My vehicle cost $37,945 with about $1,000 worth of options and an $825 destination charge.  Gas mileage is 19 city/25 highway/ 21 combined.

The 2014 model year introduces a new  hybrid powertrain system designed to enhance fuel economy and reduce CO2 emissions with no reduction of driving performance, passenger roominess or capacity.

The Pathfinder's new Hybrid powertrain option will be available in three fully equipped trim levels – SV, SL and Platinum – when it joins the lineup in late summer 2013. It is expected to be priced at around just $3,000 more than Pathfinder 3.5-liter V6 models.

I didn't get any extra attention in the Pathfinder (as in I wasn't driving a yellow Camaro), but it was comfy and roomy and I enjoyed being in it the whole drive.
2013 Nissan Pathfinder

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mini Cooper Me

The 2013 Mini Cooper Hardtop in red and black.
It's not a one horse open sleigh but, oh what fun this two-door sedan is to drive.  Little Mini Cooper and I went north last week/weekend clipping along a two lane highway that is in great need of repair so it was quickly apparent that this vehicle is not for soft bottoms.  I don't mind it.  I like a sporty suspension.  If you don't, you'll be looking at bigger cars anyway.
The odometer is the center of the world in the Mini.  Note the toggle switches for all operations except the audio system.
I think what is most appealing about the Mini is the way the instrument panel is packaged with the huge odometer in the center stack and the smaller but still prominent tachometer behind the steering wheel.  All the space taken up by these two dials means less space for the sound system and air-conditioning and heating but Mini has packaged those compactly below the odometer.
The interior look is enhanced by the sharp carbon black, checkered cloth upholstery.  Other than that there isn't that much space in which to put appointments.  But, like, the door handle is cool.  Little things like that.  And none of the touch points felt cheap.
Powered by a dual overhead cam 1.6 liter inline four-cylinder engine coupled with a 6-speed manual transmission, this little two-door was fast off the mark and had plenty of power, uphill or on the flat.  I left several bigger cars in the dust and let's face it, it pays to be small and lighter when you want to go, go, go.  Sport-tuned suspension makes it all the more fun.
Seen from the rear, the Mini is a design darling.
Because I've been down on sunroofs for a while now, I made a point of opening the one on the Mini.  It was open all weekend to the gorgeous weather we experienced in the northeast and the spring air was intoxicating.  But I'd still buy a convertible and if I could not have a convertible for any reason, I wouldn't order a sunroof.  The one on this car is $1,000.  For me, an open sunroof creates too much noise in the vehicle and doesn't provide enough benefit.  That, however, is a matter of personal taste.

I was stumped by the audio system.  I could not get the radio to turn to FM.  Shouldn't turning on a radio be a no brainer?  Yes, it should be a snap to figure out and if it's not I think things are overly complicated.  I even read the manual and still couldn't get it to go to FM.  Then I decided to plug in my (OK, ancient) iPod and the Mini USB wouldn't accept my connector.  Like my USB connector wasn't up-to-date enough to be in a Mini? That's discriminatory.

There's not a lot of space in this cutie.  I can't imagine having to sit in the back seat on a three hour trip for example.  I carry a lot of stuff back and forth. I did put the back seats down and crammed my stuff in the car but if you haul at all, you'll find the space in this Mini very tight.  Other Mini models are bigger.
Base cost for my Mini was $19,700 and with delivery and the extras on my model, it cost $25,600.
Gas mileage is excellent--29 city/37 highway/ 32 combined.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Is this a car or an airplane? It does have wings. And, it's a hybrid!

Winged La Ferrari

-->Ferrari unveiled LaFerrari supercar at the Geneva auto show today. It's gasoline-hybrid engine produces 963-horsepower and is is the fastest, most powerful and most expensive Ferrari model to date.This first gasoline-electric hybrid from Ferrari is powered by the HY-KERS system, which consists of a 6.26-liter V-12 normally aspirated engine that delivers 800 hp combined with a 120 Kw (163 hp) electric motor. Predictions are that it will cost around $1.2 million euros with taxes. Anyone who buys this car will be talking nonstop about 0-60. Here are the impressive figures:
0 to 100kph in less than 3 seconds and from 0-200kph in less than 7 seconds.

Ferrari is going to build 500 cars, expecting sales in China and Asia and the Middle East.Sergio Marchionne says it is already sold out.

A mean machine.
The ideal situation is to have a boyfriend who comes into town only every couple of months who owns LaFerrari.  He calls and says, "let's go for a drive!"  "Great," you say.  You go someplace upstate or over to the Berkshires or out to the Ham . . . no . . . just . . . oh, OK, out to the Hamptons.  He is very rich after all.   But this is great.  You don't own the car or have to garage it or worry endlessly about it. You don't even have to chip in for gas.  You have a lovely drive at 200 mph and it only takes you 15 minutes to get to Montauk or Great Barrington.  You have a nice dinner somewhere and you're back by 6:30 because it only takes you 15 minutes to get home.  I wonder if the NHTSA will categorize this as a plane and try to keep it off the highways.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Talkin' Toyota

Been drivin' a few Toyotas lately––the Camry and the Corolla.  The paint job on the Camry was  "Magnetic Gray" and on the Corolla, a "Nautical Blue."  Makes me want a job naming colors.  These vehicles have New Jersey license plates but many of the cars I drive in upstate New York have Tennesse, Michigan or California license plates.  When law enforcement up north sees a bright paint job on a vehicle with a far away license plate, I am much more likely to be pulled over.  One officer, fresh from State Police school, who stopped me at midnight for going one mile over the speed limit said to me, "In my career (what, all of three months?) I've only seen one other California license plate on this road."  My response:  "It was probably me."

Popularity contest winner in America
Anyway the Camry is the top selling car in America.  And it isn't because it's hot, or expensive or flashy.  It's because it is oatmeal--and I don't mean mushy, tasteless, instant oatmeal.  Think steel cut oats, slow cooked over a low flame.  My Camry came with a 2.5L four-cylinder 16V w/ dual VVT-i engine that produces 178 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque paired with a 6-speed ECT-i (electronically controlled transmission) with paddle shifters.  It's a class leader in fuel economy at 25 city/35 highway, 28 combined.  A 3.5-liter V6 that generates 268 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque is optional and delivers excellent fuel economy at 21 city/31 highway/25 combined. Enhanced by 17" wheels and sport-tuned electric power steering, the ride and handling is peppy and dependable.  Most of the folks I talk cars with––and that is both men and women––don't want drama.  They want reliability.  And Toyota owners are like pit bulls.  They're never going to let go of their Toyotas.
Nice clear display on this touch screen.
The Camry's 6.1" touch screen displays bells and whistles nicely.  The car is home grown in Georgetown, Kentucky and with optional equipment my vehicle cost $27,586 including delivery.

What I missed on this vehicle, which I think is essential safety equipment, is blind spot detection.  Otherwise it's got pretty much all you could want--no wait, no heated steering wheel.

Need a smaller Toyota?  Several people asked me what I was driving when I took the Corolla for a weekend.  "A Toyota Corolla," I said.  That's a Toyota?   It surprised several people.  Toyota has major skin in the compact sedan game.  The Corolla's been around for 40 years.  Amazing.  But the competitors like the Ford Focus, the Kia Forte, Mazda 3 and Hyundai Elantra have bettered their game and are coming after the Corolla, so, yes, in addition to being trustworthy and dependable, Toyota has to ramp up its styling.  There's a lot of good choices in this class.  Still I was impressed by the reaction I got.  Since its introduction to the U.S. in 1968, Corolla has become the world’s all-time best-selling passenger car, with over 30 million sold in more than 140 countries.
Mine was blue.  Red is always snazzier.

The 2013 Toyota Corollas are powered by a 1.8-L, inline, four-cylinder engine that produces 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a four-speed automatic is optional.  Fuel economy (EPA) is 26  city/34 highway and 29 combined with the automatic and 27/34/30 with the manual.  With gas prices seemingly going down those are good numbers.  Some of the competitors, though, are at 40.

Pretty straightforward instrument panel.  Easy  access.

 I felt at one with the Corolla.  You've had that feeling in a car haven't you?  That you were buddies?  I had a classmate in college that had a Nash Rambler and she was a soprano and had long black hair and her idea of heaven was to travel to singing gigs in her Nash Rambler and sleep in the car to save money.  She called it her "buddy."  Nash called them buddies.  Anyway, I don't want to sleep in the Corolla or travel to singing gigs in it but I did sort of think it as a buddy.  The cost of my vehicle with options and delivery:  $21,729.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ready to be Sissified

Sleek from the side
I have been known to say that all these assists and luxury options in new cars--like parallel parking assist and heated seats--are turning us into sissies and inadequate drivers.  If I'm going to stick to my guns, I would have to include heated steering wheels like the one I had recently in the 2013 Buick Encore.  So let's just say, I'm ready to be sissified.  I haven't loved an option like I love the heated steering wheel since the first car I drove with blind spot detection, which I place in the must-have-safety-features category versus the I-never-want-to-drive-a-car-again-without-this-luxury category.  It was a raw, cold weekend.  I had to get in a cold car several times over a three-day period.  That heated steering wheel quickly comes to the rescue and in such a nice way.  This feature goes into the I-never-want-to-drive-a-car-again, etc. category.

Looks totally right in red.
Looking at the Encore parked in the driveway,  I was struck by the looks of this small luxury crossover,  available as front wheel drive or all-wheel drive.  It's got a bit of a round bulbous front end but its size and shape are seem very resolved--a nice addition to one's driveway.

The seating is comfortable, the interior room is appropriate for its size but you would have to choose between a fifth passenger and extreme luggage.  I haul a lot of stuff back and forth and I ended up with the suitcase in the backseat.  I could have fit everything in the cargo space if I had made two layers.

Such a nice leathery luxury interior

The Encore's instrument panel is easy to read and quite handsome to look at as you drive along in the very quiet cabin--car makers put a lot of effort into making your ride quiet--a lot of effort.  My all-wheel drive Encore is powered by an ecotec turbo 1.4 liter 4-cylinder engine paired with a 6-speed automatic.  Fuel economy is 23 city/30 highway/26 combined.  My coach costs $32,975 with $2,500 worth of options including fancy wheels and fancy nav/audio combo.

This is a GirlDriver, USA car.  I was at home in this vehicle and I think they are going to sell a lot of these babies to women.  If you're one of us I encourage you to give it a whirl.  Nice, nice handling.