2011 Volkswagen Golf GTI likes and dislikes

After nearly three weeks in my possession, here’s a quick list of what I like and don’t like about the 2011 Volkswagen GTI I leased.

Likes
• Low-end torque (peak torque is available at 1,800 RPM) – much better than the low-end torque of the EJ205 2.0-liter flat-4
• Smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission
• Suspension tuning suits my daily driving style well
• Nicely weighted steering – a pleasant surprise for an electromechanical unit
• 26-27 observed miles per gallon
• Sport bucket driver seat fits me as well as the WRX’s sport bucket seat
• Standard integrated Bluetooth – sure beats using my Garmin nüvi 680 as a speakerphone
• Hatchback practicality and easy operation – especially when closing
• Sixth-generation Golf styling
• Build quality and materials seem to be good
• Excellent visibility
• MFI (multi-function information) on-board computer is easy-to-use and provides useful information

Dislikes
• Pedal placement is not ideal for heel-and-toe downshifting unless I’m braking moderately hard – the WRX’s pedal placement is *way* better (note: I’m a “twist” blipper, not a “side-to-side” blipper)
• 18-inch Detroit wheels shod with P225/40R18 Pirelli P Zero Nero All-Season tires – we’ll see how long I can manage keeping the wheels rash-free (I’ve been close already); I would prefer a 235mm-wide tire, or better yet, 17-inch wheels with 45-series tires for a less harsh ride…summer tires would be nice, too
• Road feel transmitted through the steering could be better
• Red brake calipers – sliding calipers and drum brakes should *never* be painted in my opinion…it’d be nice if the rear brake discs were vented, too
• Limited center console storage and small sunglasses compartment – I can fit a *lot* more in the GDA WRX’s center console and armrest extension
• Horn honk every time the security system is armed (I know this probably can be disabled with VAG-COM)
• Gear ratios are closer than I would personally like – I’m shifting very often and the engine turns 3K RPM in 6th at 75 mph, which is the same as the WRX’s engine speed at 75 mph in 5th
• HID headlights were a standalone option for MY2010, but not MY2011 (one would have to get the Sunroof and Navigation trim or Autobahn trim to get them)
• Rear seats are too smooth/flat to retain stuff I put on them well

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Little Trouble in Big Willow

Team Honda Research Drivers Take Convincing Victories in the Touring 3 and Showroom Stock B Classes at Big Willow


Sage Marie leads his Team Honda Research teammates through Turn 4 in the early stages of the race

Team Honda Research (THR) drivers Sage Marie, Lee Niffenegger and Matt Staal drove brilliantly to collect maximum points for the national run-offs. Marie won the Touring 3 (T3) class and Niffenegger and Staal swept the Showroom Stock B (SSB) class with a 1-2 finish.


Matt Staal and Lee Niffenegger hustling their Honda Civic Si Coupes to second and third place qualifying efforts in Showroom Stock B

Last weekend’s race at Willow Springs International Raceway, a.k.a. Big Willow, marked the second consecutive high-speed race the Team Honda Research drivers and their vehicles would have to tame. Although both the roval (road course + oval = roval) at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and the big track at Willow Springs are both fast, their track layouts are completely different. At Fontana, speeds of 130 mph or more are reached as the cars storm down the back straightaway. While speeds at Big Willow are well over 100 mph, the shorter course length and flowing nature of the track give drivers little time to rest. Niffenegger calls it a “fun ‘old-school’ track” that he considers one of the bravest in North America, with Mosport in Canada being the other.

Inclement weather presented the Team Honda Research drivers with their first challenge of the weekend. The precipitation necessitated a change to BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDW summer tires–the rain tires for the Honda Racing team–for the first practice session of the weekend. Two-thirds of the way into practice, Marie experienced trouble with the throttle body of his #4 Honda Racing/HPD/BFGoodrich Tires Honda S2000. This would sideline Marie and his S2K for the rest of the day. It also meant he wasn’t able to qualify and have to start from the rear of the field for the race. Marie and Staal would later trek down to the shop in Torrance to pick up a replacement throttle body and back to the track in Rosamond to perform the (quick) repair on Saturday evening.


Seen here in qualifying mode, Niffenegger attacks the second part of Turn 4, home of the Budweiser Balcony

Track conditions were better for qualifying as the rain waited until the end of the session to return. Staal qualified his #53 Honda Racing/HPD/BFGoodrich Tires Honda Civic Si Coupe second and Niffenegger qualified his #42 Honda Racing/HPD/BFGoodrich Tires Honda Civic Si Coupe third. Tom Brecht grabbed the pole in Showroom Stock B with his supercharged #25 R53 MINI Cooper S. “We don’t totally know what the MINI is running because it’s difficult to tell how stock it really is,” said Niffenegger. Unlike the race at Fontana, Honda Racing drivers would not be starting from the pole position in their classes in Sunday’s race.


Civic Si vs. Cooper S – It would only be a handful of laps before the victor would be decided

Clear, sunny skies presented themselves to the Honda Racing team for morning warm-up and the race. With the previous day’s troubles (rain and a bad throttle body) behind them, the Team Honda Research drivers were poised to drive their way to the top of their classes. The Showroom Stock B contenders would begin the race in the middle of the pack while Marie would have to carve his way through many slower vehicles to return to the position he regularly belonged.

Staal spent the early laps of the race looking for a way around Brecht’s MINI. While he was doing that, Niffenegger used the advice Staal gave him the previous day about using fourth gear more on the back section of the track to close in on his Honda Racing teammate and Brecht. After a few more laps, Niffenegger caught and passed Staal and set after the little MINI. In less than two laps, Niffenegger took the SSB class lead and never looked back.


Lee Niffenegger barrels down the hill from Turn 4 to Turn 5 with the class lead comfortably lead in hand

In the initial stages of the race, Marie safely carved his #4 Honda S2000 through the slower traffic consisting of cars in lower classes. His competition for the weekend was two Mazda RX-8s driven by Lynne Griffiths and Michael Sullivan. Marie’s best lap of 1:36.461 was significantly faster than the 1:37.777 and 1:39.834 Griffiths and Sullivan could muster, respectively. (For reference, Niffenegger clicked off a 1:37.641 and Staal turned a 1:38.078 in their Honda Civic Si Coupes.) With the speed he had, Marie made it look easy to reel in and pass his Touring 3 competitors. He also was unaffected by the spins third-place finisher Steve Schmidt and overall race winner Ryan Cashin had with their C5 Chevrolet Corvettes.


Marie approaches Turn 5 with the class win well in hand

Back in SSB, the highlight of the second half of the race was Staal’s pass of Brecht’s MINI for second place and his defense of the position to the checkered flag. Niffenegger observed the MINI couldn’t keep a consistent pace and fell off as the race progressed. When the race-leading Touring 1 (T1) class Corvettes came to lap the SSB field, Staal keenly realized he could have a great opportunity to get a big run on the MINI as Brecht would have to acknowledge the blue flag and let the leaders by him. Using one of the Corvettes like a fullback, Staal followed the lead block to catch and get around Brecht’s Cooper S.

Because of the design of the track, the high speed right turns wore the left side BFGoodrich g-Force R1 tires heavily. “There was one lap when things got hairy for me in Turn 9,” Staal shared after the race. “It felt like I ran over some of the marbles.” Staal successfully kept the MINI behind him for the rest of the race to secure the SSB 1-2 sweep for THR.


Staal accelerates his #53 Honda Civic Si Coupe out of Turn 4 with Brecht’s MINI Cooper S trying to keep pace

Next up for the Team Honda Research drivers is another fast track, the long straights and fast turns of Thunderhill Raceway on March 13-14, 2010. Staal considers it one of his favorite tracks and should have a strong showing there. Marie and Niffenegger are also positioned to do well and keep their winning streaks in tact.

For the complete gallery of photos from the race weekend, please visit here.

Is this thing on?

Hi, everyone!  I’m kick-starting this blog to post my Team Honda Research blog entries.

The first blog entry will be out in the next few days.

In the meantime, please enjoy my Photobucket gallery containing high resolution photos from last weekend’s qualifying and race at Willow Springs International Raceway, a.k.a. Big Willow.

http://s79.photobucket.com/albums/j121/USCTrojan4JC/02-27_28-2010%20Honda%20Racing%20Willow%20Springs/

Shell nitrogen-enriched gasoline: Don’t believe the hype

I’m sorry I haven’t blogged in awhile, folks.  Honda’s latest advertising campaign highlighting the low cost of ownership for eight of their ten vehicles (Accord, Civic, CR-V, Element, Fit, Odyssey, Pilot, Ridgeline) has been extremely demanding at work.

By now, many of you have seen Shell’s commercials for their new nitrogen-enriched gasoline.

http://www.shell.us/home/content/usa/products_services/on_the_road/fuels/passionate_experts/dir_passionate_experts.html

We’ve made a great product even better!

The experts at Shell have found a way to destroy gunk with all three grades of Shell gasoline! Every drop of Shell gasoline contains a NEW Nitrogen Enriched cleaning system that seeks and destroys engine gunk in both conventional and modern engines. There’s nothing else like it!

What makes NEW Shell Nitrogen Enriched Gasolines even better?

  • A unique, patented, improved formula exclusive to Shell designed to seek and destroy engine gunk.
  • Acts as a barrier to help keep your engine clean and protect it from performance-robbing gunk even better than before.
  • Helps protect and clean critical engine parts in all three grades of Shell gasoline with the most advanced Shell technology ever.
  • Helps improve engine performance as you drive.
  • Has been extensively tested, clocking more than a half-million miles in various engines and vehicles, covering a wide range of conventional, modern turbo-charged, direct fuel- injected and hybrid engines.

I asked Edmunds.com Engineering Editor Jason Kavanagh what, if anything, was special about Shell’s new gasoline.  He said he believed that nitrogen was used in most detergent gasolines.  After learning that, I went to Chevron’s web site to see if their gasoline was also nitrogen-enriched.  Sure enough, it is.

Here’s their spiel:

http://www.chevron.com/products/ourfuels/chevwtech/

Chevron gasolines with their nitrogen-enriched Techron additive contain polyether amine (PEA) chemistry to help keep vital engine parts cleaner than lower quality competitors, helping reduce the amount of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides released into the atmosphere. It all adds up to a cleaner and happier car.

Revenge of the ‘Rex

In November 2007, my first trip to Laguna Seca Raceway didn’t quite go as planned.  Since that time, I thought the place owed me one until I could make my return.  I say the place owed me because my mistake of running over the Turn 6 apex marker like many others didn’t seem that egregious.  A mid-January discovery of an open track day on February 25th with the Green Flag Driving Association (through MotorsportReg.com) paved the way for that return.

The weekend before the track day, I got a new set of Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 Star Spec tires (P225/45R17 90W) (nuts…the Tire Rack has a $50 rebate on these right now until March 31st if you buy a set of four) mounted and balanced.  Before putting the new shoes on, I changed the front and rear brake pads from the EBC Red Stuff Ceramic pads to Ferodo DS2500s.  I didn’t change the rotors because I just replaced them the previous month with the EBC pads.  And thanks to the Motive Products hydraulic brake and clutch pressure bleeder I got from RallySportDirect.com, I was able to bleed brake fluid by myself for the first time using a fresh 500 mL bottle of MOTUL RBF 600 high temp fluid.

After unpacking the car, adjusting the Koni strut inserts to nearly full stiff in the front and 1/2 stiff in rear (the latter required the removal of the rear seat (six 12mm bolts) to access the tops of the rear struts), mounting a video camera to the rear windshield, and slapping on some magnetic numbers purchased from izoomgraphics.com onto the front doors, the car was ready to hit the track.  I was assigned #16 because my last name was probably sixteenth on the alphabetical list of people registered for the intermediate group at the time the numbers were determined.

 

I naturally used the first session to get re-acquainted with the track.  After three or four laps, I figured out the braking points and lines I wanted to use.  As I approached Turn 6 for the first time, I felt a little apprehensive, but knew it was time to exact my revenge!  I drove through and took a mental snapshot of the turn to refer to when approaching it every lap.

Above is the video I recorded in the first session.  I spent much of the early part of it following a Nissan GT-R whose driver appeared to be learning the track.  Later in the day (Session 7), I let him by to see how well (or poorly) I could keep up with him/the car.  He checked out on me in about half a lap!  The ‘Rex and I could hang with him in the turns but didn’t have the beans to remain in touch on the straights.  At the six minute-mark, I let a Porsche 911 997 GT3 RS–just like Chris Walton’s favorite car–blow by me going up the Rahal Straight.  Soon after, you’ll see me get mired behind the slowest S2000/driver combination ever (they make another appearance at the 21:00 mark, too)!  I don’t know what was going on with them throughout the day.  However, I will give the driver of the S2K (black helmet) credit for seeking instruction later in the day (evident when the car was on the track with two people with him riding shotgun).  The only allowed passing zones for the beginner/intermediate group that day were the front straightaway, the stretch between Turns 4 and 5, and the Rahal Straight.

As the first session progressed, I felt the rear of the car was too soft.  After the session was completed, I stiffened the rear Koni inserts and also reinstalled the rear seat bottom.  Its absence explains the clicking and clacking heard in the video above when the seatbelts were moving around in the turns.

Session Two had the distinction of being the only beginner/intermediate session with an incident.  A first generation Mazda Miata somehow found its way into the kitty litter (gravel trap) on the outside of Turn 11.  To begin the session, I left the pits behind a Ford Mustang (A GT350 replica?  Kurt or JDP can definitely enlighten me here.) that let me by at the end of the first green lap.  Two laps later, the session was stopped to get the Miata out of the sandbox.  Once its wheels were back on the tarmac, it was able to restart and return to the pits using its own power.  After the session resumed, I had the sheer pleasure of catching and receiving a point-by from a (stock?) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X GSR a little less than 10 minutes after I left the pits.  Two of the faster cars I let by in the session were an ex-Bondurant school Ford Mustang (Cobra?) and a Porsche 911 (997 Carrera S?).

The third session began with me leaving the pits behind an older Porsche 911 (964?  930?  Little help here?).  I had even more fun chasing this car than reeling in and passing the Evo in the previous session!  The fun lasted until the 8:30-mark when I got stuck behind a 996 Turbo Convertible.  The person driving it was nice enough to let me by between Turns 4 and 5, but the other 911 had already checked out by then.

During this session, I determined the car was a little more squirrelly than I’d like when transitioning from an on-throttle state onto the binders.  As a result, I softened both of the rear Konis a smidge after I had returned to the paddock.

The most enjoyable things I worked on over the course of the day were trail-braking and figuring out how to get through the Rainey Curve (Turn 9) well.  I found I could work on the former most when braking for the Andretti Hairpin (Turn 2) and Turn 3.  Almost every time I drove through Turn 9, I remembered Josh Jacquot’s advice not to lift when driving through it.  Since I’m a) not as skilled as Josh and b) not driving whatever rocket ships he may have driven at Laguna Seca, I would usually go to a partial-throttle state when driving through the turn.  For some odd reason, I seemed to feel more G-loading when driving through Turn 9 this time than my first track day at Laguna Seca.  Because of that, I figured I consistently carried more speed through there.

Session Four provided me with the most clean laps out of all the sessions I drove that day.  Because of that, I probably turned my fastest laps during it (no timing transponders were available for rental that day).  I suppose I could extract each lap’s time from my recordings, but that would be inaccurate and take a long time.  I’m guessing I turned faster laps compared to my first trip because of the upgraded suspension components (JDM STI springs and Koni strut inserts) I had this time. During this session, I also had the pleasure of feeling I had the car’s setup totally dialed in as it responded to all of my inputs in the way I hoped and expected.

The driver of the 2005 Subaru Impreza WRX STi I caught and passed told me he had been experiencing brake fade the entire day.  His car was also shod with Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 Star Spec tires (although his tires were 245-width) and stopped by Ferodo DS2500 brake pads.  My car was using the stock rotors whereas his car was equipped with DBA 5000 two-piece rotors.  I think he was using the ATE Super Blue brake fluid.

The Direzza Sport Z1 tires held up great on the track.  They didn’t seem to provide as much ultimate grip as the Bridgestone Potenza RE-01R tires, but definitely didn’t wear as much either (perhaps a visual confirmation of its 200 treadwear rating compared to the 180 rating of the RE-01R).  Adhesion felt consistent throughout each session with no signs of becoming greasy or going “off.”

At the end of the fourth session, I heard a scraping sound coming from the rear.  A closer inspection revealed that I had used up the left rear brake pads.  Not wanting another track day at Laguna Seca to come to a premature end, I donned a pair of gloves and began one of the quickest brake pad changes I had ever performed.  The change would’ve been even quicker if I didn’t have to be careful handling the hot pads’ backing plates.  Now you may be wondering how I used up the rear pads before the fronts.  The front brake pads were a new set of Ferodo DS2500 pads.  The rears, however, were used for my track days at Buttonwillow Raceway and the Streets of Willow Springs in March and April 2008, respectively.  I thought there was going to be enough pad material left to get me through the day.  I obviously thought wrong.

The rear brake pad change was completed in about 40 minutes.  I missed half of the fifth session, but was glad I could enjoy the rest of the track day.  I didn’t bring any spare rotors with me to the track.  But I didn’t care.  I was determined to turn more laps even though the rotor had been warped and scored.  The vibration produced by the rotor was quite significant, but braking effectiveness seemed largely unaffected.

Another issue that arose in the afternoon was the beginning of the demise of the tranny’s fourth gear synchro.  With 108K (hard) miles under its belt, the transmission has served me well.  Upshifts over 4,500 RPM from third gear to fourth gear began producing a light grind sometime during the fifth session.  I began shifting more deliberately and making sure I was shifting “straight” and not “diagonally” to see if things would improve.  They didn’t.  (I got a quote of $1,200 for synchro replacement the next day.  I’ll probably just live with this for the time being and try to drive more conservatively…at least in third gear anyway.)

Sessions Six and Seven were pretty much more of the same.  Because only 30 cars registered for the event, the organizers thought it would be good to combine the beginner and intermediate groups.  I was initially concerned when this was announced in the morning drivers’ meeting.  An upside of the merge, however, was that everyone would get more track time.  The original plan was to run five 25-minute sessions.  The new plan allowed for six 25-minute sessions and one 15-minute session.

At the 11:20-mark in Session 7 (see video above), I let the Nissan GT-R by me on the Rahal Straight.  Watch as it runs away from me by the end of the lap!  Near the end of the session, I didn’t drive as well and started to get a little sloppy.  After the session was done, I deemed myself fully satisfied with the day and felt exhausted.  It had been a great day!

A full gallery of the day’s photos can be seen here:
http://s79.photobucket.com/albums/j121/USCTrojan4JC/02-25-2009%20Laguna%20Seca%20Track%20Day/?start=all

The other videos from the day can be seen by viewing the “More From User” and/or “Related Videos” in Google Video.

That’s all for now (especially since the ‘Rex has an ailing tranny)!  I would love to hear from others about their open track day experiences!  Or if you’d like more info on tracking your own vehicle, I’d love to help!

Debris owned me

On the night of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (Monday, January 19, 2009), I drove over a piece of debris on the 10 East while I was passing through Downtown Los Angeles and approaching the East LA interchange.  During my drive to work the next morning, I noticed a white 2005-2007 Subaru Outback 2.5i in the adjacent lane to my right slogging through traffic on the 60 West with me.  A minute or two later, he honked his car’s horn to get my attention.  I put the right front window down for him to tell me the right rear tire was flat.

Love.  It’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru.

This notice completely surprised me because I did a quick walkaround (with a flashlight) when I got home the previous night looking for damage.  That “inspection” was prompted by a loud bang I heard from the left front when I ran over the debris (remains from an accident?).  I was really surprised the right rear tire had been affected.

As displayed above, the right rear tire’s sidewall had been slashed.  By the time I pulled the car off the freeway and stopped, the air pressure reading I took showed 0 psi.  I was impressed with how well the tire’s sidewall supported the weight of the corner and prevented the car from riding on the wheel/rim.  Also surprising was the fact that I didn’t perceive that the tire was low.  After stopping the car in a Jack-In-the-Box parking lot, I took out the 12V comprossor than came with the emergency kit I bought a while ago from the Tire Rack.  Minutes later the tire was now at 37-38 psi.  With air in the tire, I completed my morning commute to work.  I measured the tire pressure again when I got to work and saw that it was still around 37 psi.

I decided to take the car to Stokes Tire Pros. during my lunch break for a closer inspection.  There, a technician noticed the gash in the tire’s sidewall.  Jack presented me with my options and I drove back to the office.  My plan was to order a replacement BFGoodrich g-Force Super Sport A/S tire (P215/45R17) from the Tire Rack (I only needed one because the left rear tire was still relatively new) and have it drop-shipped to Stokes.  While waiting the two days for the new tire to arrive from the Tire Rack’s distribution center in Reno, Nevada, I thought it’d be okay to use my full-size spare tire.

The gash in the sidewall was amazing in the sense that it usually remained closed which allowed the tire to retain its air.  The tire didn’t lose any air over the course of my trip home!  I swapped my full-size spare tire, an old Bridgestone Potenza S-03 Pole Position P215/45R17, with the right front tire and moved the right front to the right rear.  Why didn’t I simply put the spare on the right rear corner?  As a former summer/track tire,I knew the spare had a lot of wear on it (I prayed it wouldn’t rain) and thus, wouldn’t have a circumference similar to the left rear tire’s.  Having different circumference tires on the rear corners could potentially overwork and damage the rear (limited-slip) differential.


The next morning, I snapped some shots of my 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX Hybrid. j/k  Doesn’t the car look amazing with mismatched wheels?  The replacement tire arrived around Noon on January 22nd.  I went to Stokes shortly thereafter and had them replace the tire that afternoon.

In 9-1/2 years of driving, I had never lost a tire to a nail, screw, or other road hazard.  It was that thinking that led me to think I would be okay without the Road Hazard warranty the Tire Rack offers.  Now I’d think twice before passing up on the warranty again for my next set of street (read: primary use) tires.  On one hand, it’d be great to have that protection and peace of mind.  On the other hand, the coverage isn’t worth it if it’ll be another long time until I need to replace a tire or tires due to unforeseen circumstances.


The drive for five

Saturday, January 3, 2009 marked five years of life together with my 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX Sedan, a.k.a. Devoted Dan.  After 104,000 miles, it continues to run well and provide smiles per mile.  Below is a brief rundown of our time together.

2004

January 3 – Took delivery from Frank’s Irvine Subaru in Lake Forest
March – Installed 17-inch Prodrive P1 wheels (made by O.Z. Racing) with Bridgestone Potenza S-03 Pole Position tires (P215/45R17)
May – Cleared headlights
November – Installed Prodrive round tip axleback exhaust/muffler

2005

January – Retrofitted Subaru 4-pot/2-pot brakes, installed Prodrive springs, Group N STI strut tops, and Goodridge stainless steel brake lines
March – Participated in my first track day on the infield road course of California Speedway
April – Flashed the engine ECU with a COBB AccessPort Stage 1 map
September – Participated in a track day at the Streets of Willow Springs
December – Installed fender sidemarkers and 2006 Subaru Impreza WRX STI rear diffuser

2006

January – Participated in a track day at Buttonwillow Raceway, obtained 2006 Subaru Impreza WRX stock wheels and tires (Bridgestone Potenza RE92 -P215/45R17)
May – Participated in another track day at Buttonwillow Raceway

2007

April – Returned to Buttonwillow Raceway
November – Participated in a track day at Laguna Seca Raceway
December – Installed Koni strut inserts and Japanese domestic market (JDM) STI springs

2008

March – Ran at Buttonwillow Raceway again
April – Ran at the Streets of Willow Springs again

2009

February – Already registered to return to Laguna Seca Raceway

Happy New Year!  See you later! :o)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, 2008 LA Auto Show highlights

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone!  It’s been awhile since I last wrote here.  I hope all of you are doing well.

This blog entry is a few weeks late but I thought I’d share some of the vehicles I really liked at this year’s Los Angeles International Auto Show.

Mazda MAZDA3

Some people hate that the new MAZDA3 looks like it’s smilling.  I love it!  I’m still not too keen on the plastic above the fog lights, but that may grow on me.The new 3 will hit Mazda showrooms this spring in sedan and hatchback form.  That said, I still highly recommend the current MAZDA3 as the best compact car one can get right now (if all-wheel drive is not needed).

Honda Insight

Seeing the Honda Insight Concept in person made me think, “I wouldn’t mind being seen in that.”  Honda’s upcoming Toyota Prius-fighter looks cool and maybe even fun-to-drive.  Shortly after the LA Auto Show, photos of the production version Insight were released.

To stay informed about Honda’s new hybrid, make sure you check out Edmunds.com Inside Line‘s Honda Insight Buzz Station page.

Five Axis Lexus GS 460

The more I see flat (i.e., not glossy) paint on vehicles, the more I like it.  This Lexus GS 460 modified by Five Axis looks great.  But I think what Five Axis did to a Lexus IS F last year looks even better.

2010 Ford Mustang

Meh.  As far as pony cars go, here’s what I think.

Chevrolet Camaro > Dodge Challenger > Ford Mustang

2009 Porsche Boxster and Cayman

Very nice!  I’ve got a feeling Devoted Dan, my 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX Sedan, won’t be able to keep up with these on the track.  Also new for MY2009 is Porsche’s dual-clutch automated manual transmission called Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, or PDK for short.  Reviews of Porsche’s new gearbox have been positive except that the tranny’s interface via steering wheel-mounted buttons or the shift lever are counter-intuitive.

Ferrari 430 Scuderia

Wow!  Forget the Ferrari California shown below.  The 430 Scuderia was my favorite Ferrari at this year’s show.

Aston Martin DBS

Absolutely beautiful.  However, I think Aston Martins look best in Silver or British Racing Green.

Lotus Evora

I like Lotus’ new 2+2 more than the Elise and Exige.  In fact, I like it so much that I went and got one…in Gran Turismo 5 Prologue for the PLAYSTATION3 (PS3).

Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Race Car

I think the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI is a pretty neat car.  So does Edmunds.com, which currently has one in its long-term vehicle fleet.  What many of you may not know is that there is a Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup racing series here in North America.  The above car is an example of a Jetta TDI Cup race car.  The use of Audi R8 front brake calipers is interesting and a little funny, too.

MINI John Cooper Works

I’ve never driven a MINI Cooper.  Hopefully, I’ll take one for a spin sooner than later.  Rowing through the gears of this MINI John Cooper Works (JCW) Hardtop impressed me because of the shift lever’s positive feel through the gates and short throw.  I wish all BMW manual transmissions, which tend to have long shift throws, felt like this.

These are the cars I really like during my brief time at this year’s Los Angeles International Auto Show.  I hope you all enjoyed my highlights.

As 2009 approaches, I think it would be nice to leave you all with one of my favorite moments of 2008.  My trip to Buttonwillow Raceway in March resulted in a 0.470 second improvement over my previous best lap time of 2:12.215 on Buttonwillow’s Configuration #13 clockwise.  My lap of 2:11.745 is the first lap shown in the YouTube video clip below.

The sting of bling

At this year’s Los Angeles International Auto Show, there were some factory-modified vehicles that some brands prominently displayed.  Hear are a few of the atrocities my eyes (and camera) couldn’t resist.

2009 Ford Focus Coupe

Now, let’s compare the Focus above with the 2009 Ford Focus RS hatchback available in Europe.

2009 Toyota Venza

The 2009 Toyota Venza is Toyota’s all-new wagon/crossover born with an identity crisis.  For the most part, it’s basically a Camry Wagon.  On the other hand, it also shares components with the Highlander.  The sad thing is “dubs” (20-inch or larger diameter wheels) come standard on factory stock V6-powered Venzas.

Here’s what I think of all of these:

Next week, I’ll share some of my favorite vehicles featured at this year’s LA Auto Show.

How I equipped my car with 12 tires

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who reads this!  This Thanksgiving, I am most thankful for the grace and salvation God has given me.  What are you most thankful for?


A few weeks ago, I purchased a set of BFGoodrich g-Force Super Sport A/S ultra high performance all-season tires (P215/45R17 91W) from the Tire Rack ($118 each) for my 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX Sedan.  On November 15th, I had them mounted, balanced, and installed on my car at Island Tire & Service in Pasadena for a very reasonable rate, although it appears they may have slightly scratched some of my wheels in the process.

Why select an all-season tire in (Southern) California?  Or rather, why not?

First, I have a separate set of Bridgestone Potenza RE-01R (P225/45R17 91W) extreme performance summer tires that I use for the track.  Second, I like knowing that my car can be driven in snow if necessary to go snowboarding, skiing, or to retreat sites.  Third, it would be nice to have a set of tires that last for a while compared to summer tires or even the factory supplied Bridgestone Potenza RE92 tires, which only have a treadwear rating of 160 compared to the BFG’s 400.

So how exactly did I equipped my car with 12 tires?  The answer is I didn’t.  But in a way, I did.  BFGoodrich’s g-Force Super Sport A/S tire replaced the venerable g-Force T/A KDWS.  The g-Force Super Sport A/S is constructed with three distinct rubber compounds to provide traction in dry, wet, and snowy conditions.  Many all-season tires may have three distinct zones, but each zone uses the same rubber compound.

Dry: The outer sides of the tread feature large shoulder blocks designed to maximize traction while cornering.  Additionally, these same blocks also contain sipes to aid with acceleration and braking in snow.  Displayed in the middle, the continuous center rib provides the driver with excellent steering feel.

Wet: The center rib and grooves on its sides work with the swept lateral grooves to effectively channel water and reduce hydroplaning.

Snow: In-between the dry and wet tread zones is the snow zone.  Working in conjuction with the outer shoulder blocks’ sipes, the intermediate tread block provides a snow hook shape to function like snow chains.

You don’t have to take my word for it, though.  In May, the Tire Rack conducted a test of the BFGoodrich g-Force Super Sport A/S tires against its chief competitors.  You can see their results here.  Although it finished second in their comparison, the g-Force Super Sport A/S produced the dry performance numbers.  It didn’t have the wet grip of the Bridgestone Potenza RE960AS Pole Position tire (another tire I was considering at $150 each) or the ride comfort, but I figured most of the miles I would accumulate would be on dry tarmac.  Thus, I decided to sacrifice road manners for better handling (after all, I’m still young, right?).






If that’s not enough to convince you of what an excellent tire this is, Car and Driver also plays host to a BFGoodrich Tires Virtual Test Drive (Adobe Flash required) mini-site.  There you can learn more about BFGoodrich tires including the g-Force Super Sport A/S.  Four-time SCCA Trans Am champion and host of SPEED Test Drive and SETUP, Tommy Kendall, will talk, or rather, drive, you through the features and construction of the tire.  You can even ride along with Tommy as he drives a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX on the track at Miller Motorsports Park.

Here’s a cool did you know (dyk): BFGoodrich is owned by Michelin (FRA) like Firestone (USA) is owned by Bridgestone (JPN)

With old man winter now upon us–or right around the corner–there isn’t a better time than the present to make sure your vehicle’s shoes will keep you and your loved ones safe in inclement weather.  If your tires’ tread depths are less than 4/32 of an inch you should consider replacing them as soon as possible.  2/32″ is the legal limit, but grooves shallower than 4/32″ are less resistant to hydroplaning.

Not sure how to measure your tires’ tread depths?  Here’s an excellent article you may find useful.  Remember to keep your tires properly inflated as well!

Tire Rack: Measuring Tire Tread Depth with a Coin