Honk

An ongoing cultural commentary through the lens of an automobile-centric headspace.

For my first “serious” competitive season in Gran Turismo Sport's FIA-endorsed Manufacturer's Series, I signed with Jaguar instead of Aston Martin. Though there are plenty of silk cut liveries available for the F-Type Gr.3, I chose to use Buckcherry_77's. For the Gr.4 F-Type, I used SAN_GTCONCEPT's.

View the full gallery of my snaps from throughout the season here.

I'm Actually Yelling at Big Ben to Shut The Fuck Up

Though it looks like I'm celebrating, I didn't end up finishing all that well. I'm actually yelling at Big Ben to Shut The Fuck Up.

Leguna Seca's Corkscrew

The corkscrew at Leguna Seca has never been an issue for me – it's everything else. I don't like deserts, California, or the circuit's general layout, honestly.

Training with Turismo_lester

Still, it was cool to have Turismo-lester join my practice lobby. (This was as close as I ever got to him, unsurprisingly.)

#gtsport

There's something incredibly enchanting about endurance racing at night.

Magic at the 2020 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour Magic at the 2020 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour Magic at the 2020 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour Magic at the 2020 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour #photography #endurance

Martin vs.

Hodges Speedway

It has continued to astound and comfort me tremendously throughout my life that the same redneck-ass institutions of my rural youth – tractor/truck pulls, dirt track racing, demolition derbies, etc. – continue in places such as these, virtually exempt from the tumult of global change. The last time I was in the bleachers, “premium handsets” meant flip phones and many of the junker entries would be considered viable restoration projects, today.

Personally, there is nothing more existentially easing than stumbling upon this bit of car culture now and then, though it always brings up a nagging question: what the hell am I doing in this office? Thank you, Missouri. I’m sorry I talked all that shit in high school. It’s good to be home.

#auto #photography

CR-V Sunset

I would argue that this is the best Honda’s CR-V has ever or will ever look, no thanks to my photographic decisions.

After 9 or so years and over 100,000 miles, I have totaled my mother’s 2010 Honda CR-V – the car I drove cross-country for the first time at significant distance (St. Louis to Washington, D.C. in essentially one sitting,) and once complimented for being the best possible aesthetic compromise of its near-universally and aggravatingly-compromised breed. It was my her first 1st owner experience, which is frankly a bit of a shame. If I’m completely honest, my late stepfather’s decision to outfit this utterly utilitarian vehicle with enough kit to break the $30,000 within a segment that has always clung to the 20s as one of its truly communicable advantages feels less-than-ideal in retrospect, but what can I say, really? It was not exactly a proud thing, but it did transport a lot of young families and shelter us as we’ve navigated more blizzard-like conditions than should be the norm for what is, essentially, an expensive, extended Civic.

As per some particulars of my upbringing, I tend to get almost alarmingly attached to vehicles, but it’s hard to say I’m sad to see the CR-V go from all but the most sentimental senses. Objectively, it’s simply not as high-value or as competent a vehicle as it and its contemporaries are still made out to be by automotive media, pop culture, or the presumptions in the average consumer’s discourse. Though it was never intended to be luxurious, the resulting automobile ended up costing real luxury money.

The Event

It’s odd to have been driving so long without incident (pretty soon I’m gonna be able to say “I’ve been driving for twenty years, bitch!) and then suddenly find oneself at fault for the accident which claimed the life of the single most sublime, defining object in his existence. This incident, though, was entirely the fault of the other driver. My best friend and I were Northbound, crossing the intersection of Stadium Boulevard and Rock Quarry Road at precisely the point where it becomes College Avenue, where we were t-boned directly on the CR-V’s driver’s side rear wheel by a mid-2000s Mazda 6 that decided to run the red light. It’s hard to guess the speed of impact, but the driver’s side side airbags deployed (as you’ll see from the attached photograph,) and the CR-V was spun nearly 270 degrees around the axis of the front wheels. Neither of us nor the 6’s driver was injured, but both of our vehicles are surely totaled.

CR-V Fucked

Third-Generation CR-V Ownership in Retrospect

Two or three years ago, I recorded some (not particularly conclusive or informative) thoughts with my iPhone as I drove the old engorged Civic to the grocery store, when ends abruptly after I said “I think one time I did try to go fast.” Like most surviving crossover nameplates, though, the narrative began with a genuinely good idea: Hondarize and modernize the Suzuki Sidekick template on top of the Civic's platform and charge just a bit more for it – and like the rest, too, the concept has soured tremendously as both crossovers and the compact sedans upon which they're based have grown and fattened under their ever-increasing burden of safety and convenience features. (I say “burden” and not “expectation,” specifically because I know a grand total of zero informed people who are at all thrilled about increasing gross weights across every industry segment.)

This CR-V was my mother’s first and only crossover following a three-car line of one or two-owner-used, well-equipped V6 Accords in her garage – the later two from the era when Honda’s mid-sized sedan became a surprisingly dynamic driving machine as advances in drivetrain performance intercepted a point in the developmental timeline just before gross weights spiked up toward their current safety and electronic equipment-bloated figures. (In other words: in the sweet spot when engines were growing more powerful but just before the Accord and its peers got fucking fat.) In 2010, the CR-V was almost attractive looking as specced by my stepfather: the combination of the roof rack, bonnet bra, and EX-trim 5-spoke alloys managed to resolve most of the discrepancies in the shapes I've seen from other examples, but it also drove its price above the $30,000 mark. To be fair to Honda, this decision could almost be considered a sortof breach of function considering the CR-V's original ultra-mass-produced, utilitarian purpose.

Interior

Neither the leather nor the nav/infotainment system has aged very well, but it should be said that the latter is still 100% functional in 2018: it interfaces well with my iPhone 8 Plus with only the occasional “this device is not supported” hiccup (easily resolvable by simply re-booting the connection, in my experience.) I'm not sure how astonished I should be by the fact that the GPS still offers reliable routes 99% of the time, albeit through a user interface design that seems to grow more and more dated by the passing few seconds one may have to wait for it to calculate. Accommodation remains about as uncomfortable as it was on day 1: thanks to its hard leather and the super-upright seating position common to crossovers, I must continue to insist that operating this car is a wholly unnatural experience, but its interior surfaces shall always place well in a contest of robustness and longevity, as they certainly should.

Drivetrain

Perhaps the greatest letdown of this model year (2010) is its legacy four-speed automatic transmission, and I assume the next year's inclusion of a brand-new five-speed unit drastically improved its driving experience. The specific regret one feels when such a development arrives a year after buying any new car is one my stepfather still didn't deserve, yet he was not spared. However, if you, the reader, cannot be dissuaded from buying a CR-V of this generation for whatever goddamned reason, know that you must choose an example from 2011-onward if you want to retain your sanity. No, ye olde four-speed wasn't quite as bad as the transmission that virtually ruined Dodge's new Dart singlehandedly, but it certainly shows its age even for the most inattentive or merciless driver. Without it, I would vouch for the 2.4L four-cylinder's performance as adequate, but its contribution was and forever shall be let down by the aging transmission's developing Alzheimer's. Simply put: they are an unacceptably mismatched team.

Though I shall forever argue that part-time all-wheel-drive is almost never actually justified in normal use – and yet inadequate for any “extreme” use, for that matter – Honda’s hydraulic “Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive” did indeed aid our CR-V’s way in a handful of circumstances throughout my mother’s ownership, though neither of our memories of these are robust enough to cite specifics. The single no-bullshit blizzard we experienced was the same type I managed to navigate years later in a sub-compact Chevrolet to reach MagFest 2016, if perhaps less intense. I would speculate that the system increases mechanical drag – and therefore fuel consumption – to a degree that couldn’t possibly justify what little aid it has offered in our use, at least.

#auto

Just Really Lame

The recently-discontinued Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet darkly mirrors sentiments first begun with the Pontiac Aztek, narrating Generation X’s decline.

My Nissan wheeltime for Honk has grown a massive respect for the brand’s audacity within me. My interest in the profession has spanned years of maturity — from asking can’t you just…? to active affection for those who dare reliably retort with a confident no.

Can’t you just retire your body-on-frame SUV entries already like everybody else did ten years ago?

The noble, rugged Xterra, which we shall sincerely miss.

Can’t you just follow the Golf’s unquestionably low-risk lead into the tumultuous youth market?

The Juke NISMO, which we regard as the industry’s singular steady grasp on what youth actually means.

Can’t you just take some cues from Honda and Toyota, and make your sedans easy on the eye?

The Altima and the Maxima, which constitute the last truly evil marque available.

Can’t you just step a little lighter on the Versa’s margins? You’d be insane to build a car designed by MSRP alone!

The Versa is — for better or worse — the absolute essence of automobiles’ transportive function, and no more.

And there’s the GT-R, of course, which continues to make fools of an entire culture of self-titled “gearheads” who claim speed as their one true dowry.

CrossCabriolet Blur

Throughout the years, Nissan has over and over again made me look like an absolutely absurd idiot for your display — and I cannot think of a better gift. Of all the brands to misunderstand, it is the ultimate muse.

So, in the present, I am grandiosely assuming you’ve been attentive enough to deliberate the possible outcomes of our time with the Murano CrossCabriolet.

It was quickly apparent that the experience was not going to resemble our Night of the Juke in the slightest. It could be attributed to my pre-game mentality. For the first time, I came to this monstrosity thinking I’d finally learned my lesson,desperately hoping to be whipped again — real bad — but walk away with more closure than with which I arrived. Like a good diplomat, I made myself approach without want for anything but understanding.

On first take, the Xterra was proud, and the Juke was clever.

The CrossCabriolet is a corny joke.

Take a look at an occupied, top-down example from afar. I cannot think of a more ridiculous picture.

CrossCabriolet Driver

Just since its assembly in 2011, our example’s trim has endured enough to begin disintegrating in a few bizarre locales. Not to over-iterate, but it’s needing strong mention: I had never sat in a roofless crossover before. I’m assuming you haven’t, either. It is unnatural. It is harrowing.

From the organization I have summed so many times over the years as “acutely ingenious” came this… unsettling suburban bathtub.

It’s a shame — I repeatedly remark on the extrapolated potential I can see in a roofed Murano. Everything else in sight is worth my time. If only it had been better-protected.

The sensation is simply ridiculous in what’d be a tasteful sense were this a one-off project of some hearty garage tinkerer or tuning shop, but… my God; Nissan delivered it this way, and had the gall to ask $10,000 more for their molestation.

Still, its webpage (in past tense, thank God,) proclaims “the Murano CrossCabriolet was the world’s first and only All-Wheel Drive convertible crossover” in the same language I’d tout the Xterra (may it rest in peace and eternally-inadequate glory) as the last available SUV, in the traditional use of the segment, or the Juke NISMO as the first competently-composed automotive product for millennial youth. Or the GT-R as by far the most effective, high-value instrument for the pursuit of maximum velocity across the ground. And so on.

Pontiac Aztek Concept

The language so assured, the parallels must inevitably be drawn to that cheap joke of the century’s turn… the Pontiac Aztek.

The details of its life story are reliably amusing, should you find yourself mid-research. From the journos’ gasps at its corporately-edgy concept’s unveiling to the weary original steed of Breaking Bad‘s Meth Man, there is a similar lifestyle vehicle thread between the products that weaves an obscure narrative.

My own contribution: after a missed exit outside Galveston just as Azteks first became rentable, my stepfather (the most earnestly late-history Pontiac man who ever lived) took an entirely-unexpected and uncharacteristic 70 mile-an-hour plunge into the choppy grass median after shouting “this is an off-road vehicle!”

As I’m sure you can imagine, it was the single most traumatic event I have ever experienced as the passenger of a motor vehicle, but the damned thing was unscathed, despite having repeatedly chucked us all (fully-belted) into its beige ceiling.

Gary believed in Pontiac.

Though he was keen enough to smell death, he chose to believe in the Aztek.

And you know what? His faith, too, has made me look like an idiot.

That’s what separates the Aztek from ye late CrossCabriolet: it really was a genuinely-bold innovation. Survive the laymen’s idle party chat and crude design critiques, and you’ll find an impressive clarity in its purpose, especially given the context of its conception. In the used market especially, it still represents a characterful, practical, and high-value consideration. And yet — at the expense of themselves — American buyers did not clamor for it like the informed of the populace did. Perhaps it was because the informed — like then-BusinessWeek‘s David Welch — were echoing hopes of a “design renaissance” for General Motors. The renaissance that would not come until the Flush of the Boomer Higher-Ups some eight years later.

Both tales, I think, represent a profound neglect of consumer journalism.

At the turn of the century, though, it was not unusual to go a day without accessing the internet. Today, people are still buying the few flops the industry has left to offer — making what is most likely the second-largest purchase of their life’s current epoch without consulting the volumes of diverse, intelligent, and articulate opining now accessible instantly free of charge via the subsidized slates that lightly jostle in their jean pockets as they wiggle their signatures on dealer paperwork.

Don't Let Go

ALERT: Inbound tennis enthusiasts!

Funny, isn’t it?

An American hit when the Japanese were unquestionably winning, and — just over a decade later — a Japanese miss as their winning had just begun to be questioned. Make no mistake; I am not being patriotic. For me, sovereignty does not extend beyond design houses, R&D facilities, and test centers.And it’s somewhere within Nissan’s where pillars were severed and delusions nurtured; all astoundingly with executives’ blessing. I am terribly and shockingly ashamed to report that my countrymen actually bought them.

As many as 3300 units in the last year of the Mayan calendar. The worst bit, though, is that they all made their way to my particular part of the planet.

I swear to the Sun; I am surrounded.

If you’re familiar with Columbia, Missouri, it does not take more than a moderate imagination to comprehend the sense, as grueling as it is. I see them regularly; once a month, at least. In a town where one can expect to spot a Gallardo in front of Buffalo Wild Wings marred by horrid plastic athletic miniflags wedged in its five-figure doors, they are everpresent reminders that the New Money Effect continues to flourish, unbridled in the Midwestern U.S.

The soft top is always retracted, of course, and the exposed driver is always a sweating middle-aged white woman wearing a light-colored tennis visor. She… they… are always on their way to a match. Doomed to roast forever, I suppose, as there is only one nearby court, as far as I know.

It is disheartening to realize that, now, I see many more of them than Azteks around. Though neither were designed for any tangible “lifestyle,” per se, I am saddened by the shift this minuscule tell indicates in my hometown’s morale. From an (albeit equally-vague) yearning for new adventure in an intriguing new century to an emotionally-destitute jaunt to the court, I have witnessed all of Generation X’s vigor erode procedurally away before my eyes.

CrossCabriolet Rear

Y2K, Great Depression II, an ancient apocalyptic prophecy from one of the wisest civilizations in recorded history… Surely, one of these foretold disasters will finally End it All!

Perhaps Nissan knew that even the well-read of the North American market were, by and large, simply looking for ways to pass the time before the death which they felt so assuredly approached. The number of unanimously-unbuyable prospects available has shrunken to virtually none, and the CrossCabriolet was not much of an investment; not all that highly-engineered, really. Perhaps they felt obligated to entertain us in our delusional way out. Perhaps it was all just an awfully-German prank.

And, if the End of the World is imminent, what’s to stop one, really, from leasing the world’s first and only convertible crossover?

What’s to stop one from playing tennis?

#auto

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A broken Mazda RX-7, that lived in a shed on the family farm, was David Blue's first real experience with a car. Years later he got to try out a living, working example of the same car – and, unlike Max Prince previously found, loved it.Speedmonkey Matt


My bond with one particular example of Mazda's best-selling Wankel-powered sports car began on the Midwestern farm where I grew up. A 1980 model LS-trimmed example, originally painted in “Solar Gold” (one of only 500 made, it turns out). It had been sitting in a small shed, condemned to rest there only a few years after my birth from issues with the fuel delivery system. The search for a mechanic capable of working on the rotary engine without destroying it was eventually given up.

My father told me stories of his flings with the car. He used to say the police would pull him over simply because it “looked fast.” Naturally, as a small boy, the stories took a hold of my imagination. The RX-7 held a very special sort of allure. It eventually became my ideal image of “racecar”. Its environment added to the intoxication. The lack of electric power to the car, its immobility, and the stories I was told combined to create the aura of a fading, forgotten superhero. Tired, abandoned, and only necessitating the help of a friend in order to bring it back to glory.

It wasn't very long after toddlerhood that I took to spending a large portion of my free time sitting in the RX-7, practicing rowing through the gears and making engine noises with my mouth. I still remember vividly how delightful the experience of simply sitting in that car was. The dash layout, the feel of the steering wheel in my hands, and the smell of the interior are all deeply etched into memory. It was almost as if I had a deeper perception into its soul, a capability that I feel has been lost.

Much before I had expected, I had the opportunity to meet this hero, so to speak. I encountered a partially-restored 1983 Series 2 example, slightly different than my RX-7. Different enough to subdue my worries of adultery to the car I grew up with, but similar enough to be an important discovery.

I was treated to the complete RX-7 ownership experience, including a dead battery and a difficult, choked cold start. Perry, my host, was kind enough to pay for the fuel for the drive with money out of his own pocket. After ensuring that we would not be walking back, I pointed that very long, very 80s nose toward some local back highways.

I had never driven anything powered by a Wankel, and the contrast of the RX-7 compared to everything with wheels I had experienced was stark, and noticeable immediately. The feedback normally received from a piston engine is not felt, due to the fact that there is no more conversion from vertical to rotational motion, a rotary engine (as implied by the name) involves no vertical momentum. It's not that the engine refuses to communicate with you, it's just speaking an entirely different language. The whiny exhaust note has an odd property to it that can be heard from no other source. It conjures up images of the mysterious, angry pair of triangles whirling about in their cage. Purely imaginary, of course.

Because the Wankel is so smooth, I found myself wondering why I should shift up. A piston engine makes you anxious when you push it close to the redline. Most send the driver a variety of auditory and tactile messages indicating that they must either shift up, or face a molten tie rod to the head. The RX-7, however, gives no such indication. When close to the redline, one hears only an excited whir. The result (forgive the upcoming Disney analogy) is an almost magic carpet-like experience. It's as though the power simply materializes before you with no apparent source or sacrifice.

Rx-7 Badge

For me, the tranquility of the engine eliminated the reservations I had for speed. It's an incentive, in fact, to keep the needle in the upper portion of the tachometer as much as possible. The car had only 100 hp and 105 lb-ft. of torque in 1983, and has no doubt lost a few along its journey. Frankly, I'm thankful it's not more powerful. Otherwise, there wouldn't be room to fully enjoy revving it to its limit.

Though I have decided that a transmission with multiple ratios is unnecessary when coupled to a Wankel, the 5-speed manual in the RX-7 was quite a treat. It's very notchy, with a mid-length throw. The well-spaced ratios paired with a very light, but engaging clutch made rev matching pleasant and natural.

Unfortunately, the steering in the car I drove was quite loose, likely from wear. It is unassisted, though, and was at one time very engaging, I suspect. Given that it is a sports car from the 1980s, driver communication is a result of the engineering, not vice versa.

1983 Mazda Rx-7 Series 2

The driving position is actually more relaxed than it looks, and the interior is a thoroughly enjoyable place to be in. This particular car had a factory-installed manually-adjustable equalizer mounted beneath the stock head unit. A useless, though interesting, novelty that quickly rids the occupants of any doubt as to when the car was built.

The RX-7 is too often overlooked for what it is; a very special piece of automotive history. It's an experience completely unlike any piston-powered alternative. And for me, it's much more than that. My RX-7 represents an entire childhood's worth of dreams and a sort of companionship, even. My experiences with it were a very large influence on my drive to pursue a career in automotive writing. Driving one did change my perspective, but not at all for the worse.

I met my hero, and it didn't let me down.

#auto

Accord Front

South Korea is poised to take Japan's place in the American market.

The 1990s. Not the greatest time for the United States auto industry. In those days, with a few exceptions, American cars were all overpriced, devoid of quality and generally unreliable. The big three (along with many other non-automotive related corporations in the U.S.) had an aging generation of management. This group decided that the ideal way to run their business involved expending the least amount of effort into their products as possible, without reducing the price paid by customers. Essentially, they hoped to gain more profit from less product. I don't have to tell you that this thinking just...doesn't work. I would theorize that this mentality came from overconfidence and a lack of joy in production. GM, Ford, and Dodge had been the top sellers of the automobile in the United States since its invention. They originally symbolized the best in quality, luxury and performance. Consumer and producer shared the same values, resulting in a flourishing market. It was a joyous time. And then, somewhere around the 1973 oil crisis, the joy began seeping out of our star shooters. Maybe it was emissions regulations, a loss of those ideal values, or some other factor. Regardless of the source, our homegrown auto industry lost its passion. It reflected in the cars that were built. Designs were reused, progression was halted, the irreverence of quality workmanship lost. “American dependability” became an ironic statement.

And then came along a company that had been building little, noisy two-stroke engines to fit to bicycles only four decades earlier, proudly displaying a banner the changing public couldn't refuse. They offered a product that was simple, honest, reliable, durable and reasonably priced. A concoction that smelled an awful lot like high value. An odor that no doubt brought back old memories. The Accord, suburban America's new family pet. And the Civic, conveniently debuted in 1972. The college student's greatest companion. Both were conservatively styled and equipped, and thus quite easily ignored, which was exactly what the country wanted. After all those years stranded on the shoulders of our aging interstate system in lumbering, underpowered beasts, the indestructible and dependable qualities of the Hondas came as a breath of fresh air. So. What made the newcomers so different? What was the driving force behind the value of the products? It was something not unknown to the Americans, and its presence had been sorely missed. Picture an ancient sage by the name of Soichiro Honda saying something to the order of “Lets build the best automobile we can and sell it for as little as possible.” Though the man is more a symbol than an actual influence on the four-wheeled endeavors of the institution bearing his name, he represents what led to the same group's success. Honda was untainted by an unrealistic attitude, and unaided by a century of heritage and good reputation. They succeeded only because they built good cars.

Accord Mark One

By 2008, Honda had more than made a name for itself. Over the past decade, though, the prices had been steadily increasing, along with the level of luxury and complexity available in their cars. Both the Accord and Civic were bestsellers in their respective classes, and had held their titles for a relatively long time. It was then that I personally theorized they might take the same path American carmakers had taken only a short while before. I don't want to brag, but this was long before Ron Kiino's bold title “Is Hyundai the new Honda?” graced the pages of MotorTrend's October 2011 issue. And it was really a far-fetched notion at the time. Simply a suspicion. Confidently and stubbornly, the Accord held its grip on mid-size sedan sales in the United States, complimented by the Toyota Camry, a similar-looking but even more ignorable competitor. The former still held appeal for someone with the capacity to enjoy themselves. The latter, however, has always been the most desirable choice of individuals that absolutely despise driving. They both held their slightly different niches, with no real fear of losing their place. Then, Honda started skimping a bit on quality. Motoring journalists noticed a lack of improving fuel economy, aging transmissions, and a general loss in competitive edge in the 2011 Accord. Not the best time to start slacking on Honda's part.

Sonata Front

This was the year that Hyundai unveiled the brilliantly-updated 6th generation Sonata. I consider this to be the most significant car to come in the mid-sized segment since the birth of the Accord/Camry duo. In previous generations, it had always been competitively priced. The quality, though, had been lacking. The Koreans were not afraid to design a car that was much less conservative than the two Japanese giants. However, the designs were never really all that great looking. Interesting and different? Yes. Attractive?....No. So these attributes kept Honda and Toyota secure under their cozy comforter of sales, not intimidated by Hyundai's offering. And that's quite understandable. The Sonata never really seemed a direct competitor to the giants. The new one, however, completely changed the game. For one thing, it's gorgeous. Not conservatively pretty, but ridiculous, in the best sort of way. Poised and angular, the exterior looks as if it should cost exponentially more than it does. They managed to carry on the Sonata's tradition of unique styling by rejecting the old car completely and replacing it with a stunner. The interior reflects a similar attitude. It's not only good looking, but significantly more fuel efficient than any other mid-sized car on the market. The drivetrain options are excellent. The best part, though, is the price. At a starting MSRP of 19,195 USD (£11,944), it is several thousand less than any competitor.

Sonata Interior

All of this really just makes the Accord and Camry look silly. It's interesting that Hyundai should take up Honda's original niche, given how different their backgrounds are. Our original hero of practicality was created by a man tinkering with small motorcycles. The former, however, was founded as a massive construction firm, only later trying its hand in the realm of automobiles. Cars seemed an alternative for Hyundai, but certainly not an afterthought. Regardless of where they came from, these two companies have had very similar philosophies, if only separated by time. Also, both have had to rely on sheer ingenuity for profit, without the foothold of heritage in the American market. It could be said, though, that Hyundai is doing a bit better. High value cars that are practical and interesting as an experience. Honda could never get that last bit quite right. Or perhaps it's just a sign of the times. Maybe Americans have overcome the compulsion to ignore our cars. My question is this; Has this flip-flop in production attitude become a cycle? And if so, who will be in the hot spot next? My bet is on the big three, believe it or not. A new generation of management has brought about a huge improvement in our products. It could even be one of the rising Chinese companies in the future. Who knows? I can tell you that right now, though, Hyundai has got the goods.

#auto

by David Blue

2013 Mazda MX-5 - Full

As we bid farewell to the Miata’s third-generation, sizing up its top trim summarizes its legacy.

I recently had the chance to drive the facelifted 2013 Mazda MX-5. This is the first time the looks of the perky roadster have changed since the front-mounted smile became an all-out grin of insanity in 2008. They have once again dulled it to what I would call a smirk. The new front end blends with the rest of car more than it has in the past. It seems to have grown a bit more serious. In fact, with black 17-inch alloys on a glossy black (creatively called “Brilliant Black,”) this example is the most aggressive-looking of any Miata I have seen.

That's not to say it's aggressive in the slightest, even in such a scheme. This car is in the “Club” trim replacing the previous “Touring” designation as the top-of-the-line option. This selection adds ridiculous three-leaf clover side badges, red stitching on the seats, red stripes on the dash and sides, along with a price tag very near 30,000 USD.

2013 Mazda MX-5 - Badging

So I present you with my first problem with this particular car....it's a contradiction. The MX-5 was never intended to look serious. That grin was there to convey the primary attribute aspired to by its creators; joy. It's designed to be joyful in driving and the exterior of previous generations did a good job of communicating what the car is all about. Unfortunately, it seems they have decided that it's time for the roadster to grow up. Frankly, that's not going to work.

Now, to the drive.

For this year, the car has been lightened, the braking response quickened, as well as the throttle response in manual-equipped cars. Unfortunately, I was only able to drive the 6-speed automatic with optional pattle-shifters. Given that this is my first drive in an NC (third generation) MX-5, I can only compare it to my own NB.

2013 Mazda MX-5 - Trunk

Immediately, my passenger and chaperon starts the process of opening the optional retractable hard top. Open air is this car's natural environment, and it appears that somebody got busy making sure its occupants never notice. Wind buffeting has been drastically reduced. We were able to maintain conversation beyond 70mph without necessitating shouting thanks to a much taller wind brake behind our seats. Unfortunately, I couldn't really hear much of anything from the 158-hp 2.0L 4 up front, even with liberal amounts of right foot burying. It would seem the optional dual exhaust outlets are rather pointless then.

2013 Mazda MX-5 - Engine

Getting in the car, I had expected the experience to be ruined by the 6-speed auto. Buying a Miata with an automatic is sort of like going on a scenic vacation without a camera. It doesn't necessarily ruin the immediate experience but you'll always have some regret regarding the subject in the future. The pattles add some of the fun back in, but I prefer the Golf GTI's arrangement of right side-shift up, left side-shift down, while the MX-5 has both functions on either side of the wheel.

It took some deliberate self-coaching to get used to, but it won't effect your daily driving experience. Another plus; when in manual shift mode, it is truly manual, meaning the transmission will allow you to exceed the redline. It may sound trivial, but being nannied when you're first told that you're in control can be a major annoyance. (Looking at you, Kia Forte.) It's disappointing that Mazda chose only to up throttle response in manual-equipped cars. This one most certainly needed it.

The original Miata was built on a philosophy of communication between driver and machine, summarized in the Japanese phrase “Jinba Ittai,” meaning “rider and horse are one.” Being an MX-5 owner, this philosophy is very important to me, thus my expectations for the steering were very high. It was very disappointing, then, to discover that it has been very nearly ruined.

The leather-wrapped steering wheel was comfortable, yes, but not very generous in revealing the road. In corners it felt jumpy, imprecise, and unsure of itself. The same lack of self-confidence was noticeable in a straight line as well, along with a nervous fidget. Keep in mind, I am comparing this to roadsters of the past, not to other automobiles currently on the market. It would take a global nuclear war to make the MX-5 less fun to drive than a Toyota Camry.

Though it has lost communication and soul, the Miata has gained a more comfortable suspension and oodles of storage space. The trunk is massive for a roadster of this size, and the example I drove was equipped with an optional storage compartment extending behind the seats, especially handy for CDs, candy, and the like. The center console contains two reasonably-sized cupholders obscured by a sliding door that will inevitably lead to annoyance in single-drink occasions. Mr. Cunningham also pointed out to me that the track on which the door slides appears vulnerable to crumbs. Only time will tell, I suppose.

2013 Mazda MX-5 - Center Console

In general, being inside the car is a much more comfortable experience, albeit a boring one. It seems to me that the MX-5 has “grown up,” forgoing fun for comfort and practicality. And is that not exactly the opposite of the direction it should be moving? It was never meant to be an aggressive-looking performance car, and it will never do well as one. It will never be luxurious enough to be a true touring car, either.

Its soul has made it the top-selling roadster of all time, and I'm afraid it's losing it, bit by bit. To be honest, if you're attracted by the values on which the original Miata was built, I would recommend a Subaru BRZ/Toyota GT 86/Scion FR-S. The recommendation does not come lightly or easily.

Until Mazda gets wise about what it's doing to the beloved little car, I'm afraid it's headed down a path that will mean losing a grip on the niche it's held for so long, and that's quite saddening.

#auto

America's favorite drivetrain is not ideal.

Us drivers of cars with manual transmissions tend to look down on those who drive automatics. It’s like an exclusive club. Only the extremely talented, gorgeous-looking, and legendary athletes of yore are allowed in.

Well, that’s bullshit. So those of you that know the “standard” can keep your mouths shut and bask in the quiet satisfaction that you’re saving the planet.

The truth is, for those of you that don’t know, driving “stick” is totally simple. Once you understand the basic concepts of how the transmission and clutch work together, you can figure it out with no real instruction at all. So with that in mind, I’d like to tell you that automatic transmissions just….suck. Really.

Mind you, I’m not talking about Dual-Clutch Transmissions, SMGs (Sequential Manual Gearboxes,) or any of that fancy stuff that has only recently become somewhat popular in the mainstream (affordable) auto market. I’m talking about automatics with a torque converter, that magically inefficient device that has carried America’s laziness in driving for the last 50 years.

Now before I go on, I suppose I owe you a technical explanation. Let’s start with the basics. First off, a transmission is the device that separates the engine from the wheels. With both automatic and manual transmissions, “gears” are used to vary the ratio between the engine’s crankshaft and the drive shaft going to the wheels. It’s essentially a buffer between the engine’s relative consistency and the inconsistent world that you drive in.

Automatic Gearbox Abstract

But that’s not quite all there is.

Traditional transmissions require an interruption in power from the engine to shift these “gears,” and to come to a stop at a traffic light, in your driveway, or on the side of the highway to pick up a hooker. In manuals, this is typically accomplished with a clutch, a device that could most simply be explained as two plates that are pressed together to couple, and brought apart to become independent. A clutch is normally coupled, it’s when the clutch petal is pushed in that the plates separate, and the transmission is isolated from the engine. Automatic transmissions use a type of fluid coupling to accomplish the same task, called a torque converter.

The advantage of the latter is that, when paired with an automatic transmission, the driver only requires one input to get the car moving and vary its velocity, and that is the accelerator pedal. A manual transmission requires three inputs, on the other hand. (Accelerator pedal, clutch, and gearshift.) In my mind, the torque converter has some huge disadvantages in a world where millions are spent to save 20 lbs. on one car design.

Have you ever noticed that cars equipped with manuals are usually noticeably more fuel efficient than their automatic counterparts? Some of that could be attributed to the greater control that comes with manuals, but most of it is from the torque converter’s main design flaw. A clutch can be completely disengaged and completely engaged. So, with a healthy vehicle, there is 0% of the engine’s power moving to the transmission when the clutch pedal is depressed fully. Likewise when the clutch pedal is allowed completely out, the clutch essentially becomes a shaft, and 100% of the engine’s power is being fed to the transmission.

A torque converter couples via fluid, however, meaning there is never a solid mechanical connection between the engine and the transmission. (Unless the transmission is equipped with a lock-up clutch, which is essentially a clutch that locks the torque converter mechanically when it is no longer required to dump the engine’s energy into friction. These are becoming more and more common, but the majority of vehicles on the road are missing them.) This means that a traditional torque converter is never 100% efficient.

Also, a torque converter is never completely disengaged. When sitting at a traffic light, the driver typically lightly applies the brakes to hold the car from moving forward. Have you ever considered what you’re doing? The engine is basically dumping energy into the torque converter in the form of friction. It is literally no different from holding the gas and the brakes at the same time.

What the hell? How is that accepted in a world where Al Gore and Prius’s exist?

Oh wait! As United States citizens, we’re lazy as shit!

84% of cars sold in North America are equipped with an automatic transmission, as opposed to 20% in Europe.

You could make the excuse that we love automatics because of all our stop-and-go traffic, and yet, as a citizen of the Midwestern U.S, I see automatics MUCH more often than I see traffic congestion.

The real answer is that we just don’t want to bother with a clutch pedal and a gearshift when we could be texting or doing makeup.

Luckily, the great minds of our time have come up with solutions that adapt to us so that we don’t have to adapt to them. (As always.) Probably the simplest is the aforementioned “lock-up clutch,” which eliminates the inefficiency of the torque converter by mechanically coupling at high speed. But that doesn’t exactly solve the problem of sitting over a nice gas to friction converter at traffic lights.
Well here’s a tip. When you stop at a traffic light, bump your shift lever one up into neutral. It shouldn’t require that you hold a safety button to go back and forth between Drive and Neutral. This prevents that unnecessary friction. Combine that with a lockup clutch, and you’re basically driving a manual!……Except without the enjoyment.

You could call this a rant on one of the most successful inventions the modern automobile has ever seen….because it is. And I doubt you’ll hear anyone else complain about it. But there really are flaws in the design that I wish consumers would figure out. Before all this hybridism, eco-mindedness, and hippie-crazed green malarkey, maybe we should eliminate the evil energy-wasting beast that is the torque converter.

#auto

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